Giles operates to maximum effect to see off Australia's Zen masters
Saturday 06 August 2005
This may yet prove to be true, but there is still a formidable amount of battling to be done here over the next day or so and in the soft light of last evening there was only one certainty.
It was that Ashley Giles had found the best of himself at the end of a week in which, for one dubious reason or another, he had displayed quite the opposite of that.
If triumphalism should grip him at this precariously premature stage of the series that could bring the first Ashes triumph in 18 years - it has, after all been a monotonous tendency of the English game when enjoying success against some of the weaker nations - it would be a grave pity. What Giles has to celebrate before any anticipation of the eventual rewards his fine work yesterday may bring to himself and his team is a little sober reflection on what it really meant.
Under immense pressure largely created by himself, he produced all of his ability to an optimum level.
He ridiculed the claims of his heaviest critics that his performance in the first Test at Lord's meant that the selectors would be saddling his team-mates with a passenger if they kept faith in him for this match.
Here he did, quite exactly, what he failed to do at Lord's. He won the respect of the Australian batsmen, a ferocious bunch who started the day so driven by an apparent need to match England's first-day scoring rate of 5.13 an over that had they been fighting bulls rather than cricketers they would surely have smashed their way through the nearest sightscreen. Matthew Hayden did the next best thing when he charged the first delivery he received, from Matthew Hoggard, and drilled it perfectly into the hands of Andrew Strauss.
At that point, Giles' skills of containing and maybe winkling out Australia, wherever they rested between the doubts of some critics and his own belief, seemed as if they might well stay in the margins of this second day. Australia seemed gripped by some dark imperative to self-destroy. However, soon enough that optimistic supposition was in ruins.
First Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain who had been keen enough to exploit any psychological damage caused by Giles' earlier flouncing, and then his young compatriot Michael Clarke, began to show the authority of Zen masters.
When Ponting dispatched Simon Jones for three straight drives to the boundary in the same over he seemed to be suggesting that England's first-day rampage to 407 all out would shrivel quickly enough in the afternoon sunshine.
But Ponting went for a mere 61 after the England captain Michael Vaughan had cunningly placed himself at backward square leg to pounce on a strangely irresolute shot from his rival. The ball was delivered by Giles. With Ponting gone, much depended on the ravishing touch and élan of Clarke, who was such a heavy influence on his side's crushing victory in the first Test.
Clarke was again batting beautifully, but when on 40, and in fearful English eyes maybe in the foothills of another game-changing innings, he was ambushed by a slightly quicker ball and caught, with stunning technical precision, by the critically beleaguered wicketkeeper Geraint Jones. Again the vital ball was delivered by Giles.
From him there had come none of the pyrotechnics of Shane Warne, none of that charging of the blood which accompanies displays of sporting genius. But then we know, and we thought Giles knew we knew, that he is not a sporting genius. He is a man who has had to work for his success every day of his professional life, and here on his home ground of Edgbaston he had the satisfaction of working harder, more resolutely than at hardly any other time in his career.
Here, on the day which might just prove to be the one that finally turned the tide, were Giles' details: 26 overs, two maidens, 78 runs and three wickets. Quite perfectly, the third wicket was Shane Warne. The greatest spinner the world has ever known came to the wicket maddened by the same furies which had inhabited Hayden, and there was Giles sending him back with a delivery of fine measurement. It was an ending of supreme satisfaction for the man who had endured a week of torment, one which might just inform the rest of his cricketing life.
What it can say to him, surely, is that his great strength will always be in his ability to play his game on his own terms and to the limit of his talent. He is not a Warne, and nor he is too adept at the business of sporting controversy. This was one which plagued his approach to one of the most important games of his career - and one which some thought had raised serious questions about his suitability against opponents as ruthless as these.
Have Giles and his team-mates finally shaken off the Australian yoke? There is some compelling evidence. Andrew Flintoff played with the ball on the second day as he did with the bat on the first, which is to say with great panache and natural aggression. Vaughan, for all his troubles with the bat, led with vigour and a sharp eye for an edge, and his running out of Damien Martyn was a crushing stroke.
But there, right at the end, was the sight of Warne once again ransacking his memory and producing an astonishing delivery to bowl Strauss around his legs. The Australians are down, and quite possibly out. But even on the day Ashley Giles re-made his professional profile, he couldn't really take anything for granted. He had played like a good professional. But Warne was something else, something on ground England still must tread.
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