When injury forced Ashley Giles to bring a premature end to his playing career, aged just 34, he wasted no time before embarking upon his next challenge.
Within weeks of hanging up his boots, in October 2007 Giles was appointed director of cricket at Warwickshire.
"I never dared to dream of those things when I first walked through the door at Edgbaston in 1992 as a spotty 19-year-old."
Success came quickly. He steered the Bears to immediate promotion back to the championship Division One. Four years later, the Clydesdale Bank 40 having been collected in 2010 along the way, Warwickshire won the county championship for only the seventh time in their history.
Giles’s attributes in coaching and leadership were clear and earned him recruitment into the England coaching set-up, shortly after the Bears’ title win, late in 2012. Just over six years later, after stints in charge at Lancashire and then back at Edgbaston he is now getting to grips with his biggest challenge yet, the role of managing director of England men’s cricket.
His CV as player, coach and administrator is substantial – and for that he admits he owes much to his cricketing education during his formative years with the Bears, most of all the glory years of the mid-90s.
“I learned something from so many people through that time,” Giles said. “Bob Woolmer, Dermot Reeve, Neil Abberley, Tim Munton, Andy Moles, Allan Donald – so many people had a massive influence on what I thought and how I acted.
“It was a great environment under Bob and Dermot and the rest of the senior players – and a very open environment. When the first-team were around, us younger guys were allowed to come in and mix, very unlike my first year on the staff, 1992, when you still had to knock to come in the dressing-room. Dermot ran a very open ship. As long as you were respectful and worked hard and did your job, you were accepted as part of the team.
“I was lucky because often a young player gets an opportunity because a team isn’t playing very well, but I went into one that was winning and confident. That meant I had some time to get used to first-class cricket because I had so many fine players around me – Munt, Dermot, Moler, A.D, Roger Twose, Nick Knight, Dominic Ostler, Trevor Penney, Keith Piper, Neil Smith – and they made it so easy for me to relax and enjoy my cricket. You felt like you belonged and I have always felt very lucky to have come through that environment that Bob and Dermot created.”
That happy environment stretched beyond the cricket field, including in some ways which, even though only 25 years ago, are far-removed from the culture surrounding county cricket today. That evolution is, reckons Giles, mostly for the good – though he is very happy to have received his cricketing education in the colourful old days.
“These days the use of alcohol is widely discussed in professional sport and rightly so,” he said. “If you look at the marginal gains, the one per-centers that can turn games, and which players are going to deliver those, then lifestyle is a big factor. But in the mid-’90s there was an expectation that you would go to the Members Bar after play and have a pint or two and talk to the opposition and the umpires. For me that was brilliant. I was a very junior player and to stand there and listen to all that was in itself an education in cricket. You picked up a hell of a lot.
“There was a much better interaction between players and umpires back then and differences could be settled. “I didn’t like that decision” – “Yeah, sorry, did you hit it?” – “Nah” – “Ah, sorry.” It was a case of have a pint and forget about it. There’s very little of that nowadays.
“On away trips us younger players were designated drivers quite a lot because we’d be dragged out to local pubs for a couple of pints with the senior guys. But even with some late nights in the bar the expectation was clear that, whatever happened, the next day you fronted up and did your job. In fact, if you had pushed it a bit too hard the previous night, you probably did it harder than anyone else.
“We had a few late nights in hotel bars and a couple of committee men used to come along an chat, but it all centred around talking cricket and it was a great education.”
Giles has put that education to good use. He now occupies one of the most influential roles in English cricket and, still only 45, has plenty of power to add to his achievements. In career-terms he has already travelled far and, while the journey has been bumpy at times, it has also contained plenty of success and is one which the boy who played his first cricket on the village greens of Surrey has thoroughly relished.
“Every step has been amazing,” he said. “When you start you never imagine you’ll play first-class cricket, then you never imagine you’ll get capped, then you never imagine you’ll play A team cricket for England or Test cricket, or come back as head coach and win the championship. I never dared to dream of those things when I first walked through the door at Edgbaston in 1992 as a spotty 19-year-old. Yet there I was in 1995 helping the Bears win the championship.
“It’s been tough at times but professional sport is. Sometimes you look back with rose-tinted glasses and think everything was brilliant, and it was during the mid-90s of course, but the ’90s didn’t end well for Warwickshire and it got pretty messy – the sort of period the club’s recently been through again.
“You always want the environment to be open and fun and enjoyable but it is not always going to be like that when you go through those tough times. People, sometimes very good people, come and go and then, as a manager, you perhaps go into war mode. You have a strategy that you think will deliver success and you need the strength, and people behind you with the strength, to see it through.”
Now that strength of mind and purpose is being deployed on England’s behalf – just as they head towards a season which will bring the World Cup and the Ashes. You get the feeling that further room will be required yet for additions to that Giles CV.
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