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March 12, 2014
It was once said by PG Wodehouse that "it is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine."
While it might be stretching a point to describe Ashley Giles, the England limited-overs coach, as a man with a grievance, there was no disguising his low mood when he appeared before the media in Barbados on Wednesday.
It is understandable, too. His side has now been beaten five times in succession in T20I cricket and has lost the series against West Indies with one game in hand. Furthermore, the batting appears vulnerable against spin - the top-order batting appears vulnerable against everything - and his captain, Stuart Broad, has an injury that might well prove rather more troublesome than the England camp are letting on. At some stage, his injured knee is going to require several weeks off and, perhaps, an operation.
As if all that was not enough, Giles takes this struggling team to Bangladesh in a few days to contest a World T20 tournament for which they appear woefully unprepared. And he does so knowing that his application to become England coach in all formats might well be decided by the outcome.
So Giles was noticeably downbeat and admitted he was concerned by England's poor form. While he celebrated the encouraging performance of Jos Buttler in the second T20I, he stressed that the middle order could not consistently be expected to bail England out of a mess if the top order has failed.
"Sure, we're concerned," Giles said. "We've lost five in a row. Clearly we're not playing very good Twenty20 cricket and we haven't done for a period now.
"We'll go into the tournament as underdogs. We're just not getting into matches. That's the biggest concern. Four of the last five occasions we've been three down at six overs. The other time we were two down. If you consistently do that, you're behind the eight ball.
"As good as the players we've got coming into our middle order, it's very difficult for them to salvage games from those positions. Jos Buttler was fantastic and showed a glimpse of his world-class quality. But unfortunately we're working from a low-base after six overs quite a lot. And from that position it gives you very little chance to kick-on and attack all the way through your innings. You have to go through a certain amount of rebuilding. So that's disappointing and it is frustrating.
"We're consistently having problems with spin as well, so we have to keep working on those skills against spin. In Bangladesh it's definitely going to play a part. We'd be naïve and stupid to think that probably every team we come up against is not going to open up with spin against us.
"We have to try to find a formula at the top. I know you guys will say 'isn't that a worry?' going into a world tournament that you don't know what your best top three is, but before the one we won here, the opening partnership changed a couple of games before the tournament, so it's not the end of the world."
The problem for Giles is instilling confidence into a group of players who are beginning to become uncomfortably familiar with defeat. He knows that, if England are to even challenge in Bangladesh, they have to play a brand of positive cricket that currently looks beyond them. But he also knows that, the more the side lose, the more hesitant and uncertain they will become.
"Our message is, quite clearly, 'go and express yourselves, we back you, go and play your way,'" Giles said. "The guys in those positions, we've backed them, we support them, we keep working with them and we need them to start putting in some results as well. They know that.
"But I think, as much as you say that, you have to understand that guys who are struggling for runs - in the heat of battle, with options going through their head - are sometimes going to hesitate. And if you slightly back off that option just before you make it, then you're going to get into trouble.
"Losing isn't great preparation. Confidence is important and winning games is always good for the side.
"But the wickets we've played on against this side are actually pretty good for where we're going and who we're going to be playing against. And we've come up also against a very, very good side here."
There are signs, however, that Giles' faith in his own team is starting to wear. He knows he lacks a spinner to compete with the likes of Sunil Narine, or an opening batsman to compare to Chris Gayle
"We can't 'magic' guys out of thin air," he said. "West Indies have great personnel at the moment. We've got very good personnel, but very different.
"But we have to work with what we have, and I think we've got some very good players in the side."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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