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Denying history is not always daft. In the case of England’s first Test against Australia next Thursday at Lord’s, it makes complete sense. Since the opposition have spent two decades nourishing a superiority complex Aristotle might have baulked at, and have lost just one Test at the ground since the 19th century, nostalgia, for once, is not part of the English mindset.

“I didn’t know about [England’s Lord’s drought] until you just told me,” admits spin bowler Ashley Giles, albeit not with quite enough conviction to smother suspicions that he is reinforcing a wily dressing-room mantra. The one fast-bowling colleague Steve Harmison alluded to when he insisted this was “only our best chance of winning the Ashes for a generation because it’s the next chance”.

“Ground records aren’t significant because different teams play every match,” reasons Giles. At 32 he is the elder statesman of a squad containing six Ashes virgins; he has played just two Tests against Australia himself but shrewdly points out that such inexperience means not having a "poor history".

A hard-bitten but sensitive soul, he professes to be equally unaware that England’s last win against Australia at Lord’s, in 1934, was inspired by Hedley Verity, a fellow slow left-armer.

“These Australians are the best team who’ve ever played the game but we’re good enough to beat them, which I don’t think our predecessors were.”

Giles’s standing as England’s foremost spinner of the past 25 years has been improbably won. Until recently, the best-known fact about him was used to highlight his apparent innocuousness: instead of “King of Spin”, the mugs produced for his benefit year hailed the “King of Spain”.

To those lamenting the decline of English slow bowling, the most telling riposte has come from a converted seamer whose heavy frame and deceptively lumbering gait earned him the nickname “Wheelie-bin”.

Giles’s success – his 38 wickets in 2004 were the most by an English spinner in a calendar year since 1964 – owes all to persistence, control and unfashionable orthodoxy. “In some ways I feel I have done something for the orthodox spinner. Over the wicket, tight lines – I’ve shown I can do it my way. If it encourages others, great! I’m more aware of my figures now [127 Test wickets]. I’ve passed Tuffers [Phil Tufnell] and [Phil] Edmonds; [John] Emburey [147] is up next. I guess that makes me all right. One of the best English spinners of the past 20 years. I’m very proud.”

Is patience a spinner’s key asset? “Yes, but commitment is too,” replies a man willing to take cortisone injections to alleviate a hip problem. “You get plenty of setbacks. How you deal with them is what counts.”

Last summer, crucially, his mind was in top gear. “You need incredible mental strength. I worked a lot with [sports psychologist] Steve Bull, who got me to keep a diary, to focus on what I want, what I’ve done, what I plan to do. By writing it down I was giving more commitment.”

The juiciest fruits of 2004 were three dismissals of Brian Lara, notably at Lord’s, where he lured the Caribbean genius, beat him with turn and hit middle stump. Was that the moment he thought, ‘I belong’?

“Yeah, but not at the time. Now, when I look at that photo of me celebrating I can almost see what it meant to me. I was man of the match and that was my 100th Test wicket too, a magical moment. I thought I’d taken it the previous evening but the umpire thought otherwise. It was meant to be! I had [Sachin] Tendulkar stumped once, the only time he’s been stumped in a Test, but that ball, especially since Lara’s the best player of spin, will probably stay with me the longest.”

A close friendship with Michael Vaughan has plainly enhanced that sense of belonging. Giles says the captain’s chief virtue as a leader is “honesty. Everyone appreciates it.”

So, honestly, how will the next six weeks go? “If we play our best, we have a good chance. Sometime England will reclaim the Ashes, so why not now?”

If any English sportsman has earned the right to optimism, it is Ashley Giles.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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