Cricket, it occurred to me, has an ignoble tradition of current players moaning almost paranoiacally about what they perceive as snide, unfair criticism from the illustrious men who played the game before them. Nasser Hussain even turned his burning resentment into a facet of his game; one knew, as he nudged through the 90s against India in a one-day final at Lord's a few years back, that propelling him towards his century was a primal urge to stick it up those he considered to be his tormentors in the media centre.
Of course, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. Only yesterday an exasperated Geoffrey Boycott was questioning the nous of Michael Vaughan and his bowlers for not forcing Ricky Ponting on to the front foot, getting him to play through extra-cover early in his splendid knock of 61. "If we as ex-players can see it from here, why can't they see it down there?" he mused.
It was ever and will ever be thus. Now, with exquisite if predictable irony, Hussain is in the media centre looking out, destined one day, perhaps, to have a bat waved pointedly in his direction by a beleaguered England captain upon reaching a century. Similarly, when Giles' playing days are over, he will surely antagonise some future England spinner by publicly questioning his selection. In cricket, what goes around, comes around. Especially the ball. Except, that is, when it is bowled by the sorcerer, Shane Warne.
I am reminded here of a story I have related before in this space but which bears repeating, about one of the spin bowlers tried and rejected by the England selectors before Giles became the regular tweaker. An impeccable source tells me that this chap had a new girlfriend who asked him to show her how he exerted spin on a cricket ball.
"You don't really want to know," he snorted. "No," she protested. "If we're going out together, I want to understand how you make your living." So he fetched a ball and demonstrated the various grips: how to bowl an off-break, how a leg-break. "And how do you bowl the one they say on the telly that you're so good at?" she asked.
"I'm not sure which one you mean," he replied. "I think they call it the long hop," she said.
Most spinners down the years have had a stock bad delivery to match their stock good delivery, yet one of the most remarkable things about Warne is not the huge number of good balls he bowls but the negligible number of bad ones. His 152 deliveries on Thursday yielded 116 runs, yet how many of those runs came from loose balls. Three? Five? Eight?
To return to Giles, he has been loudly derided for complaining that his detractors are punishing him for not being Warne, yet there is a kernel of truth in what he says. When the two XIs are compared like with like, Australia are almost laughably superior in two departments: batsman-wicketkeeper (Geraint Jones v Adam Gilchrist) and spinner (Giles v Warne). That, as Giles says with an almost endearing hint of the school playground, isn't his fault.
Warne's brilliance, meanwhile, makes me realise that I don't want England's cricketers to beat Australia anything like as much as I want England's footballers to beat Germany or Argentina or pretty much anyone they come across in a competitive fixture. When those big international football matches come round, every sinew and corpuscle of me wants England to win, but this is not because I enjoy football more than cricket; it might even be that I enjoy cricket more than football, at least in the sense that the quality of play seems more important than the identity of the winner.
When Diego Maradona scored his stunning second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, I cursed. When Warne bowled Andrew Strauss on Thursday with a clever quicker ball that turned prodigiously, I couldn't help but applaud.
The difference is that football is an emotional game, cricket a cerebral one. And whatever the outcome of this Ashes series, we should all give thanks that we are spectators in the era of an all-time great.
As Warne's mentor, Terry Jenner, said to me a few years ago: "Telling people, 'Warne's on' is almost like saying, 'Bradman's in'. In Australia, housewives and grandmothers don't put the kettle on when Warne is bowling, they wait until the fast bowlers are on. It used to be the other way round."Reuse content