King of spin tormented by hip injury and hungry batsmen
Monday 21 November 2005
"The King of Spain" might have felt yesterday that it would be pleasant to abdicate, buy a little hacienda somewhere in Andalucia and watch the sunsets. It had to be a better option than being carted regularly into the stands here to the delight of a crowd whose friendly hysteria such activity did nothing to quell.
"The King" is otherwise known as Ashley Giles, England's admirable left-arm spin bowler, who gained the sobriquet after ordering some commemorative mugs for his benefit season. They were supposed to say "King of Spin" but came back with an extra letter, the manufacturers presumably not knowing their A's from their elbow.
Giles was given the treatment by Pakistan on the first day of the second Test in Faisalabad. It was possible to tell it could get nasty when his third ball was despatched for six over long-on by Shoaib Malik. In his second over he was hoisted again in a similar direction by the left-hander Salman Butt. And this was only the 11th over of the match.
Throughout the entire day Giles was never allowed to settle. He could find no rhythm, partly because the batsmen decided to take him on, partly because his bowling is being affected by a longstanding hip injury. In four spells, he was allowed to bowl only a total of 10 overs which went for 55 runs. There were four sixes in all, the wonder being that none came from the whirling blade of Shahid Afridi, who struck four of his own.
Whatever the England coach Duncan Fletcher said afterwards - and it was not much in a tetchy press conference in which he spent most of the time muttering at or disagreeing with his interlocutors - this was not in the original script for the match.
Fletcher rightly defended his leading spinner. "The ball has hardly spun," the coach said. "But at the end of the day if you're spinning it slightly away and giving the batsmen a little bit of room it's a little bit easier to face that kind of spinner. We'll see what happens when the wicket starts turning later on."
For England, the expected story-board would have read something along the lines of the corresponding match here five years ago. It was also the second match in a series of three and Giles was still a Test rookie then. By the end of the first day he had bowled 24 overs and taken 3 for 63. He was trusted in a way that he could not be trusted yesterday.
Giles has come back several times from disappointing performances, spurred on by unfair critics who have blamed him for not being a combined left-arm version of Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. He tends to speak from the heart in low times, but it is the hip that is beginning to be more than troublesome. It kept him out of the two Tests against Bangladesh last summer and he has had two cortisone injections in it. Fletcher denied that it was any worse, but with every six the probability grows that Giles will have surgery sooner rather than later.
He is an important component in England's team and at 32 is the oldest among the Ashes winners. Only three left-arm spinners (Derek Underwood, Tony Lock and Hedley Verity with whom he is fast catching up) have taken more wickets for England than Giles's 138.
An average of 38 means that he probably has more claim to being the "King of Spain" and the "King of Spin" but to get back into this series England need Giles to be more than a pretender to the throne.
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