Wiles of Giles make Warwickshire smile

NEW FACES FOR A NEW YEAR: Slow left-armer has overcome rejection by home county as David Llewellyn finds out
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The Independent Online
By any standards last year was a remarkable one for Ashley Giles. The slow left-arm bowler, rejected by Surrey four years ago in favour of three others who have since left the county and in a couple of cases come to grief, just could not do anything wrong for Warwickshire.

"It was amazing," says the genial Giles, a veritable heavyweight at 6ft 4in and 16 stones. "Everything went well, whatever I did. It all seemed to work out. Of course you have to be positive whatever, you have to believe in yourself, but even so last year was incredible for me."

Essentially what happened was that Giles established himself primarily as a bowler of great potential, doing enough to earn himself a place on the successful England A tour of Australia; but, in addition, the 23-year- old showed himself to be an improving batsman, bringing his county season to a close with a maiden, unbeaten century.

"I don't know what would have happened if I had been at Surrey," says the Chertsey-born Giles. "It's difficult to say. But since joining Warwickshire my bowling has developed beyond all recognition and the bonus is that my batting has also come on in leaps and bounds."

It could have been so different if Giles had not been given the kindest of kicks up the backside by his father, Michael, after Surrey said they had no use for him as a slow left-arm bowler. "They told me in 1991 that they had three slow left- armers on the staff - Keith Medlycott, Neil Kendrick and Mark Bainbridge - and that there was no room for me."

It is one of life's wicked little ironies that all three have since been released by Surrey. Medlycott is now coaching in South Africa, Kendrick, having joined Glamorgan, has since been released and Bainbridge has slipped out of the first-class game as well. All the while Giles has thrived.

The problem was that Giles was regarded as a left-arm seamer. Unfortunately, he suffered a back injury when he was 15 and found that orthodox left- arm slow bowling not only did not exacerbate the injury, but that it also actually produced wickets, lots of them, for his club side, Guildford.

Surrey insisted that he continued with seam, but Giles was turning more and more to the slow stuff.

"I don't think they were even that interested in signing me as a seamer anyway," he says without a trace of bitterness. "All the same I was devastated at the time. I grew up wanting to play for Surrey, like all kids want to play for their county. But I understood their problem. My Dad gave me a kick up the arse and told me to get on with it. He has been the single most important influence in my life. He would drive me all over the country for various courses when I was a youngster. He has never pushed me though, he has only ever given me a helping hand. When Surrey said no he helped me write to other counties."

And in 1992 sharp-eyed Warwickshire stepped in. "It was a big decision," Giles said. "I was 19 at the time. It seemed a momentous step to take. I had no idea how it would work out. In fact it's been fantastic."

When he moved up to Edgbaston Bob Woolmer, the current coach of South Africa, was in charge. "Bob helped me a great deal of course, but Dermot Reeve, as captain, gave me an amazing amount of self-confidence. Dermot brought me out of my shell as a cricketer. More recently Phil Neale, having taken over from Bob Woolmer, has been great. He has always found time to help me with my batting, taking time out to give me a net or some throw- downs. That is very important to someone at my stage, you need that sort of backing."

But, like any talented sportsman, much has to come from within. "It's all very well taking wickets at club level, but it is a lot different in first-class cricket," Giles says. "I have had to work out a lot for myself. Much of my progress has been due to natural development. I have not been bowling orthodox slow-left arm for that long so I am still discovering a lot about it for myself."

As for his batting he reveals: "I began batting at No 11 last season, moved up to 10 and finally found myself coming in at eight or even seven and I wound up with the century. It's great to be given that responsibility, and again Dermot played a big part in that."

There are those who are now regarding Giles as a genuine spinning all- rounder with a bright international future at the highest level. In last season's County Championship, Giles completed an all-round double, scoring more than 500 runs (average almost 35) and taking 55 wickets at 27.81.

As for his England prospects, they are in the lap of the selectors. His A tour, no easy ride for anyone, under the captaincy of former Surrey Under-19 colleague Adam Hollioake, while not a continuation of the summer's success, was certainly no failure. He finished up as the leading first- class wicket-taker on the tour with 19, and his consistency showed through with a return of 27 runs per victim.

Giles remains cautious, his sights firmly set on the immediate future. "After all I have only had one good season for Warwickshire and a pretty good England A tour," he says. "I don't think I can realistically stake a claim for an England place on the strength of that. I just have to show that last year was not a one-off. Next season I will be looking to take more wickets and to score more runs.

"It would be great eventually to play for my country, particularly a Test at The Oval and, of course, at Edgbaston, my home ground."

At least he is hungry enough. His enthusiasm shines like a beacon in everything he says and does. Bowling clearly gives him a lot of satisfaction, and a great deal of pleasure. "A lot of days last year the ball came out beautifully, and it is such a good feeling when you know you have the batsman on edge a bit and on the run. I am looking forward to next season and doing it all over again."