Ashley Giles reflects on England’s victorious tour of Sri Lanka in 2001 as “really special” – and a series which made him feel truly part of the Test team.
Giles was in the England side, coached by Duncan Fletcher and captained by Nasser Hussain, which recorded a remarkable winter in 2000/01, winning series in Pakistan before Christmas and in Sri Lanka in February and March.
"It was really special for me because it was my first winter as a Test player."
To record back-to-back wins in two of the most difficult countries to tour was a huge achievement to which Giles, then a 27-year-old spin-bowling all-rounder, contributed plenty. In the Test series in Pakistan he was England’s leading wicket-taker with 17 at 24.11 apiece. Then in Sri Lanka he was influential with bat and ball as England fought back from behind to win the three-match series.
After Sri Lanka won the first Test in Galle by an innings and 28 runs, Hussain’s side won the second, at Kandy, by three wickets and the third, at Colombo, by four wickets. In both, Giles was there at the end of very tight games, seeing his side over the line in unbroken partnerships of 19 in 63 balls with Craig White and three in nine balls with Graham Thorpe respectively.
“It was really special for me because it was my first winter as a Test player,” he said. “We had a good team, really well led by Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain. We won the series in Pakistan before Christmas, which surprised a few people, so to follow that up with another win in Sri Lanka, one of the hardest places of all to tour, was fantastic.
“We lost the first Test heavily but then they let us back into the series a little bit by leaving some grass on the pitch for the second Test and Darren Gough and Andy Caddick got amongst them. That was a bad-tempered match but we dug in and played the long form of the game which is what you have to do in conditions like that. The pitches in Sr Lanka tend to start out slow, and you might only score 260 runs in a day, but then offer a lot of spin later on when matches accelerate quickly.”
The third Test in 2001 certainly accelerated quickly. After England led by eight runs on first innings, they bowled Sri Lanka out for 81 (Giles 9.1-4-11-4) second time round before inching their way to 74 for six to win by four wickets.
“A target of 74 was no formality in those conditions with Muttiah Muralitharan coming in at you,” Giles said. “If myself and Robert Croft were turning it a long way, you can imagine what Murali was doing with it.
“But Thorpey had batted brilliantly for an unbeaten century in the first innings and batted really well again in the second. I went in 71 for six and scored the winning run – though I think I’d have been run out if the throw had hit!
“It was just a fantastic tour to be part of. I struggled a bit in the first two Tests but then had a long bowl in the first innings of the third and found some rhythm. I felt good and took some wickets in the second innings and that helped cement my place in the team.
“Sri Lanka is a tough place to tour and you have to really apply yourselves and show a lot of patience. I am sure the guys out there now can do that and it’s great to have two Bears at the heart of it. Hopefully the Sri Lankans will leave a bit of grass on for Chris Woakes and Olly Stone!”