‘Singeing the Beard of the King of Spain’ – Ashley Giles and Rebuilding English Cricket

Ashley Giles was once an England Hero. Between 2003 and 2006 he was a consistent performer picking up important wickets in the famous 2005 Ashes win and scoring the winning runs at Trent Bridge. The former England spinner is humorously referred to as the ‘King of Spain’ following a misprint on a line of mugs produced by Warwickshire, his County team, meant to read the ‘King of Spin’. The nickname caught on not only because of its humorous beginnings but because of how it aptly rendered Giles as something of a joke figure in a very successful England team. Whilst Giles was an important member of that famous team, he could be described as something of a hanger on, with world class players Like Flintoff, Pietersen, Jones and Harmison stealing the headlines and often doing the damage.

In 1587, Francis Drake led a military expedition against the Spanish naval forces assembling in Cádiz, delaying the plans of the Spanish to invade England by more than a year. The incident, is known to the English by Drake’s phrase “Singeing the beard of the King of Spain”. The beard of England’s King of Spain, Ashley Giles, which owing to his relatively poor cricketing career, wasn’t all too ‘manly’ in the first place, is now surely singed beyond all recognition, following his horrible record as England one-day coach thus far.

In truth he was an average cricketer. He had a test bowling average of over 40 (30 is considered to be par), as a ‘spinner’ he did not spin the ball, he could not perform consistently enough with the bat to be considered an all-rounder and was slow and ungainly in the field. What can be said of Ashley Giles is that he made the most of his limited talent.

He is now the frontrunner to be Head Coach in all formats of the game. If he had been particularly successful in his time as one-day coach this would be fine, but just 19 victories from 47 games show that he hasn’t. After a terrible winter in Australia, poor performances against the West Indies and a woeful T20 World Cup we need a coach that is going to make bold decisions and not allow England to continue on their current slump. As we saw with Australia, the appointment of a new coach in Lehmann galvanised the team. With relatively little change to personnel, Australia were a completely different proposition. However, the gusto and confidence, often coming across as arrogance, that Lehmann has in abundance, seems to be sadly lacking in the personality of Ashley Giles. Does Giles have what it takes to pick a wavering England team up from the doldrums?

The appointment of a new coach in the past has not been such a big deal, but in an England team now somewhat bereft of experienced players, the need for a coach that the players can look up to has never been greater. It is easy to blood young players in a team surrounded by senior, experienced performers. It is not so easy when these players retire or are dropped at around the same time. From whom are those who come in supposed to learn? Yes Ashley Giles is experienced, and you could argue he has that winning mentality, but can the young England players really look up to a man once also coined ‘Wheelie bin’.

The bowling attack will still strike fear into batsman coming to England. Anderson and Broad are experienced, world class bowlers. It looks as though England have a ready made replacement for Flintoff in Stokes, who was the one success story of the tour to Australia and looks like being the top all-rounder for England for the next few years. It is the batting line-up that seems the weakness for England. Cook is on track to break the Test match run scoring record for England, so despite his poor form this winter, has to open the batting. Root is an undoubted talent and seems to have a good frame of mind to be at the top of the innings. The middle order depends a lot on the form of Jonathan Trott, who inexplicably left his England teammates in the lurch in Australia. With a Test average around 50, despite his abandonment of the team in the winter, a fit and firing Trott has to bat at three. Ian Bell has to be in the team, a poor tour down under does not dampen the memory of the superb home series he had against the Aussies. There seems to be two spots in the middle order up for grabs, or potentially a spot as opener, should Root bat lower down. Before the county season starts, the selectors should have three or four batsmen in mind for the batting spot and a couple of wicket-keeper batsmen for the remaining slot, and decide who makes the team depending on form at the time of selection. I would choose between Moeen Ali, James Taylor, Gary Ballance or Eoin Morgan as the batsman and Jonny Bairstow or Matt Prior as the potential wicket-keeper batsmen (I would not trust Butler to score consistent runs in Test cricket).

There is a spot for a new spinner following Swann’s abrupt retirement and one more seamer. In English conditions that seamer has to be Onions. He is by far the most consistent bowler in the county championship and has been very unlucky not to regain his place in the England team following an injury that set him back after an excellent start to his international career. England decided to take tall bowlers to Australia to take advantage of the bounciness of the pitches. Whether those bowlers were any good seemed not to be important. Bresnan can be brilliant, but 80% of the time he is average at best. Finn had no form when he arrived in Australia and when he had done well previously it was often due to the pressure put on the batsmen by Broad and Anderson at the other end. The less said about Boyd Rankin, the better. I doubt whether any of these players should play a Test match again.

Assuming all players are on form when the squad for the next tour is announced, this would be my England team:

Cook (c)
Root
Trott
Bell
Ballance
Stokes
Prior (wk)
Broad
Borthwick
Anderson
Onions

Some would argue the case for playing an extra batsman, but as the commentators, pundits and former pro’s always say, you have to take 20 wickets to win a Test Match, so i would tend to go for the four specialist bowlers plus Stokes.

Prior had a bad tour in Australia, but a year or so ago he was still considered to be the best wicket-keeper batsman in the world. Form is temporary, class is permanent. Bairstow may well be England’s keeper in the future, but in a team crying out for experience, Prior has to be the number one choice. Bairstow needs to go back to his county and play cricket, he will no doubt suffer in the long run if he continues to be dragged on England tours without playing. Whether Prior should bat above or below Stokes is up for debate, but on current form Stokes should go in ahead of him. I would choose Ballance as the extra batsman, he seems like an elegant player suited to the longer format of the game. However, as i mentioned before, a string of good performances by Ali at Worcestershire or Taylor at Nottinghamshire could and should force them into the team. Borthwick gets my vote as the spinner. He’s young, can bat and showed some guts in Australia on his Test debut. He is yet to develop any real variation in his bowling, but that will surely come with Mushtaq Ahmed as his bowling coach. He should avoid taking too many tips from Giles.

It’s all very well getting the right personnel in the team, but repairing the confidence-sapping nature of the winter and England’s mental fragility in general means it will take time to regain the winning mentality the team had for the best part of a decade. However, there is hope yet for England cricket fans. We are a different force at home. The ability of Anderson, Broad and Onions as a trio to swing the ball and take wickets is second to none in English conditions and our current batsman tend to fair much better at home than away. There is no doubt that more people need to make big scores more consistently and the tail needs to do significantly more wagging than it did this winter, but I am confident that will be the case. Lets face it, it can’t get much worse, can it?