Warwickshire’s dazzling 1994 season lit up the cricket world and had the city and the region celebrating wildly but, as victory followed victory and the Bears charged towards their historic treble, one chap was seriously thinking of bailing out.
Ashley Giles made his Warwickshire debut in May 1993 but a year later found himself stuck behind Neil Smith and Dicky Davis in the spin-bowling queue. While the historic treble was being harvested the young left-arm spinner, signed following his release by Surrey two years earlier, did not play a single first-team match. Giles already had Smith, who had come through the Edgbaston system, for competition before the recruitment of Davis, a fellow left-armer, from Kent, left him wondering about his future.
“I played a couple of games in ’93 which gave me a taste of it and I hoped I would get another go quite soon,” recalls Giles, now England’s director of cricket. “But the club brought in Dicky who was an experienced bowler and he played quite a lot.
“In ’94 the amount of all-rounders and high-quality bowlers in the squad allowed them to play two spinners quite often, with Neil getting the all-rounder’s slot, and the two of them had a lot of success. So it was a brilliant year for the club but a very frustrating one for me and by the end of it I was thinking: How am I going to get in here?
“I felt my cricket was going the right way but couldn’t see an opening. If I wasn’t one of two spinners, how was I ever going to become the number one? I started to seriously think I might have to move elsewhere to further my career.”
That Giles chose to stay and scrap for his place is a decision which was to shape not only his future but those of Warwickshire and England. It was, as he puts it, a Sliding Doors moment.
He stayed, helped the Bears to two more trophies in 1995 and embarked in earnest on the road to numerous triumphs with Warwickshire, including county championship titles as player and director of cricket, and 54 Test matches, including the momentous Ashes conquest of 2005, for England.
“It is like that Sliding Doors moment,” he said. “You look back and think how your career might have panned out. Had I left, I wouldn’t have had the experiences I’ve had at Warwickshire and met all the great people here and, who knows, might never have played for England.
“It was just a case of sticking to the hard work and biding my time and it paid off in the long term. I knuckled down in ’95 and I remember having a chat with Neil Abberley during a 2nd XI game at Studley and the next game I was in the first team.
“My chance had come and it turned out the taster I’d had in ’93 was important because it really helped me settle second time round. Actually, every stage of my career has gone like that – a taster, then a break. My Test debut was in ’98 and I didn’t play again until 2000 and that helped because you go in and get a taste and think ‘right, where are my deficiencies, where have I got to be better because this is where I want to be?’ And you go away and work hard and come back better.
“By ’95 my cricket had improved and I played some championship and limited-overs cricket, including the quarter-final and semi-final of the NatWest Trophy, and it was brilliant. Suddenly, it felt like a massive stage, not just the big crowds for the one-day games but even playing in the championship in front of hundreds of people after playing for the 2nds at Griff & Coton in front of my mum and dad!
“I remember getting my maiden five-for, against Worcestershire, including the wicket of Tom Moody, and that was such an unbelievable feeling as a young player to show that you can cope at that level.”
While Giles’s confidence was bolstered by his performances on the field, it was crucially underpinned by encouragement from those around him. Notably, captain Dermot Reeve. When Warwickshire travelled down to Canterbury for the last match of 1995, Giles and Reeve travelled together. It was a journey which would long resonate with the former.
“I drove Dermot down for the game at Kent which we needed to win to seal the title,” said Giles. “I’d had an alright season, my first half a year, and on the way down he asked me if I had enjoyed it. Then he said: ‘Well, it’s been a good start for you this year but next year you’re going to get 60 wickets and 500 runs.’
“I was happy to receive the compliment but thought: ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Then on the last day of the Kent game, when we needed to bowl them out, Dermot said at the team meeting before play: ‘I think we’ll open with Ash as they’ve got left-handers and there’s some rough out there.’ I was thinking ‘bloody hell, this is a big responsibility’ but I took the first three wickets and my confidence just grew from there.
“And Dermot was absolutely right. In 1996, I took 64 wickets and scored 500-odd runs and was capped and really made my mark.”
Giles was on the way. The spin-bowling all-rounder who would play central roles in historic England series wins away to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as in the Ashes, was up and running.
* In part two next week, Giles reflects further on Warwickshire’s glorious mid-90s – how county cricket was a very different world then, only 25 years ago, and how lucky he was to develop as a player under so many great mentors at Edgbaston.
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