England v Australia, 2nd Test, Edgbaston, 2nd day August 5, 2005

Diplomatic Giles denies he has points to prove



Giles: "I didn't think I had anything to prove" © Getty Images
After a week in which he has hardly been out of the newspapers, Ashley Giles strolled into the press conference at Edgbaston this evening with a satisfied smile. After baring his soul in his Guardian column, and copping it from most of the other papers in some shape or form, had he enjoyed sticking two fingers up at his critics?

"Well, I think I'm better than that," he deadpanned during an impressively diplomatic display. "I did point to my wife a couple of times, because I've had a lot of support from her recently."

Giles admitted that it was comforting to be performing in front of his home crowd at Edgbaston. "After a tricky week, if ever I want to bowl anywhere it's on my home wicket in front of my home crowd. I didn't think I had anything to prove - there's enough pressure anyway, playing for your country, so you don't need any extra. I don't come out saying things to the press just to wind myself up. I'm just happy that having done my preparation I've come out and done well today."

He started from the Pavilion end, but soon changed round to the City end, where Shane Warne has been camped all match. "There is a bit more at that end - as Warnie's just shown [by dismissing Andrew Strauss just before the close]. He's used to bowling amazing balls." So was it a special moment dismissing Warne himself? "Well, he's got me out a few times, so I was due!"

And what might England's game-plan be? "There are three days to play, there's a lot of hard cricket to come. But I think it will turn, the rough will get rougher, and yet this wicket also goes through periods of being helpful for the seamers, which should be good for us. But we stuck to our plans today: to go in 125 ahead, we've have taken that. I suppose we could do with being 300-350 ahead, but nothing's been discussed yet. It's going to be tricky. I've got a big part to play in this match, so I need to keep focussed."

Justin Langer, Australia's hero with a gritty 82, also reckoned that England ended the day in the box seat. "They have definitely got their nose in front," he said, "but this Australian team is up for challenges, and it will be a sensational Test win from here if we do it. Whatever we're set, we'll back ourselves to get it."

Just like at Lord's, Langer was hit at the start of his innings, when Steve Harmison clanged him on the helmet in the first over. "My old coach used to say that he liked it if I got hit early on, as I get a bit sharper afterwards. I'm not sure if it helps, actually, but it certainly sharpens you up."

Unlike at Lord's, this time the England close fielders remembered to ask the batsman if he was all right. "Yes, they were very polite. The spirit's been really good so far, and I'm sure it'll go on like that."

A later blow, when he was hit near the heart by Harmison, was actually more of a problem: "It just winded me - it was a bit embarrassing, because I could hardly breathe. The bruise doesn't hurt much now, though."

Langer's long vigil - 275 minutes and 154 balls - was functional rather than flamboyant. "Yes, it'll hardly enhance my reputation as an elegant strokemaker, as I've been trying to do for two or three years," he grinned ruefully. "But the team needed an innings like that. Ricky Ponting played brilliantly, and I thought Michael Clarke's footwork was outstanding. But it's very hard work batting - trying to score freely out of that rough is hard, as Ashley Giles proved."

Like Giles, Langer has had his moments with the media and the crowd in the past, famously criticising the Barmy Army during the last Ashes series Down Under. He wouldn't be drawn on that this time, but he did say that he realised what Giles had been through: "I can appreciate how he felt last week. He's probably verbalising what a lot of sportsmen think sometimes. He's done a great job for England recently."

Indeed, Langer waxed lyrical about the whole England team: "They set in-out fields, so good shots you only to tend to get a single for. That's the way they play, and they've done it brilliantly for 12 to 18 months now."

So what sort of total would the Aussies ideally like to chase? Langer grinned again. "Well, we're already 125 behind - about 150? You saw how Warnie was turning it at the end ... That ball hopefully will have worried England, not just for this game but the whole of the series. The more Shane Warne demons we can get into the England dressing-room, the better."

Steven Lynch is deputy editor of the Wisden Group