Ask a betting man at the start of this series who would be England's leading wicket- taker after West Indies had completed three innings and Stephen Harmison would have been the strong favourite. Ashley Giles? Say about 33-1. The bookies would already have made windfall profits.
After three innings in the first two Tests England's leading wicket-taker with 13 is Ashley Giles. Poor Harmison has struggled to take only three. In the West Indies last spring Harmison was lucky to bowl on bouncy wickets that exaggerated his threat; Giles managed only 30 overs in three Tests. Yesterday was his turn.
He was the fortunate beneficiary of a decision by Michael Vaughan that seemed to make no sense at all at the time. The West Indies were 317 for 4 at the start of the 80th over. Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo were cruising towards the 366 needed to prevent the follow-on. Apart from Andrew Flintoff, none of the English bowlers were causing much trouble, and the only factor which was likely to stop them in their tracks was the new ball.
The 10 overs before the new ball was due had been bowled by Flintoff, Giles and Marcus Trescothick, who bowled the 78th over. It seemed obvious to everyone in the crowd that this was a prelude to Vaughan unleashing his three fast bowlers - Harmison himself, Matthew Hoggard, and James Anderson.
The 80th over was bowled by Trescothick. But Giles saw that Harmison was warming up: "I quite expected Harmy to take the new ball," he said later. Giles felt he was bowling well though he had taken no wickets for 60 at the time: "My confidence was pretty good. I fizzed the ball a bit more after lunch." The first ball of the 81st over made that point, turning past Bravo's angled bat and hit the top of the off stump. The score was 323 for 5.
Hoggard was brought on at the City End. But it was still the old ball that Ridley Jacobs chased outside the off stump and edged to first slip. 324 for 6.
Vaughan now decided to let Giles bowl on at the Pavilion End, always erect, coming in off half a dozen paces and twirling his left-arm off breaks from over the wicket. No longer innocuous either. He has been hurt by persistent criticism in which the most common adjectives were negative and banal. "I've had a lot of stick, but this has been by far my best year as an England bowler," he says - he has claimed no fewer than 44 wickets since last September.
Chanderpaul was facing now and the third ball of Giles's over bounced up from the pad to the glove and out square to silly-point where Robert Key took a good diving catch. 324 for 7; West Indies were brittle and looking anxious.
Giles was on a roll now. Pedro Collins flicked Giles off his legs and Flintoff took a sharp catch inches from the turf at leg slip. 334 for 8, and Giles had taken 3 for 3 in 26 balls. His flamboyant progress was interrupted by Harmison who forced Omari Banks to edge a straightforward catch to the keeper; 336 for 9.
The last wicket fell to Giles in the 92nd over, when Corey Collymore was given out lbw. It was a poor decision by the Australian umpire Simon Taufel, but Giles had ridden his luck and been rewarded with 4 for 5 in 33 balls as West Indies lost their last six wickets in 63 balls.
Giles's figures were 30.3-7-65-4. Brilliant, and all because of Vaughan's curious decision not to take the new ball. Professional cricketers are sometimes impatient with questioners who want explanations of seemingly bizarre decisions. Trescothick dealt summarily with the journalist who questioned his decision not to declare when England were in a commanding position at Lord's against New Zealand. "You don't know anything about cricket," he replied.
Even people who do know about cricket were bemused by Vaughan's decision. One reason emerged only after the players had returned to the dressing room and Hoggard, in an interview for television, suggested that Vaughan had stuck with the old ball - which was a replacement for a ball with a torn seam in the 60th over - because it was reverse swinging promisingly. More, certainly, than a new ball would have done.
But the oddest thing about this was that the wickets fell to Giles and were not attributable to reverse swing. Shrewd spin bowling and poor stroke-play from an unusually long tail gave him the wickets which took his series total to 13.
It was said of a New York politician who grew rich from insider dealing: "He seen his opportunities and he took 'em."
Say the same of Ashley Giles, and feel happy for him. He has waited patiently for a summer in the sun. Less than a week ago he took nine wickets at Lord's and he performed just as well here. "You can't put a price on last week," he said. "And it shuts a few people up as well." For the time being at least.Reuse content