England’s one-day trophy cabinet is, save for the anomaly of a Twenty20 World Cup, empty. The unheralded Champions Trophy, the global schedule-filler between World Cups, is therefore a bauble to covet, with the added bonus that should England win it they have it for keeps.
The biennial 50-over trophy that began life as the ICC Knock Out Tournament 15 years ago is retired after the June jamboree in England, where it serves neatly as an Ashes hors d’oeuvre. If most will not mourn its passing, or even remember its existence, it has acquired serious ballast for Ashley Giles two months into his reign as England’s limited-overs tsar.
His appointment to the England management staff was a logical step for a coach who made the transition from elite England player to the leadership of Warwickshire, guiding them to the County Championship title last year.
“This is where I want to be. I have never hidden my ambition to coach in international cricket,” says Giles. “To coach England is a great honour. To have a big tournament here is fantastic. But you don’t get all whoopee about it because every game is a Lord’s final. That’s what it is like, the way you prepare, the attention to detail, the tension, how much it hurts to lose, how much you enjoy it when you win. I have the best players in the country to work with.”
Giles began coaching life with England at a gallop, overseeing a first one-day series win in New Zealand for 20 years. He would take a game of Cluedo seriously, so you can see how the opportunity to shine at home so soon into his tenure might appeal. “We have never won a 50-over competition. It’s in England. All the best teams in the world are here. It’s going to mean a hell of a lot, particularly with a World Cup around the corner.
“It’s a very busy year coming up with two Ashes series, but the Champions Trophy is a major world event. I make no predictions but we have an opportunity. We have a good squad but we still have to play good cricket. If we do well it leads nicely into the Ashes.”
Giles has history in the event, playing in the losing final of 2004 against West Indies. That he did not get to turn his arm over still niggles. “It was the best year of my career, but Vaughany [Michael, then England captain] wouldn’t bowl me. It was getting dark, the seamers had done a good job. With the tail in I guess we always fancied knocking them over. I was just left lurking out at deep square waving at him.
“I got 30-odd [with the bat] too. Played well. We did not get enough runs. We got a core skill wrong. We didn’t freeze. Basic skills win you games. We let an opportunity slip.”
Giles is fluent in the coaching lexicon. His modus operandi is to give the players confidence to express themselves within a disciplined team framework. “What I want from any side I coach is to go out and play with a freedom. There is always fear in any game but I don’t want players to be scared of how they play. I want them to back themselves. They are very good players.
“On any given day we are going to have to leave people out. We shall have to make one or two difficult decisions but that does not mean they are not worthy, not capable of playing, but we can only play 11. It rests with me and Cookie [England’s current captain, Alastair]. On any given day we have to pick a team that’s going to win the game.”
The split coaching roles are part of an efficiency drive to enhance the prospects of all three international teams through improved scheduling. “Having me and Andy [Flower] doing the different jobs, a prime focus of ours is to make sure we are up and running when we hit the ground. I have been in the job only two months but everything works very well. Andy has put some good stuff in place for me to take over.
“We are out to win every game. There could well be a situation down the line when I say to Andy, I want him, and he says, well you can’t have him. Ultimately Andy is in charge. He is the team director. We’ll have those discussions, if we have to have them, behind closed doors and come out in agreement. We have to work together for the good of English cricket. It would be a bit boring if we just got along the whole time.
“We have a pretty good idea of what our best XI is. There might be one or two discussion points. The biggest thing you notice coming from a county environment into that the set-up is quality across the board. We have good depth and we have rested players over the past few months. The guys who came in had a good opportunity.
“Chris Woakes did well in New Zealand, playing three games, that really boosted him and gave him some experience. Joe Root’s development over the winter through Kevin [Pietersen] being missing added another player with experience.”
Giles is expecting Pietersen to have recovered from his knee injury, and welcomes the intensity of the competition his return fosters. “Everyone is under pressure in that top order. Not to the degree where they are thinking about being dropped, but pressure to perform. We look on the positive side that someone like Root has had an opportunity and taken to it like a duck to water. When you have guys missing of the ability of Pietersen you have good options. It’s a nice problem to have. It’s not about one player.
“He is of course one of those players who can change a game in half an hour, but it takes a team to win. If we do our job well we are going to be difficult to beat. That doesn’t mean we will win the tournament. Our focus is to get everyone to the start healthy and happy and in form. If we do that we have a good chance.”
See the best eight teams in one-day international cricket take part in the ICC Champions Trophy from 6-23 June at The Oval, Cardiff and Edgbaston. Tickets available from icc-cricket.com or 0844 249 2013