On the eve of the Cricket World Cup and just two months from the start of the domestic season, Ashley Giles spoke to The Cambridge Student about England’s chances, his reflections on a difficult spell as coach of the national side and his excitement about his new challenge coaching one of the country’s biggest county sides.
The forty-one year-old, whose left-arm spin took 143 Test wickets for England, looks back on his brief spell as England coach in reflective fashion, although the tinge of disappointment is evident. Peter Moores, formerly of Lancashire, the county whose reigns have now been taken up by Giles, was preferred as permanent replacement to Andy Flower last year, after Giles oversaw a disappointing T20 World Cup campaign in Bangladesh. “Some of it was really enjoyable,” says the man who also took over 500 First Class scalps during his prolific career, “but, at the sharp end, it’s tough…I still wake up wondering how we didn’t win the  Champions Trophy.” England lost by just five runs in that final and never really repeated the form that allowed them to reach that showpiece occasion under the stewardship of Giles.
So what about the World Cup, beginning on Saturday? Giles suggests England have “an outside chance” of winning the competition, speaking not with bitterness but a realistic analysis of the amount of work still required to be done by the national side to become the best on the planet. “You never know,” he continues, “England have to get to the Quarter Finals and in those conditions, with the squad they’ve got, I wouldn’t write them off.”
Whilst 2015 sees the best cricketers collide at the World Cup, it also marks a fresh chapter in Giles’ career. Having guided Warwickshire to County Championship success in 2012, the Chertsey-born coach makes a return to the domestic scene with Lancashire, and his focus is very much the task which lies ahead, namely achieving promotion back to the First Division. It’s a challenge which excites Giles: “It’s about being back in the game…I’ve got a really exciting group to work with and I am looking forward to getting started.”
Within that group at Emirates Old Trafford are two of the country’s most promising left-arm spinners, Simon Kerrigan and Stephen Parry, both of whom have had a taste of international cricket and will undoubtedly hold aspirations of furthering their careers at the highest level. Giles hopes his experience as a left-armer himself can act as a catalyst in their development and predicts great things for both men: “they could both have very long, successful careers ahead of them.”
Giles, once dubbed the ‘King of Spain’ after a rogue ‘a’ found its way onto the merchandise of the Warwickshire club shop, is assertive in saying, at this stage, his target is to achieve success with the Red Rose county, rather than use the experience as a springboard to another international position. “I honestly haven’t thought about it,” he says, “What I will do is take the time here to do the job so it’s done properly.” In spite of the unquestionable knock to his confidence Giles suffered after being overlooked as England’s head coach, there is without doubt a steely determination, competitive edge and professionalism to him which makes one believe he will achieve many more great things before his coaching career comes to an end.
The conversation moves to the state of English cricket more generally, a topic which has recently been the subject of great debate, especially with the success of ‘franchised’ Twenty20 cricket, such as the Big Bash League in Australia. The concern amongst some cricket followers is that, with the English competition spread over a much longer period (three months), the domestic game cannot attract the world’s best players. Furthermore, the next generation of international players will not face the same exposure against top-class overseas cricketers. Many more traditionalist lovers of the game have argued that there exists a danger of overdosing on Twenty20 cricket and the current format should remain. Giles believes that the balance lies somewhere between the two, recognising that, with the format as it stands, “you are simply unlikely to get ‘stars’ to come for such an extended period.” Some of the game’s biggest names, such as Chris Gayle, have never to date featured in the English T20 tournament.
What a change of scheduling, especially putting more T20 games on Friday evenings does is open domestic cricket to a much wider, younger audience, something Giles sees as crucial for the game: “T20 is very important because it’s a vehicle for fun and enjoyment,” he says, before adding that four-day cricket could also benefit in the long run: “I hope youngsters can then go on and appreciate the longer form of the game as well.”
England open their World Cup campaign against Australia in Melbourne, in the early hours of Saturday morning, before the county season gets under way in mid April.
With thanks to Paul Holliday at LCCC.