Giles' troublesome hip starts to furrow the brow

Ashes countdown - Crunch time looms for spinner as injury refuses to heal
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The Independent Online

For the other Ashley, the one who has not been dominating what used to be called the athletics intelligence, the week has been spent quietly at home, probably wishing he was elsewhere. There have been compensations for Ashley Giles, the left-arm spinner, while all hell was being let loose over the restaurant rendezvous of Ashley Cole, the left full-back.

For the other Ashley, the one who has not been dominating what used to be called the athletics intelligence, the week has been spent quietly at home, probably wishing he was elsewhere. There have been compensations for Ashley Giles, the left-arm spinner, while all hell was being let loose over the restaurant rendezvous of Ashley Cole, the left full-back.

Giles has spent much of the time looking after his children while his wife has been in hospital for minor surgery, and he has been swimming frequently. The visits to the pool have been relaxing after the tiring delights of looking after a five- and a three-year-old, but they also have a deadly serious purpose.

Giles has been trying to ease the pain in his troublesome hip, an injury which is refusing so far to respond to treatment. Nobody is panicking - nobody can afford to, nobody dares - but as each day passes the implication is clear. It is another day nearer to Giles not being fit to take his place in England's side attempting to regain the Ashes.

Giles is crucial to this objective in a way that could not have been imagined even a year ago. He knows himself how his position in the team has changed. "It's nice in one way," he said, "that people who aren't part of my immediate family are worried about my injury and what's happening to it."

The injury is to a hip cartilage. He felt it during the winter and, nearly four weeks ago at Hove, he turned in the field and something twitched. It has been sore ever since. A cortisone injection two weeks ago has so far not worked, although the recipient has not yet given up hope that it will find its way through to the spot that matters.

There is a stoically official line from England's medical team. Giles is undergoing physiotherapy at his county, Warwickshire, regular hydrotherapy (otherwise known as that swimming) and pilates. The injury is being managed with rest and recuperation. He is neither running nor bowling.

It is possible to read too much into things. When Giles first went to see a specialist he was asked if his parents had hip problems. They had.

When the one-day squad gather on Friday for the NatWest Series, England will have a clearer picture. Giles will have to bowl and run. Surgery would be the final resort and in any case it would need three months from which to recover, and the Ashes series would have been and gone by then.

Last summer, as has by now been thoroughly chronicled not least by the man himself, Giles was all but washed up. He was being widely, daftly derided, wickets were in short supply and he was contemplating quitting the game. England would not now contemplate going into a match without him. Not that under Duncan Fletcher's stewardship they would have done so previously, Fletcher not being one to listen to the ever-changing siren calls of pundits. But Giles' role has become more influential because of his form.

He will go into the Ashes, it is fervently hoped, as one of the chief holding bowlers for England. They know that Australia will come at him, try to knock him out of the attack and leave England's strategy in tatters. But Giles is ready for it. As ready as you can be against that bunch of self-believing marauders.

In fewer than 12 months, Giles has been reinvented. His brand of over-the-wicket bowling was scorned in Bangalore three years ago when he repeatedly used the angle of attack to Sachin Tendulkar. It was negative and ugly, depriving Tendulkar of scoring opportunity, although it was eventually successful because the great batsman, frustrated, was stumped for the first time in his Test career.

By last summer, Giles was in a form trough. But with the help of sports psychology and keeping a diary he turned it round. Gradually he began to reassert himself, and his over-the-wicket style has become an art form of its own. Invariably still not pretty but effective in an attacking fashion now. In England's last 10 Test matches he has taken 39 wickets at 30 runs each. He began this season at the top of his form, with 24 wickets in the first three Championship matches, a record for a bowler in an English April. Then came the Hove incident.

"I know it's a hip cartilage but you know as much as me," he said, the inaction starting to worry him. The possibility, no more than that, that he may miss the start of the Ashes would throw England's plans into disarray. Gareth Batty, who has played in the two Test matches against Bangladesh, would presumably continue to fill in.

Batty is a worthy bowler, still learning, but Fletcher said it all on the eve of the series. "We lack back-up in two departments, the all-rounder and the spinner," he said. For some years, England have been trying to unearth a leg-spin bowler. In time, this search may come to fruition, although the calls for patience will begin to wear thin. But years of neglect of slow bowling generally, the growing ineffectiveness of finger spin, have taken a heavy toll.

Giles is a professional's professional who has turned himself into a bowler to make the best think in a trade that has been inhabited lately either by geniuses or freaks. On Friday, England will know more about Giles' injury. It would be welcome if the medical bulletin after the fitness test began: "Hip, hip, hooray."

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