England prepare for spring clean
As England prepare to leave the World T20, disappointed at failing to go further but sustained by small signs of encouragement, Ashley Giles was looking forward to continuing the regeneration process. Spring provides the opportunity for renewal and, although Giles is not certain to oversee England's new era, the forthcoming season appears ripe with opportunity.
Giles will return to begin preparations for an interview with the ECB for the vacant position of head coach, uniting the Test and limited-overs roles that were split under Andy Flower's aegis at the end of 2012. Giles is favourite for a job that he "would love to do" and, while he is still honing his style as an international coach, his first principles are apparent: hard work, positivity and a sense of the commonweal. His praise for the "ego-less group" that England took to Bangladesh was telling.
There was recognition, too, that England's performance have sunk to an unacceptable low over the last six months, in which they lost 12-1 across all formats in Australia before achieving mixed results in the Caribbean and Bangladesh.
"We are all disappointed with where the team is," Giles said. "Losing games of cricket is not fun, losing series and getting knocked out of World Cups is not fun. We are here to build and we try to do that every day. Going forward we have to work incredibly hard and be better in a lot of departments than we are. We have to better our position across the board, skills, fielding, fitness - all areas we need to pinpoint. Not so much one percenters but 10 percenters where we need to improve to make sure that we win games.
"That will take time. If you are looking for a quick fix or for some magician to come in with a wand then that ain't going to happen. We need to develop our young players and look after and keep pushing our senior players. There should be no easy way out into retirement. We have some great senior assets around - James Anderson for example who is incredibly professional. We need to keep him fresh and keep him hungry for the betterment of English cricket."
Achieving a blend between youth and experience will be a focus during the forthcoming visits of Sri Lanka and India. Kevin Pietersen's name will not darken England team sheets anymore, while the retirement of Graeme Swann leaves a significant hole in the side that was challenging near the top of all three formats little more than a year ago. Considering that players such as Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood have yet to be adequately replaced, whoever is appointed by the ECB will need to be a master builder.
Giles' CV as limited-overs coach lists an appearance in the Champions Trophy final alongside seven series defeats, though his hand was often diminished by England's rotation policy. A fresh group was utilised against West Indies and for the World T20 and Giles pointed to the performances of Michael Lumb, Alex Hales, Moeen Ali and Chris Jordan as reasons for optimism. While he was unable to explain how the most successful England team for a generation fell apart so catastrophically, Giles is eager to initiate the renaissance.
Thoughtful and measured in his responses, Giles does not seem to be as authoritarian as Flower appeared by the end of his time as team director. He said, however, that his time in charge during a period of success for Warwickshire meant he was tough enough for what will be a demanding job. "There's a time to be prescriptive, when teams are rebuilding, and there's a time for freedom. You have to strike a balance," he said
"I'm not trying to please anyone or keep the guys happy, we've worked really hard through this trip, I think I've had the attention and commitment of the players and I think they've enjoyed it, barring the losing games. There's a good atmosphere in the camp, an extremely ego-less group of players we've got, which is healthy to work with. Others will make the decision on whether I'm the man to do the job."
An optional training session the day before England's game against South Africa offered a possible glimpse of the future, as Paul Collingwood faced Giles, Mushtaq Ahmed, David Saker and even Graham Thorpe in the nets while the players warmed up. Such levity may have been inspired by the previous night's stunning win over Sri Lanka but it seems whistling while you work will not be frowned upon. Later, the whole team returned to practise catching under lights, recognition that hard work and play are interdependent.
Asked about the central tenets of a Giles regime, he said: "Reigniting your pride in playing for your country, and what that means. What does that mean? Well, actually it should mean everything in how hard you work, in how you practice, in how you look after yourself off the field, that shows a commitment to what you do."
This chimes with the "team ethic" credo espoused by Paul Downton, the ECB's new managing director, when it was announced that Pietersen was to be dispensed with. Chris Tremlett last week became the latest member of England's Ashes touring party to murmur his support for Pietersen but Giles was only willing to look forward in his discussion of the dressing room.
"Some of the best players in the world have big egos and you need those game-changing players but I'm not going to get dragged into the same debate again. It's been a really good atmosphere and guys have been committed. Disciplinary-wise there have been no real issues - there's always a couple of rumblings. But it's been really good and the results could have been better but it's been a really good group to work with."
Beyond the challenges of England's home season, Giles said he believed England could be "genuine contenders" for the 2015 World Cup. Whether involving Giles or an incoming coach, discussions will take place with Alastair Cook, the Test and ODI captain, and Stuart Broad, who said he was uncertain about the T20 captaincy after defeat to South Africa ended their tournament. The question of Broad's long-term involvement in all three formats will also arise, as England seek to manage the wear and tear on one of their senior, and increasingly influential, players.
"Stu is a prime asset and we need to look after him," Giles said. "At the moment his knee is sore and whether it is rest or rehab he will need something done and we need him right. He has had a long winter but we will discuss that. The winter has opened up other options - Jordan has come to the fore as well and been really impressive and professional for his years."
For Giles, and players such as Jordan, James Taylor, Sam Robson and Scott Borthwick, to name a few, the coming months are rich with possibility. It is time to till the soil of English cricket again.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here