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Cricket: Giles' amazing show of insecurity invites the Australians'

Independent, The (London),  Aug 2, 2005  by ANGUS FRASER

Playing a Test match against Australia on your home ground should be one of the highlights of your career. It is a moment when all the hard work and sacrifice suddenly seem worthwhile, and it offers you the perfect stage on which to reward those who have played a significant role in your development.

It is difficult to believe that Ashley Giles will be feeling these emotions when he walks out to play for England in the second Test at Edgbaston on Thursday morning. The Warwickshire spinner received a fair amount of criticism at the conclusion of England's 239-run defeat at Lord's, but no more than most.

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Some of it may have been a tad harsh " David Houghton, the former Zimbabwe captain and current Derbyshire coach, stated that, by selecting Giles, England were taking only 10 men on to the field " but the left-arm spinner did not have a good match. In 11 overs Giles conceded 56 runs and he scored 11 and nought with the bat.

Giles' reaction to Houghton's barbed comments, along with those made by the media and former England players, has been nothing short of remarkable. Initially he suggested that many former England players did not want to see Michael Vaughan's side regain the Ashes. Giles then turned his anger on the media, who he felt should be supporting England in their quest.

Yet this was just a prelude to a newspaper article yesterday. In it Giles, amazingly, tried to justify comments he made last week and explain why he made them. But, unfortunately, he came across as being paranoid and insecure.

Australia's cricketers must be chuckling into their tinnies. After winning 14 of their last 18 Test matches England entered this series with the reputation of being a strong, resolute team who were going to put the world champions under a lot of pressure. Yet if the demeanour of Giles, one of England's senior and most respected players, is typical of the other 10 players in the dressing-room this series will not see that.

It is difficult to work out what Giles was hoping to achieve by opening his heart in such a manner. Perhaps he was feeling unloved, unappreciated and victimised? But sport, especially when played against Australia, is not a place for sensitive souls who struggle to cope with pressure. Giles would have been better off keeping his thoughts to himself. Receiving criticism is part of being an England cricketer.

During my career, Ian Botham informed the British public that the England bowling attack had shown the killer instinct of the Teletubbies. And sure enough, in the Daily Mirror, our heads appeared in the bodies of Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po.

No player enjoys this sort of coverage but you have to learn to live with it. Proving people wrong was, for me, a source of huge motivation and when you did, boy did it taste sweet.

It is an approach that Kevin Pietersen seems to have adopted. No England player has received the sort of vitriolic reception which greeted him in South Africa in February. But after his third one- day hundred at Centurion Park he was given a standing ovation by those who had earlier booed him.

Prior to the first Ashes Test, Matthew Hoggard made ill-judged comments about the age and durability of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and, after watching the pair take 15 wickets at Lord's, it would be fair to say that they came back to haunt him.

Before yesterday's outburst John Buchanan, the Australian coach, had said that his batsmen will be looking to target Giles. The strategy had sound cricketing reasons. By hitting the 32-year-old out of the attack Vaughan would be forced to turn to Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison sooner than he wanted, thus reducing their potency.

Now the Australians have a second reason to get after Giles. He has shown he is anxious and vulnerable.

The Australians did this to Philip Tufnell on their 2001 tour of England. At the start of the trip Middlesex played the Australians in a one-day game at Lord's. I was Middlesex captain at the time but was injured. We invited Tufnell to captain Middlesex, but on the morning of the game he phoned up and informed us he was ill and unable to play.

While the players were warming up I knocked into Steve Waugh, the Australian captain, who was also not playing. He asked me about our side and I told him about Tufnell. Hearing this he turned to me, looked me in the eye and said: 'He's shit himself, hasn't he?' I declined to comment.

Buchanan may not have gained much from his summer coaching Middlesex but during the time he spent working with Tufnell he realised how insecure he was as a bowler. And on the back of this, and Waugh's observation, the Aussies went after the left-arm spinner when he played in the final Ashes Test of the summer at The Oval.

Waugh scored an unbeaten 157 on one leg as the tourists amassed 641 for 4 in their first innings, and Tufnell walked off with the unflattering figures of 1 for 174 in 39 overs. He never played for England again.

Giles' behaviour is in stark contrast to that of the Australians at the start of their tour. After consecutive defeats to England, Somerset and Bangladesh, Ricky Ponting's side put up their hands and admitted they were not good enough. They did not moan and feel sorry for themselves, they returned to the nets and worked hard. It is an approach England need to adopt before the Ashes disappear into the sunset.