Giles' amazing show of insecurity invites the Australians' fire

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The Independent Online

It is difficult to believe that Ashley Giles will be feeling these emotions when he walks out to play for England in the second Test at Edgbaston on Thursday morning. The Warwickshire spinner received a fair amount of criticism at the conclusion of England's 239-run defeat at Lord's, but no more than most.

Some of it may have been a tad harsh - David Houghton, the former Zimbabwe captain and current Derbyshire coach, stated that, by selecting Giles, England were taking only 10 men on to the field - but the left-arm spinner did not have a good match. In 11 overs Giles conceded 56 runs and he scored 11 and nought with the bat.

Giles' reaction to Houghton's barbed comments, along with those made by the media and former England players, has been nothing short of remarkable. Initially he suggested that many former England players did not want to see Michael Vaughan's side regain the Ashes. Giles then turned his anger on the media, who he felt should be supporting England in their quest.

Yet this was just a prelude to a newspaper article yesterday. In it Giles, amazingly, tried to justify comments he made last week and explain why he made them. But, unfortunately, he came across as being paranoid and insecure.

Australia's cricketers must be chuckling into their tinnies. After winning 14 of their last 18 Test matches England entered this series with the reputation of being a strong, resolute team who were going to put the world champions under a lot of pressure. Yet if the demeanour of Giles, one of England's senior and most respected players, is typical of the other 10 players in the dressing-room this series will not see that.

It is difficult to work out what Giles was hoping to achieve by opening his heart in such a manner. Perhaps he was feeling unloved, unappreciated and victimised? But sport, especially when played against Australia, is not a place for sensitive souls who struggle to cope with pressure. Giles would have been better off keeping his thoughts to himself. Receiving criticism is part of being an England cricketer.

During my career, Ian Botham informed the British public that the England bowling attack had shown the killer instinct of the Teletubbies. And sure enough, in the Daily Mirror, our heads appeared in the bodies of Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po.

No player enjoys this sort of coverage but you have to learn to live with it. Proving people wrong was, for me, a source of huge motivation and when you did, boy did it taste sweet.

It is an approach that Kevin Pietersen seems to have adopted. No England player has received the sort of vitriolic reception which greeted him in South Africa in February. But after his third one-day hundred at Centurion Park he was given a standing ovation by those who had earlier booed him.

Prior to the first Ashes Test, Matthew Hoggard made ill-judged comments about the age and durability of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and, after watching the pair take 15 wickets at Lord's, it would be fair to say that they came back to haunt him.

Before yesterday's outburst John Buchanan, the Australian coach, had said that his batsmen will be looking to target Giles. The strategy had sound cricketing reasons. By hitting the 32-year-old out of the attack Vaughan would be forced to turn to Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison sooner than he wanted, thus reducing their potency.

Now the Australians have a second reason to get after Giles. He has shown he is anxious and vulnerable.

The Australians did this to Philip Tufnell on their 2001 tour of England. At the start of the trip Middlesex played the Australians in a one-day game at Lord's. I was Middlesex captain at the time but was injured. We invited Tufnell to captain Middlesex, but on the morning of the game he phoned up and informed us he was ill and unable to play.

While the players were warming up I knocked into Steve Waugh, the Australian captain, who was also not playing. He asked me about our side and I told him about Tufnell. Hearing this he turned to me, looked me in the eye and said: "He's shit himself, hasn't he?" I declined to comment.

Buchanan may not have gained much from his summer coaching Middlesex but during the time he spent working with Tufnell he realised how insecure he was as a bowler. And on the back of this, and Waugh's observation, the Aussies went after the left-arm spinner when he played in the final Ashes Test of the summer at The Oval.

Waugh scored an unbeaten 157 on one leg as the tourists amassed 641 for 4 in their first innings, and Tufnell walked off with the unflattering figures of 1 for 174 in 39 overs. He never played for England again.

Giles' behaviour is in stark contrast to that of the Australians at the start of their tour. After consecutive defeats to England, Somerset and Bangladesh, Ricky Ponting's side put up their hands and admitted they were not good enough. They did not moan and feel sorry for themselves, they returned to the nets and worked hard. It is an approach England need to adopt before the Ashes disappear into the sunset.

The bouquets and brickbats for Giles

David Graveney: CHAIRMAN OF SELECTORS JULY 2003

"He has suffered from the criticism. It has to get to you at some stage and he has lost some confidence."

Nasser Hussain: FORMER ENGLAND CAPTAIN JUNE 2004

"Giles is one of the mentally strongest cricketers I've ever played with."

David Houghton: DERBYSHIRE COACH JULY 2005

"He's not going to get wickets against the Aussies and he's not going to make any runs. With him, England are effectively playing 10 against 11.

Geoffrey Boycott: FORMER ENGLAND PLAYER AUGUST 2005

"Crikey, the criticism directed at Giles in the last week is nothing compared to what I have had to deal with in my career."

James Lawton: CHIEF SPORTS WRITER AUGUST 2005

"The weakness displayed by Giles in dealing with criticism will no doubt have been noted by the Australians' sledging sub-committee... One passage of self-pity verged on the shocking."

'Players should do all their talking on the pitch'

Ashley Giles's outburst in yesterday's Guardian about his treatment in the media, particularly from former Test players, might have given him some personal satisfaction but it could have done his own team-mates a lot of damage.

Geoff Lawson, the former Australian Test fast bowler, said as much yesterday. "Anything you say in the press will either antagonise the opposition, or provide them with an insight into you and thus give them ammunition to use against you.

"And the way the modern game is these days I would imagine the present Australian team would not mind seeing the name of Ashley Giles on England's team sheet for the second Test at Edgbaston.

"I don't see the point in sounding off. The rule is you keep your mouth shut. It didn't help England when Matthew Hoggard wrote off Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

"Players should do their talking on the pitch, that is the only place it counts."

And Lawson's advice is backed up by Cary Cooper, professor of occupational psychology at Lancaster University.

Professor Cooper explained yesterday: "Some players take criticism to heart and let it affect their self-confidence. And as a consequence this can be used by the opposition.

"But also by being so defensive it could well have an impact on his own team as it suggests that inside himself Ashley Giles feels he was not up to scratch and that communicates itself to those around him.

"It is because of all this that I have two rules that I tell players. No 1 is, don't read the papers when you have not had a good game.

"Rule No 2 is, if you do read the papers and they are critical of you, do not react to it."

Professor Cooper explained that sports stars at the top of their particular speciality are victims of their own high standards, so that when they fall below those levels it is noticeable. They are perceived to be human after all.

"Sportsmen judge themselves against the other top pros in their sport, so when they slip up they are really disappointed and reading about it only confirms it to themselves.

"Ashley Giles knows he had a bad day, but reading about it makes him angry with the journalist who has accurately perceived what he knew inside himself.

"What Ashley should have done was to have admitted straight away that he didn't perform well, ignored the papers and put it behind him."

David Llewellyn

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