Giles' absence at No 8 leaves tourists' batting at sixes and sevens
Tuesday 14 March 2006
Being an exemplary professional and consummate team man, Ashley Giles would take no comfort from the events in the second Test here yesterday. However, maybe a teeny-weeny corner of his heart inadvertently hopped, if not exactly leapt, and notwithstanding the dodgy hip that has wrecked his winter plans there might have been the faintest of renewed springs in his step.
In England's defeat and the fact that they can no longer win the series might have lain Giles's salvation as an international cricketer. It is not his serviceable left-arm spin bowling that has been missed - though 52 caps are not easily replaced - so much as his dependable batting.
Occasionally, there are terrible hand-wringing selection exercises about who should bat at No 3 or No 6, the usual problem positions. Rarely before can people have been in such a state about No 8. But they are, and with good reason. Traditionally, though views have changed a little, eight is where the batting stops and the rabbits start. It is the last bulwark before an innings is supposed to subside and it gives important balance to the side. Before they were expected to be batting clones of Don Bradman, many a wicketkeeper batted there.
Apart from his 140 wickets, Giles has been a splendid No 8. He has now batted there 39 times in his 75 Test innings (having started at No 9) and only Godfrey Evans has been there more often.
Since Giles left the Pakistan tour for surgery, England have played three Tests and had three No 8s, all picked for their batting as well as their bowling. It was deemed that England must avoid having too long a tail, not least because Monty Panesar, who has replaced Giles's left-arm spin, could have been born to bat 11 and at Test level is probably more suited to 12.
This admirable policy has resulted in 40 runs in five innings from the position, five in the past three. Such returns do not meet any reasonable definition of bulwark. It is possible now that having tried Ian Blackwell and Liam Plunkett in this series so far, England will revert to Shaun Udal. His international experience is as limited as the others but that can be partly compensated by his 16 years as a county professional.
There remains a concern about whether Giles can regain full fitness, the hip being pivotal, so to speak, in a spin bowler's action. But if he does, the summer should see him restored. Panesar has bowled well and he will improve. But his inclusion will leave selectorial conundrums elsewhere.
If the selectors send Giles a 33rd birthday card next Sunday, they may also include a come-back-soon message. The way things are going, nobody should be surprised if they have one over the eight.
Moment of the day
* The Board of Control for Cricket in India may have had to drop admission prices to attract interest but it was great to see more than 20,000 fans attend the final day. Tests here are, generally, poorly attended and India would do well to follow Pakistan's example where they give tickets away free. The BCCI don't exactly need the money.
Shot of the day
* Virender Sehwag showed what a destructive player he is. The right-hander's most devastating shot was a rasping straight drive that nearly took Paul Collingwood's head off.
Ball of the day
* Munaf Patel looked a future star on his Test debut, taking 7 for 97. He has mastered reverse swing and produced a fine inswinging yorker to dismiss Matthew Hoggard.
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