22nd April 2019

Bears in the Ashes – Ashley Giles

Seven Warwickshire players have played for England in the Ashes at Edgbaston. The sixth was Ashley Giles. In 2001, he suffered under the Aussie juggernaut of that era but then in 2005 came the Test match that thrilled the cricket world - and changed the course of Ashes history. Brian Halford reports.

The 2005 Ashes Test at Edgbaston was not only, in itself, the Greatest Test ever. It also changed the course of Ashes history.

The first day of that Test heralded the end of almost 20 years of Ashes angst for England. At last, they threw some punches back.

The fourth day – well, who doesn’t remember where they were or what they were doing that Sunday morning?
Warwickshire spinner Ashley Giles, now England’s director of men’s cricket, played in that momentous match which England won by two runs to set up the scintillating route to regaining the Ashes. He also played in the previous Ashes Test in Birmingham, in 2001, which Australia won by an innings and 118 runs on the way to a familiarly comfortable series win, 4-1.

"The atmosphere was electric all the way too. At the time you almost don’t take the atmosphere in because you are in this gladiatorial battle with the best team in the world. It was a huge privilege to be part of it."

Ashley Giles

The contrast can hardly be greater.

“The first one is a bit of a blur, to be honest,” recalls Giles. “It was on the back of my first winter away with England, to Pakistan and Sri Lanka and our historic wins over there, and we came back and I remember us getting murdered at Edgbaston.

“It turned out to be my last game that summer because I had carried an Achilles injury through the winter and into that Test and I ended up on the operating table after the match. It was a disappointing start to my Ashes career, though I got my first wicket thanks to Craig White. Matthew Hayden smashed one and Chalky, on the drive on the on-side, dived to his right and took a stunning catch.

“Adam Gilchrist came out and smashed it to all parts and it was the old days when we just got bullied. They had Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and that year Jason Gillespie was at his peak and bowled quick. They were a real handful at that point.

“But four years later things had changed a lot. There was a completely different feel to the England team in 2005.”

England still lost the opening Test of the 2005 Ashes, at Lord’s. But their mindset was transformed – and that showed on an astounding opening day of the second Test at Edgbaston.

“We came off the back of a heavy defeat at Lord’s but before the second Test Michael Vaughan said ‘we went hard at Lord’s, now we go harder at Edgbaston’,” recalls Giles. “And that’s what happened on the first day.

“We were helped by McGrath going over on a ball before the start and Ricky Ponting getting the toss wrong. We thought they would bat first but they didn’t. That let us back into the series and Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss set the tone with a great opening stand.”

That partnership laid the platform for a total of 407 in just 79.2 overs, built by buccaneering batting which included a partnership of 49 in 45 balls between Giles and Kevin Pietersen.

“I batted with Kev for a while and that was my role at number eight, to put on a partnership with whoever was still there,” said Giles. “The aggressive way we batted as a team set the tone and it was also Freddie Flintoff’s entry into the series. He’d been quiet at Lord’s but got runs and wickets and bowled that famous over to Ponting that turned the second innings.

“I took five wickets in the game and that got me back in the series because I had struggled at Lord’s. There’d been quite a few calls for me to be dropped, along with a few others, but I got Ponting out, caught by Vaughan on the 45.

“The Hollies Stand came into play too, as you know it always will. The danger of playing at Lord’s is that, while it is one of the best grounds in the world, the cricket-knowledgeable crowd doesn’t particularly help you as the home team. When you come to Edgbaston the opposition know they are going to be in for a bit of a rough time. England teams love coming playing there – and, to be honest, opposing teams too, and that’s great credit to everyone at Edgbaston, not least the brilliant Keith Cook.”

So then came that final morning. Australia, needing 282 to win, resumed on 175 for eight – and, before a full house even though the game could have been over in two balls, reached 279 in one of the most gripping finales in the history of sport.

“We weren’t complacent in any way but we were confident that we could wrap it up,” said Giles. “But they crept upwards and a few balls flew wide of people and it got to the point where you think ‘we’ve thrown this away.’

“When the last wicket fell I was down in front of the scoreboard at fine leg so saw it all very clearly. I starting running to my right because I thought I might have to cut it off but Geraint Jones took the catch – and then the noise!

“I ran towards the middle to meet everyone but then ran back and grabbed Jonah because a huge part of the crowd in yellow at that end had given him stick the whole match so he started running towards them. So me and Tres ran to get Jonah – that’s why we’re not in most of the celebration pictures.

“It was just a brilliant day. We went to the hotel then celebrated in Broad Street – at that stage, although everyone was full of it, we could go round where wanted. By the end of that series, everything had changed and the profile of cricket had changed completely which was one of the best things that came out of the summer.

“Even now when I think about that series it still makes me feel ill sometimes because every day was so pressurised. Every day was almost like a Test match in itself with the quality of the cricket and the intensity. The atmosphere was electric all the way too. At the time you almost don’t take the atmosphere in because you are in this gladiatorial battle with the best team in the world. It was a huge privilege to be part of it.”

At last, England had shown that the best team in the world could be rattled and beaten – and the urn was soon to change hands.

“That Australian team were the Galacticos, they were brilliant, but in 2005 we were prepared to stand up to them,” Giles said. “I remember Freddie saying after the first Test, even though we lost, ‘they’re not as big as I thought they were.’ They had this aura of being ten-feet tall but they weren’t and that series showed if you keep pushing back hard enough and play good cricket, you could take them on.

“That Edgbaston Test gave us belief. We had the fight. It was only two runs but we came through – and it was the arrival of the team that could win back the Ashes.”

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