Giles brings a ray of sunshine

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While England's much heralded team spirit takes a fearful battering in the NatWest Series, the selectors can not only take heart from the news that Craig White is on the recovery trail, but that Ashley Giles is making a gradual comeback from injury too.

The Warwickshire left-arm spinner made his first Championship appearance of the summer at Worcester this week and is confident of being fit in time for the real business of the summer, the Test series against Australia which starts on his home ground of Edgbaston on 5 July.

"It's so nice to be playing again," said Giles, who took a record number of wickets for an England bowler in Pakistan and was an ever-present in the Test side throughout the winter despite carrying a long-term Achilles tendon injury. That flared up significantly after he returned from Sri Lanka. "It's been a long and frustrating break for me and great to bowl a few overs in the middle.

"It's been a patience thing. I've been working in the gym on strengthening work, then icing it, resting, stretching and working with the physio. Hopefully all that will keep me on the field. I'm not 100 per cent fit. I still get some pain and stiffness and my body is going to take some wear and tear from playing again, so it's important I'm careful.

"But I am better than I was in Sri Lanka," said the 28-year-old, who had to show a good deal of patience while he waited for more than two years for a Test recall after earning his first cap in 1998. "I feel that I am bowling pretty well. I'm confident and I've slipped into a pretty good rhythm already. If they want me for the First Test, then I'll be there."

Giles took 5 for 46 in his first bowl of the season, against Oxford University 10 days ago, and picked up 2 for 55 at New Road. "Obviously it's a different world, bowling at Oxford University and the Australian Test side. But in my head I'll be confident enough to do a job. The Ashes is the Ashes. It's as simple as that. It is a childhood dream to play in those matches and I'd love to be part of a winning team against Australia. I think this year we've got as good a chance as we've had for a long time to win the Ashes."

Essex were frustrated in their bid to record a first Championship victory since the opening game of the season back in April. They resumed at Ilford on 65 for 2, requiring a further 144 to beat the Champions, Surrey, and although they managed to add a further 88 runs without loss, the rains came.

Richard Clinton, the son of former Kent and Surrey opener Grahame, was signed by Essex on a two-year contract the day before the match began, having left Kent due to lack of opportunity. The 19-year-old left-hander has taken his chance to impress on his first-class debut and he progressed to 58 not out off 108 balls with nine fours, including three in a row in the first over of the day off the leg spin of Ian Salisbury.

In an unbroken stand of 118 for the third wicket Clinton was accompanied by Stuart Law, who had made 66 not out off just 79 balls with 11 boundaries when the heavens opened. The match was abandoned as a draw at 4.30pm, which allowed Surrey to remain in second place in the First Division.

No further play was possible at Southgate, where Middlesex drew with Hampshire and thereby retained the leadership of the Second Division. Gloucestershire declared on their overnight total of 159 for 4 at Gloucester and set Durham a theoretical target of 290, play having been delayed until 3.30pm because of the inclement conditions.

It was the fourth match in succession that the north-east county had been set targets in the fourth innings, although this time the weather had the last word. They reached 116 for 2 off 34 overs by the close, with the prolific Australian Martin Love, who orch-estrated their one successful chase against Nottinghamshire, remaining unbeaten on 52 off 87 balls with eight fours and a six.