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December 6, 2003
Ashley Giles: immeasurable contribution with the bat
© Getty Images 2003
The cheer from the massed banks of English supporters said it all. When this epic Test match was brought to an end in the fading light, there could be no doubt whatsoever that England had pulled off a stunning achievement in holding out for the draw.
Galle is Sri Lanka's fortress, both visually and metaphorically. No opponent had come close to survival in the five most recent matches at the venue, and after his efforts this week, Muttiah Muralitharan has now taken a cool 71 wickets in nine visits. This match was Sri Lanka's banker, but England have somehow blown the vault.
Murali's mastery will remain the stand-out contribution to the game, at least when the scorecard is scoured in years to come. But the true hero was a man of much earthier talents. Ashley Giles's career-best figures of 8 for 132 were a triumph after a season of horrible self-doubt, but it was his immeasurable contribution with the bat that provided the match with its enduring memory.
In a recent poll in The Wisden Cricketer, Giles was one of four England spin bowlers to be asked their opinions of their profession. To a man, they all agreed - even Phil Tufnell - that no current England spinner will merit selection if they cannot hold a bat. It is one of the harsh realities of life in the seam-dominated English shires, but right now, those very shires will be singing hosannahs to their greentops.
It is not the first time that England have been dug out of a hole by one of their spinners. At Old Trafford in 1998, Robert Croft famously batted right through the final session against South Africa, to convert an inevitable innings rout into a stunning display of escapology. Alec Stewart was the captain then, and he memorably rushed out to greet Croft and the No. 11 Angus Fraser as they returned to the pavilion. It felt like a victory, and sure enough, England went on to win their next two matches to seal the most improbable 2-1 series win.
That gesture from Stewart aside, gratitude was in short supply for Croft. He was duly omitted for the rest of the series, and played just one more Test in the next two seasons. But his fate was rather better than the second spinner - yes, there were two - to be selected in that match. None other than Giles himself was making his debut, but with figures of 1 for 106 in 36 overs, he dropped out of sight until the Pakistan tour of 2000-01.
There is no danger of that fate befalling him now. Giles duly bowled England to victory in Pakistan and Sri Lanka that winter, and did everything in his power to overturn India the following season. Giles knows full well that to win in the subcontinent, your first task is to avoid losing. After today's supreme effort, England will be champing at the bit to get up to Kandy and make every possible use of the psychological high ground.
Andrew Miller, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, is accompanying England on their travels throughout Sri Lanka.
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