Ashley Giles has apologised for England’s failed Ashes campaign but warned that sacking the coach, the captain or even himself as the director of men’s cricket will change little unless the entire game addresses its systemic shortcomings.
Recently arrived in Sydney, Giles is compiling a report into a series England trail 3-0 against Australia going into the fourth Test. He held off from addressing the futures of Chris Silverwood, the head coach who is isolating with Covid-19, and Joe Root, the captain, given the final result of the series remains outstanding.
Nevertheless, the 48-year-old stressed broader issues than just personnel or tactical missteps were at play for a Test record in 2021 of four wins, two draws and nine losses. Giles cited the pandemic, fixture congestion and the numbing effects of bubble life, plus quality opposition and a struggle to bridge the gap between county cricket and the top level.
“I absolutely feel the responsibility of losing this Ashes series,” Giles said. “We all do and we can only apologise. I know there will be a lot of emotion, a lot of anger about how we’ve lost it. But we know it’s not an easy place to come. In the last 34 years we’ve come here and won once [in 2010-11].
“We’ve not done well in terms of results. In the 1990s [a similar record] was accepted as normal for England leaderships and they got away with it. We set our standards much higher than that.”
Pressed on this, given English cricket is second only to India in terms of resources, he replied: “That’s what we’re aiming for. But unless we look at more systemic change, a collective responsibility and collective solutions, we can make whatever changes we want – you can change me, the head coach, the captain – but we’re only setting up future leaders for failure. That’s all we’re doing. We’re only pushing it down the road.”
Giles said his review will look into why players do not appear to improve in the current Test setup. While this did not sound overly promising for Silverwood, who he appointed in 2019, a strong first 14 months that featured away wins in South Africa and Sri Lanka, and included West Indies and Pakistan being beaten at home, was noted.
But in the last year when England – now ranked fourth – faced the top three sides in India, New Zealand and Australia the gulf became evident. A selection whirlpool was amplified by rest periods afforded to players during the 3-1 away defeat in India, and bled into the summer; those handed breaks still played in the Indian Premier League that followed, before going on to miss the 1-0 home defeat by New Zealand.
Though 12-month central contracts seem to only mean 10 in practice, Giles had no regrets about trying to manage the draining effects of biosecure bubbles while fulfilling England’s fixtures. Test matches would still have been missed, he insisted, even if given full priority over the T20 World Cup that preceded the Ashes.
“The last two years have probably been the most challenging of my career,” Giles said. “Performance has almost been the last thing we’ve had to think about. And that’s a really sad situation. But have we got the game on? Have we tried to keep the players fit and well? Yes, we’ve tried. And the wellbeing issue is a massive one.”
England’s 21 Tests since the start of the pandemic is three times that of Australia but, though calling the pile‑up “horrendous”, Giles stressed he had no input into a schedule decided at board level. A three-Test tour of the Caribbean in March will still require restricted environments and Covid-19 testing regimes, with a foreboding “I think the guys are at their very top limit of dealing with that” added here.
It was Giles who handed the job of picking squads to Silverwood when removing Ed Smith and dissolving the national selector role last summer but he remains defiant on the principle. There were few obvious omissions who would have made any difference in Australia, he said, even if the selection of XIs is another issue he will explore.
Giles also raised the rain-affected warm-up period and, like many, put the failed tour primarily down to the standard of English batting. On the dearth of Test-quality players here, as well as proven spinners or seamers quicker than 87mph (Mark Wood and the injured Jofra Archer aside), he pointed to the domestic system as a whole.
“If that’s a failing of this leadership, that’s been a failing of many leaderships before us,” Giles said.
“Are we creating [domestic] conditions that will allow us to better prepare our cricketers for playing in the conditions out here? I’m not sure we are at the moment.
“What we play, when we play, on what [pitches] we play – that’s a collective responsibility. It’s up to us as ECB but also a conversation to have with the counties.”
Giles will submit his final report to the England and Wales Cricket Board, which has grappled with a racism crisis in the past year and appears itself to be suffering from a leadership vacuum given Tom Harrison’s expected departure this year and no chair in place. There is also a lack of cricket experience here too, with Giles’s predecessor, Andrew Strauss, the only former men’s Test player in the room – and he is an adviser with no vote.
“In terms of my position, that’s not for me to decide,” Giles said. “You can clearly tell by the way that I’m talking that I’m thinking very much about the future and how we take this team forward.”
When Giles enhanced Silverwood’s role last April he said “his head is on the block” and “if we lose in Australia, the pressure is on all of us”. The review has begun and the solutions will apparently follow but that scenario has certainly come to pass.