London: Last June, as Warwickshire continued their successful pursuit of the county championship title which would help elevate Ashley Giles to his new role as England’s limited-overs coach, real life invaded the Edgbaston dressing room. Some cricket coaches would have kept the distressing news to themselves, trying to seal in trouble by refusing to discuss it, but Giles is disarmingly open and honest.
These characteristics are again evident as, stepping back from England’s unsettled preparations for the Champions Trophy, Giles remembers the day when he told his players at Warwickshire that his wife’s brain tumour had returned. “It was a horrible time,” Giles says, “but I felt it was right to tell the team about Stine. It’s in my nature to talk openly.”
Giles’s credentials in international coaching will be tested during an intense Champions Trophy format as England strive to win their first major 50-over tournament. But the way he coped with his wife’s illness suggests that he has the resilience and strength to overcome his team’s injury concerns and the disappointment of two decisive defeats to New Zealand these past few days. The final game of the series is at Trent Bridge .
Stine Giles had first been diagnosed with a brain tumour in December 2006 when scans revealed a growth the size of a cricket ball. Her husband, who had just been dropped for the third Test of a disastrous Ashes tour, flew home and never played again for England. Far more importantly, surgery removed the tumour and Stine recovered.
Giles followed his retirement by becoming an immediately successful coach at Warwickshire, for whom he had played, and in 2008 they secured promotion to the First Division during his first season. By early 2012, after they just failed to win the previous summer’s championship, Giles had begun part-time work within England’s coaching set-up. “I was with the England Lions in Bangladesh when Stine was diagnosed again. To get that call after last time...”
Shaking his head at the memory, Giles looks up. His wife’s reaction still amazes him. “Stine had kept it quiet for 10 days. Eventually, she couldn’t hold it any more and called me. We didn’t know what to expect. Was it back with a vengeance? Were we looking at serious problems? When it was decided she’d have radiotherapy, Stine said: ‘Let’s look at your diary before we start.’ I said: ‘Let’s just worry about you.’ But the doctors had explained, even though she couldn’t leave it for six months, it would be fine to wait a few weeks. Stine fitted her treatment around our Twenty20 fixtures. She was just fantastic.
“I spoke to the team and told them we weren’t quite sure what to expect or how hard the treatment would hit her. I said I might be ducking in and out, I might be late occasionally. I didn’t want sympathy but if the same situation happened to them, I’d like it if they shared it with me because we’re a team. They were great.
“In the end Stine did a couple of treatments with me and she said: ‘I’m fine drop me off and I’ll get the radiotherapy and catch the train home.’ I said: ‘You can’t do that.’ But she was so firm. ‘Yes I can’ She’s so tough. Even with this England opportunity, when we still didn’t know the outcome of her treatment, Stine said: ‘You might not be asked twice — you’ve got to do it.’ She’s a good old bird.”
Giles can afford to be tongue-in-cheek about his wife now for, as he says: “She’s had two scans since the treatment and it’s looking really positive. Fingers crossed.” Such equanimity means that Giles should withstand his current problems as England struggle without their injured bowlers Stuart Broad and Steve Finn. His edgy squad needs to be bolstered before their compelling opening group game, against Australia, at Edgbaston today. At least Giles will bring freshness to the task.
The harsh demands of international cricket coupled with the England team director Andy Flower’s understandable need to not neglect his own family, meant that the novel idea of splitting the national side’s coaching hierarchy was implemented as soon as Giles stressed his enthusiasm for taking charge of the limited-overs teams.
“No other country has tried it yet, but Andy and I get on well. We’re different characters but share the same principles. Last week I spent four days with him and the Test team and it felt healthy for all of us. My task, as Andy has a break and plans for the Ashes, is to refocus on the Champions Trophy. I’ve got the energy to lift the team.”
Looking ahead to the Champions Trophy, and an early return to fitness and form, Giles says: “We have a chance to win the tournament. We’re at home. We’ve got a good squad. And so we’ve got a real opportunity to make history. It’s exciting.”
The return of Broad and Finn is vital. But Giles is familiar with the bruising vagaries of international cricket. He played in the 2004 Champions Trophy final, when England last hosted the tournament. “We crushed Australia in the semis and were huge favourites in the final. But we tripped up.” Giles was the second highest scorer, with 31, in England’s relatively modest 217, and the West Indies were reeling at 147 for eight. Yet an unbroken ninth-wicket partnership of 71 between two tailenders in Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw secured an unlikely win over England — for whom Giles did not bowl a ball.
“It was weird. I remember standing at the deep-point boundary watching it all happen. The conditions favoured the seamers and they’d done well. But it was probably my best season with the ball and I didn’t bowl. Even now it’s frustrating we’ve not won a global 50-over event.”
— Guardian News & Media Ltd