Ashley Giles has stacked up some wonderful memories during his career in cricket.
During 54 Tests he was part of the team which restored England as a force in the world game.
When they at last reclaimed the Ashes in 2005, Giles played a huge role, scoring the winning runs at Trent Bridge and keeping Australia at bay in the decider at The Oval amid scenes of tension which gripped the nation.
He has outbowled the world’s best spinners as England won on the subcontinent. Only Giles has dismissed Sachin Tendulkar stumped in Test cricket.
In county cricket with Warwickshire, meanwhile, he collected plenty of medals.
Great memories. And who knows what’s to come? But a big part of Giles’ heart will always remain back on the village green.
In the Surrey village of Ripley where it all began with parents Michael and Paula, brother Andrew and sisters Tracy and Caroline.
“My earliest cricket memories, and my fondest, are of down on the village green at Ripley watching my dad play,” Giles recalls.
“My family was all there and it seemed we used to spend all summer there on our bikes and in the forest, throwing the ball about and playing in the nets.
“Dad played and mum did teas so every Saturday and Sunday night we were there really late. Dad got a hundred once and I was so proud.
“I played my first game for the men’s team aged nine. Then I remember Dad coming home one day and saying ‘there’s some coaching tomorrow’ and I went for my first serious coaching at Guildford under the legendary Brian Ruby. Fairly soon I had to move on from Ripley, at 13 I went to play for Guildford. But they were wonderful days.”
Giles has only happy recollections of his time at Ripley and Guildford but not of his native county club. All has worked out pretty well in the end but before he emerged as a leading spinner with Warwickshire and England he was pigeon-holed as a seamer – and then rejected – by Surrey.
“I was nurtured as a seamer there,” he said, “and bowled a hell of a lot of overs but then, at 15, had back trouble. I’d been playing in Guildford’s first team as a seamer so they said go back to the thirds and concentrate on batting.
“In the nets, because it didn’t hurt my back, I bowled a bit of left-arm spin and one day in the thirds a game was going nowhere so the captain told me to bowl a few spinners. I took six wickets. In four weeks, I took three five-fors and a six-for. Then I played in the seconds as a spinner and, when I was fit again, I got back in the firsts and would open the bowling then, after a while, the captain would say ‘bowl spin’.
“But Surrey told me to forget spin and concentrate on seam. I did, but at the end of the season was called in to The Oval by Mike Edwards and told there was no place for me at the club.
“I felt awful but my brother and dad said ‘look you can’t let this be the end – let’s chuck your name about’.”
Giles had a trial at Leicestershire. Northamptonshire were interested. Among those in front of whom his name landed, meanwhile, was Neal Abberley at Warwickshire, where Bob Woolmer was settling in as director of coaching. Abberley, as he tended to do, spotted what others missed.
“Abbers invited me to an indoor trial in February,” Giles said. “There was not much turn in the old indoor school but I bowled tightly and was asked back for a second trial. On the way to it my dad’s car broke down on the M40. I was devastated but called Abbers and he said ‘no problem’.
“I was offered a contract and that has shaped my whole life and career. I wouldn’t have flourished at Surrey like I did at Warwickshire where things were taking off under Bob Woolmer and Dermot Reeve. Everything we did was about expressing yourself as a cricketer and having confidence.
“I played a couple of games in 1993 then didn’t play until 1995 because Dicky Davis came in. I was getting frustrated but when my chance came I bowled well, played the last eight games as we won the championship and was up and running.
“I remember travelling to Canterbury for the last game that season with Dermot and he said ‘well done this year’ and said I was going to have a brilliant year next year and get 50 wickets. ‘And you’ll get runs as well’, he said, ‘because you can bat’. The following year I got 60-odd wickets and 600 runs. He gave you so much confidence.”
Fast forward 17 years and the little boy who watched, wide-eyed, at Ripley is starting to seriously impress as a coach. Giles makes no secret of his ambition to coach England and, if he steers the Bears to championship triumph this season, his CV will start looking pretty solid.
But Giles’s route from village green to national selector and, who knows national coach, has known its rotten moments. A horribly persistent hip injury, which led to early retirement. Some media treatment so scathing it bordered on vindictive. That drop off Ricky Ponting at Adelaide...
But Giles reflects upon it all with no trace of resentment, a fair bit of pride and an endearing dollop of gratitude.
“We’re all shaped by events,” he said. “We all face adversity and how you deal with it defines you. Getting released by Surrey at 18 was absolutely gutting. I thought that was it.
“But, as it turned out, Surrey started a slump around then while I came to Warwickshire and had the most amazing mentoring. From Bob, Abbers and the senior players: Reeve, Munton, Small, Moles, Donald – great role models.
“They have totally moulded me as a coach and manager. None of us are born to these things but I have worked with Woolmer, Abbers, Duncan Fletcher, Phil Neale.
“It’s been a great education.”
The student is not doing too badly. Who knows whether the England job will come but, with Warwickshire flying high, more than one trophy this season is not out of the question.
One suspects that Messrs Woolmer and Abberley might be looking down at what’s going on at Edgbaston and nodding in appreciation.