Ashley Giles takes it slow at Lancashire
Ashley Giles was a proud and skilful cricketer. He was also a very patient one. The former England spinner would probably admit that many of his 143 Test wickets were owed to rashness on the part of batsmen deliciously unaware of the trap that was being prepared for them. It is, therefore, not that surprising to find that two months into his new job as Lancashire's director of cricket and head coach, Giles is taking his time before making some important decisions.
For example, the name of the county's new captain may not be known until the players' half-term break in February. Before then, there should be a couple of announcements about overseas signings, but these are "massive decisions" and no names have been revealed yet. As for Andrew Flintoff, Giles will have a talk with his old England colleague when he returns from Australia. "Freddie's a difficult man to pin down but we'll have a chat," Giles says. "I'm not going to say any more at the moment."
One player Giles is happy to talk about, though, is Simon Kerrigan. Whatever its effects might be on Lancashire's fortunes over the next few summers, Giles' appointment could almost have been designed to further the development of a cricketer who is still a mere 25 years old.
The coach has already drily observed that Kerrigan is a different type of slow left-armer to himself but the contrasts do not end there. Whereas Giles established himself in the England side, performing with distinction in most of his 54 Tests, Kerrigan's single international game to date was not a happy experience, thanks, in part, to the gentle mercies of Shane Watson.
So the old head has a lot to teach his young spinner and he is plainly relishing every opportunity to do so, even if his first piece of advice to Kerrigan has been to forget about England.
"It's been great so far," Giles says, "We've done a little bit of stuff but now Simon's pulled a muscle under his left arm, so he's not been able to do much recently. It's a great opportunity for me to work with him. His experiences with England haven't gone as well as he would have liked, but he's got a huge amount of ability. My first aim is to get him back enjoying his cricket and performing well for Lancashire. He can forget all the other stuff. If it comes back to him, great.
"If we can do the little things right, the rest takes care of itself. I don't get overly technical with him. You need a couple of things you can fall back on, not a million things. If Simon Kerrigan's bowling as well as he can, there aren't any better left-arm spinners in the country. We'll get him there."
Where exactly "there" might be is left undefined, and perhaps there is no harm in that. Already we have the curiously persuasive paradox that in order to give himself the best chance of playing for England, Kerrigan has to forget about doing so.
But, hang on, surely forgetting about England is a good plan for Giles, too.
"Yes, absolutely," he says, as he reflects on his time as one-day coach of the national side and his attempt to replace Andy Flower last spring. "It was an interesting experience for me but this has given me a whole new focus.
"I drifted a little bit during the summer and at times wondered if I would get back into it, but this is a fantastic opportunity. The size of the club and its support and the expectation makes it similar to my role at Warwickshire."
So, a little as it was for the former Lancashire coach Peter Moores and rather as it is for Kerrigan, Old Trafford has become a place of recovery and reconnection for Giles. Were not the pressures to succeed so great, one would almost be tempted to compare Lancashire's home to Craiglockhart Hospital, where shell-shocked World War I officers were treated after suffering the traumas of a profoundly different type of national service.
It is six to five and pick 'em what the reaction of Lancashire supporters will be to Giles' approach. Most appeared calmed by the departure of Mike Watkinson in the autumn but a fair few would probably like to know who the new skipper will be. Giles can't oblige them here but he can provide something of a profile.
"I've got a list of requirements," he says. "In an ideal world, he'd be local and able to play all formats, heavily respected and liked to a degree, although being liked as a captain is not everything. But it's such a big decision and I'm still sitting on it."
For the moment Giles is assessing the players who are going through their strength-and-conditioning work at Old Trafford. He has spoken to all the playing staff but admits there are a couple he might not recognise if they walked in to the indoor school.
No one, though, should confuse an absence of announcements with a lack of deep thought on Giles' part. He knows what it takes to win the County Championship and is on record as saying that his aim is to build a Lancashire side capable of challenging for the title consistently. He is simply assessing what needs to be done to achieve that.
"I don't think I've changed very much," Giles says. "I'm sure the way I do things is slightly different to the way they have been done, but that's just me and there's only so many ways you can run these programmes. It takes a little bit of time to see how things operate. It's about having good people around me, putting good structures in place, being professional, working hard and having discipline.
"If we do those things, we'll get pretty close, but it's important we create our own culture and our own ethic. Since winning the title in 2011, Lancashire have yo-yoed and we can do without that."
Helping Giles develop a strategy designed to achieve excellence and stability will be former captain Glen Chapple, who is looking to make the transition from player to coach as quickly as possible and has challenged Lancashire's seamers to hasten his retirement.
"Working with Glen is great but that's a feeling-out process as well," Giles says. "I have a huge amount of respect for him - for what he's done as a player and a captain and what he did last year as a coach. He had it rough but he knows this place inside out. He's got a red rose running through the middle of him and I need to make the best use of that. It takes time to build a relationship but so far things have gone well.
"I think we're both agreed that we need to wean Lancashire cricket off Glen's bowling, both for his sake and for the county's sake. He'll certainly play a role this year but how big a role we don't know. We wouldn't want him to play every game because we have to be looking forward and giving some of these guys opportunities to show themselves. Having someone of the quality of Glen as back-up or as someone who might play half the Championship games is going to be good for us."
Ultimately, though, while Giles may consult widely, he knows that the major calls will almost certainly be his to take. One also senses that he is more than happy with this situation and that he is enjoying the size of the job before him.
"Glen and I will pick a side in conjunction with the captain, but ultimately I have responsibility and accountability. If it comes down to a single decision, it's most likely to come down to me and the captain. I don't think I've ever run a dictatorship but I'm not going to be a director of cricket who's going to be sitting in the office. I'm going to be on the ground."