As England’s director of cricket, Ashley Giles knows the remit of his job goes way beyond just results. That’s why he has taken the lead in trying to instil a new culture in the Test set-up based on the successful formula created by Gareth Southgate.
England’s football manager has seen results flourish since introducing a more relaxed, happy atmosphere to the squad.
Southgate’s eagerness for England to be more open, less cynical and, most importantly, relaxed as they set about changing decades of underwhelming results on the international stage has worked – with the team following up last year’s run to the World Cup semi-finals with progression to this summer’s Nations League finals.
Giles, who took over from Andrew Strauss at the start of the year, is only too aware that the culture of England’s cricket team has been subject to intense scrutiny following the Ben Stokes incident in Bristol 18 months years ago and subsequent adverse headlines on the 2017-18 Ashes tour. And being open to ideas from other sports, has helped Giles size up the task ahead.
“I’m always interested in those things, whether it be learning from business or other sport,” said England’s former white-ball coach.
“But it’s also trying to do the job my way. I don’t think I know everything but hopefully I’ve been employed because I can do the job, so hopefully I can do it and be true to myself, do it the way I think it needs to be done. You’re always learning, surely.
“Through my career you always learn from people positively and negatively. That’s always being ‘eyes open’ and having the benefit of hindsight, seeing things that work and don’t work. It’s American sports, English sports, stuff Gareth Southgate’s done with the England [football team’s] culture.
“I spoke to Gareth last year a couple of times and was incredibly impressed with the stuff he’s done. The really important thing to me is that we bed in this culture. In the 20 years I’ve been involved it’s been a word we’ve used a lot and it’s never really happened.
“You put words on the world, say, ‘we’re going to do this or that’ but you really need to embed it. We’ve really got a chance this time because the players are leading it. That’s unusual.
“From what I’ve seen and why it’s been done I think there’s some really positive signs on the culture stuff and it’s been led by the captains and the players.
“I saw in the Test environment with [captain] Joe [Root] and his assistants, Jos [Buttler] and Ben [Stokes], some really good senior players who are changing things and trying to take more responsibility in the changing room both on and off the field. There’s a lot of growth in that dressing room in the Test environment. We just need to focus a little bit more on it.”
England’s players are still subject to the midnight curfew that was imposed during the last Ashes tour. The policy was reluctantly introduced by coach Trevor Bayliss, whose relaxed approach is in stark contrast to the more authoritarian leadership style of former coach Andy Flower.
With Bayliss departing at the end of the summer, Giles knows it is the players rather than whoever takes over as coach who will need to take a lead on cultivating the new culture.
“Both guys are exceptional in different ways,” he said of Bayliss and Flower. “You’re looking for the ideal person and that adaptability is really important. I’ve learned over my time that you can’t just be one way.
“We talk about the Test environment and one-day environment; the Test environment is immature. And by that,
I mean it’s not fulfilled its potential, it’s still growing. You’ve got a one-day environment that is flying, is really well led by captain Eoin Morgan and you have to manage those two structures very differently. The coaches have to do that and the support teams.”
Like Strauss, Giles sits in on England selection meetings even though he does not have a casting vote. Instead, Bayliss, Root, national selector Ed Smith and James Taylor, his assistant, make the calls between them.
The panel, with Giles in close proximity, have some big ones to make in terms of Test selection ahead of the Ashes – with possibly two or three new batsmen needed to bolster a fragile top order that was exposed as England lost their last series 2-1 in the West Indies.
“I’m not new to selection, I was a selector, but some areas have taken more focus in the short-term than others,” said Giles. “From a selection point of view they’re very good at keeping me in the loop, but they make the decisions.
“Some decisions with regard to selection have been a little bit forced because of where we are, particularly
at the top of the order. But I’m very confident in what Ed does. We’ve got a really good bloke there, who thinks deeply about the process of selection. I’m very confident we’ll get it right.”
After the 3-0 clean sweep in Sri Lanka before Christmas, a series that ended with Jonny Bairstow at No. 3 and Ben Foakes as wicketkeeper, England went with the same methodology for the start of the series in the Caribbean and were ambushed by pitches that were far more helpful to fast bowling.
“In hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, we got a bit funky in the first West Indies Test,” admitted Giles. “Carrying on from Sri Lanka, which was fantastic, I think Ed would hold his hands up and say that, so would the other members of management.
“Ed is chairman of selectors but my method is always to involve the broader group, the coaches, the assistants, the senior players. Get views. On the day it comes down to what the captain wants to take on the field. When it works you can look a genius, when it doesn’t? Not so good.”
CHRIS STOCKS / Photo: Getty Images