Ashley Giles won’t be a bad Director of English Cricket. He’s competent. He’s a good bloke. He’s a safe pair of hands. But I doubt he’ll be an excellent appointment either. Words like ‘competent’ and ‘safe’ could easily be replaced by ‘conservative’ and ‘unimaginative’. However, I’d like to chose a completely different word to describe Ashley Giles’s appointment. And that word is ‘predictable’. Thoroughly predictable in fact.
As soon as I heard that Andrew Strauss was stepping down (we wish his family all the best at this incredibly difficult time), my immediate thought was that either Andy Flower or Ashely Giles would get the job. I even wrote so on this blog. And when Flower made it clear that he wasn’t interested in the role, it was always going to be Ashley’s. Why? Because the ECB trust him. He’s a good team man. He’ll never say anything remotely controversial. And he can be relied upon 100% not to rock the boat.
You could say, therefore, that I don’t have a problem with Giles’s appointment BUT I do have a problem with the ‘process’ (if one can even call it that) that has led to his appointment. It’s basically jobs for the boys yet again. He’s been appointed for more or less the same reasons that Ed Smith was made chairman of selectors: he’s cut from the right cloth and he’s a comfy fit for those who appointed him.
One only has to look at the shortlist of candidates to appreciate what the ECB’s criteria for this job were. There was Flower. There was Giles. And there was Mick Newell. All of them are what cynics might call ‘ECB insiders’. I don’t think ‘insiders’ is quite the right word but I can’t think of a better way to say ‘blokes the ECB knows and likes’.
The fact that Newell was apparently considered says everything: he was one third of the selection panel with a very mixed record that Andrew Strauss dissolved. I’m amazed that the shortlist didn’t also include Gus Fraser and James Whitaker. Or Peter Moores and Paul Downton for that matter. I wonder if Alastair Cook was sounded out for the role too?
My problem with the Giles appointment, therefore, is that it’s indicative of how the ECB works. It simply rotates through the same recycled candidates time and again. It gives the impression of a closed shop that doesn’t like to be challenged and is impervious to change.
Of course, one can empathise with the ECB’s thinking. They’re about to introduce The Hundred, which is about as popular with cricket fans as a fart in an elevator, so the last thing they want is fresh thinking that might challenge their absurd plans. And in that respect Giles is absolutely perfect. He’s never said anything remotely challenging in his long career as either a pundit or a coach. He’s vanilla personified. And he’s far too much of a team man (and probably far too polite and diplomatic) to tell Graves, Harrison and Co where to get off.
I appreciate that the ECB were never going to satisfy the dissidents with this appointment. The only option that would’ve pleased someone like me would’ve been a man prepared to abandon the Hundred madness, prioritise first class cricket, and bring the championship back from the fringes of the season. And the ECB were never going to appoint someone like that. They needed someone who doesn’t actually have any strong views.
No doubt we’ll see a lot of history rewritten about Giles in the coming days too. We’ll hear him described as an Ashes hero (which is kind of true), a brilliant county coach (which is arguable but not absurd), and a highly successful former coach of England’s ODI team (which isn’t true at all).
I’m already tired of hearing how Giles almost won England the Champions Trophy a few years back. We won three games and lost two in that tournament. We had good wins against South Africa and (I think) Australia. But we got absolutely thrashed by Sri Lanka and then threw away the final against India.
What’s more, the cricket Giles’s ODI teams played was unimaginative and old fashioned. His top three was Cook, Bell, and Trott. The plan was to score 200 in the first 40 overs, set a platform, and then slog our way to 270 with wickets in hand. It was a textbook approach that was already looking out of date. People simply forget all this because Giles’s successor, Peter Moores, was even more old school and awful.
And that’s why I can’t get on board with the Giles appointment. He’s never struck me as someone dynamic and insightful. His strengths are getting on with people, organising stuff, and not stuffing up. In many ways his career as a coach mirrored that of his playing career: going far despite limited abilities by working hard, being a good colleague, and making himself indispensable.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. I admire Giles in many ways. And I’m going to resist the temptation to joke that the ECB, which is clearly ready for the dustbin, has aptly chosen a man once described by Henry Blofeld as a ‘wheelie bin’.
My question, however, is this: is ‘safe’ and ‘ok’ good enough for English cricket? And is it good enough for English cricket at a critical time when the lunatics have taken over the asylum and a change of direction is desperately needed?
I think the answer to these questions is obvious. If there’s one word that Graves and Harrison need to hear more of it’s ‘no’. I fear what they’ll get from Ashely is ‘yes’ or even ‘yes sir’.
The ECB initially appointed Andrew Strauss because he was the archetypal ‘head boy’. He was the blazer-wearing, smooth talking, establishment favourite. The governors could’ve looked outside the school gates to find a true scholar to replace him. But instead they’ve promoted the milk monitor.