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Ashley Giles is seemingly team director-in-waiting and if he is the right man for Alastair Cook then, by default, he is absolutely the right man for English cricket.
Vithushan Ehantharajah in Melbourne
January 31, 2014
As news of Flower's departure from director of cricket and repositioning within the pyramid of English cricket unfolded in the UK, Ashley Giles, his odds-on successor, was half a world away, trying to keep body and soul together as England finally approached the end of their Ashes tour.
Since Flower returned to England amid a cloud of rumours and suspicion, Giles' authority naturally seemed to expand as he fielded questions about topics that were, ultimately, not in his purview.
Kevin Pietersen's future - one of the most pressing - was not so much flat-batted as nudged around the corner, as Giles called him a "million-dollar asset" before scampering through to the other end, unscathed.
It is unlikely that Giles' appointment in all three formats will be confirmed at a hastily-arranged media conference in Melbourne on Saturday morning as England's coach in all three formats with expectations being that the ECB will give him temporary control while they embark upon a formal interview process.
But upon confirmation of how England plan to move ahead, Flower's successor would take over from a man who has changed the face of English cricket for the better: three Ashes wins, a first Test series win in India since 1984-85 and a first ICC trophy in the 2010 World Twenty20.
If anything, now is the best time for a new Test coach to take over, off the back of a 5-0 drubbing which, as much as anything, has shown that Flower has taken this side as far as he can. Nobody can deny now that a major restructuring is necessary. Flower himself spoke about the pain that England will have to endure before things get better.
Giles has big shoes to fill, of that there is no question, but watching him operate over the last month, the impression you get is of a composed individual who is more than capable of taking the reins.
What has been most striking about Giles on this tour has been the way he has carried himself. Throughout a draining cycle of training, matches, press conferences and air travel, he has maintained a calm demeanour, embracing his role as figurehead of the latter part of this tour.
Trips to Perth, Adelaide and Hobart have seen English and Australian players bumping shoulders with the general public in airport terminals no bigger than a school hall. While some turned to the haven of noise-cancelling headphones and i-Trinkets, Giles has relished the opportunity to talk shop with wide-eyed England fans, as well as browse duty free for presents for his children.
For all the talk that "Team England" care not for county cricket, Giles' appreciation of it runs deep. That Ben Stokes has yet to play a part in the Twenty20 series owes much to Giles' reservations about his poor form with the ball in last year's FLt20 competition, something that Stokes himself appreciates. The county game seems to matter again.
|It is Giles' effect on Cook that has been the most evident sign of his touch. His batting, particularly at Sydney and Perth, spoke of a rejuvenation that seemed beyond him|
If, as many suspected, the role as limited-overs coach was a stepping stone for Giles before he would take complete control of the national set-up, it was treated as anything but. Upon arriving in Australia, he had a clear plan he wanted the players to adhere to.
England's losing run has continued, but for all that it nearly worked. Had James Faulkner woken up on the other side of the bed, England may have left the Gabba at 1-1 in the one-day series, only to fall instead to a remarkable burst of hitting with Autralia's last pair at the crease.
Twice England were able to set targets of 300 or greater, as a batting line up heavy with whitewash-weary Test batsmen summoned the sort of pluck that had been lacking in Tests. There was an irony, though, that as news leaked out that Flower was moving on, England were enduing under Giles their worst display on the limited-overs leg of the tour.
Much like Flower at the beginning of his tenure, Giles enjoys a hands-on approach to training and, from the outside, it is clear he appreciates the nuances of player specific habits and preferences. The day before England's ODI at the WACA, he took a backseat as Ian Bell chastised himself for leaving a ball in slip catching practice that was almost certainly his. Later, he would offer an almost continuous commentary of where Alastair Cook was going wrong, as the skipper tried to perfect a short-arm throwing technique.
Indeed, it is Giles' effect on Cook that has been the most evident sign of his touch. For all the woe that has been etched across Cook's face, his batting, particularly at Sydney and Perth, spoke of a rejuvenation that seemed beyond him at that juncture.
It is also important to look at the turnaround between those matches, when Cook went from doubting his credentials as ODI captain at the end of a series losing defeat at the SCG, to giving himself a vote of confidence before a ball had even been bowled at Perth.
Publicly, Giles spoke frankly of getting Cook to reassess the matter at hand and that, to take the team forward, Cook needed to be at the helm. He mentioned that Cook was "very clear" on what needed to change going forward, before washing off the suggestion that he was a contributing factor to Cook's U-turn.
It is hard to believe, however, that he had nothing to do with it. Cook looked like a man on the edge, and Giles, no matter how he downplays it, coaxed him away from the edge.
If Giles is the right man for Alastair Cook then, by default, he is absolutely the right man for English cricket.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala