Cricket – thankfully – does not operate quite like football.
In May the chase for the Premier League title may have been perceived as a head‑to-head confrontation/psychological war between Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson, with the players merely pawns, albeit well‑paid ones. Yet this September it has not been a fight to the death between Giles and Mark Robinson and Mick Newell, the cricket directors at Sussex and Nottinghamshire respectively.
But the coach/director matters – increasingly – and in this role Giles has defied a trend. It is rare for a cricketer to move seamlessly and successfully from being a player in a dressing room to a coach at the same club. At various times Mike Gatting, John Emburey, Graham Gooch, David Byas and even Raymond Illingworth have had a go, but it never really worked for them. But it obviously has for Giles.
At least when he crossed the fence at Edgbaston in 2007 he already had a bit of distance from the players. As a centrally contracted cricketer Giles had not played much for Warwickshire immediately before he was appointed their cricket director. That may have helped. It may also be that he is just damn good at the job, even when tossed into the deep end with no experience.
Giles had another peculiar advantage. The best coaches tend not to be brilliant players. Look at southern Africa, the source of so many cricket coaches: Mike Procter was a minor genius but not a great success. By contrast Gary Kirsten, though a prolific run-scorer, was no genius; nor was Duncan Fletcher or Micky Arthur or Graham Ford – Andy Flower, a world-class batsman but always a thinker, does not fit this pattern quite so easily – yet their coaching abilities have all been recognised. Elsewhere I believe Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Roy Hodgson were modest footballers but they are fine managers, mirror images of Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Bryan Robson.
The point is that the immortals in sport often do not think about how they do it. The mortals do and this need to analyse and to find ways to improve and survive surely helps them as coaches later in their careers. Giles would not dispute that he was a mortal cricketer. He played 64 Tests for England but captains loved having him in the side not so much for his prolific wicket-taking or run-scoring (though there were 147 wickets and 1,713 runs in Test cricket) but because he was rock-solid reliable. Giles would sometimes joke that his job in an Ashes series was to compete with Shane Warne, a tricky task given the limitation of those left‑arm spinners. Yet he usually managed to contribute. He made the most of his talents. And so have Warwickshire this season.
Giles has recruited very shrewdly – and quietly. Wright, Chopra, Clarke and William Porterfield were seldom held in such high regard by their previous counties. When Giles started as cricket director he often made bold pronouncements about which players he had in his sights. Now he has learnt to play a cagier game. His team reflect his own qualities, a no-nonsense tenacity to hang in there and a determination to maximise whatever talent is available. Yet Giles is not asbestos tough. In 2010 Warwickshire looked certain to be relegated and he began to question whether he could continue in his post. With six matches to go he challenged his side; they won three of them and stayed up against the odds. For good measure they also won the CB40. From those desperate times this side was forged. Giles felt fragile in August 2010 but it was never in his nature to quit.
There used to be much talk of a conflict of interests in Giles's role at Edgbaston and his position as Test selector. Those conflicts still exist, but no one is too bothered about them any more. Currently there are one or two bigger conflicts surrounding the England team. Giles has become an increasingly anonymous selector and the impression is that he may well have spent more time fretting about the next Warwickshire victory than the next England one. This championship will do his CV no harm. At the moment there is no vacancy at England level, but when there is Giles's name will undoubtedly be on the shortlist. He has rarely hid his ambitions but he does not wish to dwell upon them at the moment. "Let's not talk about coaching England. I've always said I'd love to do it some day, but I've plenty to do here for now," he says.
He can sleep well now – at least until the eve of Warwickshire's appearance in the Lord's final on 15 September – content with his work and that of his assistants, his old colleagues Graeme Welch and Dougie Brown, and those players. "As a coach winning the championship is the ultimate," he says. It is the true test of a cricket team. And you see the guys who have won it as coach – Bob Woolmer and John Inverarity – and you think: 'That's nice.'" In this at least he can claim to be one up on Warne.