Leather On Willow
written by Fenny

Rating: FRC
Spoilers: None indicated.
Summary: In response to Gileswench's "Giles at Play" challenge.
Author's Notes: This was inspired by listening to the Test Match Special commentary in the car the other day. TMS is something of an institution among cricket lovers worldwide and often sounds as though it is broadcast direct from the 1940s. I appreciate that some of you "bl**dy colonials" don't have a clue about cricket, but Giles is English and would have played at school. If you really have trouble, imagine it's baseball, or something you know the rules to. Or look up the rules on the web. Apart from Rupert Giles, all the names used in this fic are real people. I have tried to be as historically accurate as possible in terms of the cricketing facts, but everything else is purely my imagination. Ashley Giles is obviously not any relation to Rupert Giles. No offence is meant at any point.
Feedback Author: Fenny

September 1981

"Come on, Uncle Rupert, you can bat first."

Giles laughed as his 8 year old nephew scampered towards him carrying a cricket bat and ball. The stumps were already set up on the back lawn.

"At least give me a chance to go in and take my jacket off."

He walked up to the back door of the house. Taking his jacket off, he walked into the kitchen where his brother and sister in law were sitting drinking tea at the table.

"Has he roped you in to play with him, Rupe?" his brother asked. "He's been out there all day bowling at the stumps. He's been taking it in turns to be Botham and Willis."

"I guess that means I'll have to be Australia, then," said Giles. "It will be Headingley all over again."

"Would you like a cup of tea before you start?" his sister in law asked.

"Not just yet, thanks," said Giles "I'd better get out there and start my innings or there will be no peace. But if you put the kettle on, we can have a drinks break after the first wicket falls."

With that, Giles rolled up his shirt sleeves and went back out into the garden.

"OK then, Ash," he called, "I'm ready to open. I'll be Wood. Are you Botham or Willis?"

"Botham to start off," the boy replied. "Willis can bowl from the Kirkstall Lane End."

"OK then. I'll take middle and leg, please, Umpire." Giles said, getting into character and taking guard.

"That's good," the "umpire" called from the bowler's end before standing up and shouting "Play".

Ian Botham marked out his run up and Giles took a few practice swings with his bat. As the bowler turned and began to run down the garden, Giles knocked his bat on the ground a couple of times and took up his stance.

Leaving the bowler's hand, the ball hurtled towards him with all the speed an eight year old could muster. The lad was tall for his age and the ball pitched short and bounced upwards.

Standing up, Giles hooked the ball at shoulder height towards the square leg boundary. It bounced just short of the rose border and ended up at the back of the vegetable patch.

"That's a four," shouted the bowler. "You'd better go and fetch it, 'cos Mum doesn't like it when I tread on her strawberry plants."

With his longer reach, Giles hooked the ball back with his bat and threw it to his nephew.

"That was a good ball, Ash," he said "but try and pitch it a bit longer so the batsman doesn't have so much time to decide what to do."

"OK, Uncle Rupert."

Giles returned to the crease and waited for the next ball. This one was longer and all Giles could do was block it without scoring.

"Better," he called, "and a good line, too."

The next ball was wide. Giles retrieved it from behind the stumps and tossed it back.

"Come on now, Beefy," he called, "you'll have to do better than that if you want to beat the Aussies and win the Ashes."

His nephew grinned and walked away to the start of his run up.

"One day, I'll play for England and beat the Australians in an Ashes match." he said.

The next two balls were long and fast, bouncing up at chest height.

"That coaching course you went on seems to have done you a lot of good. If you keep this up, you'll be a cert for the under-10's next season" Giles called to his nephew.

"That's what Dad said," Ash called back. "I need to do well for the club if I'm ever going to get picked for England."

The final ball of the over was a yorker. Giles jumped backwards to get his feet out of the way and saw his middle stump fly backwards out of the ground. Arms aloft, his nephew ran towards him screaming "How was that!"

"Good shot, well bowled," said Giles. "I told your mother that we'd take drinks when the first wicket fell."

He clapped the boy on the shoulder and smiled as he watched him run forward to pick the ball up and began flicking it between his hands.

By the time Giles reached the kitchen, his nephew was already there proclaiming his triumph.

"Dad, did you see? I bowled Uncle Rupert. He said I did really well and might make the under-10's team next season."

"Yes, I saw," said his father. "Ian Botham had better watch out."

The two grinned at each other and Ash sat on his father's knee, almost knocking over the teacup on the table.

Giles came into the kitchen and put the bat down, accepting a cup of tea from his sister in law.

"Thanks, I could do with that," he said. "I'm not as young as I used to be and cricket teas get more welcome as you get older."

"I'm sorry our cakes aren't up to the standard of the Test Match Special offerings, but I've got a nice coffee and walnut, if that will do."

Giles put on his best Brian Johnston voice.

"And today we've been sent a lovely coffee and walnut cake from Mrs. Giles of Surrey. I'm sure that will go down a treat in the tea interval."

The grownups sat and drank their tea and ate a slice of cake each while young Ash put away two glasses of milk and three slices of cake.

"Didn't you play for your school team, Uncle Rupert?" his nephew asked through a mouthful of cake.

"Yes," Giles replied, "I got my First XI colours in the lower sixth."

"What number did you bat?"

"I usually came in at number eight or nine. Only the fast bowlers came in after me. I was in the team more for my bowling than batting, although I did have a pretty good average."

"What kind of bowling did you do?"

"I was a specialist spinner. Slow left arm."

"Yes," said his brother, "Uncle Rupert bowls some demon leg breaks. We won the inter house cup two years in a row with his bowling."

"I'd rather be a fast bowler like Ian Botham." said Ash, "He takes more wickets."

"You wait until the Indians and the Pakistanis tour over here," said his father, "then you'll appreciate the art of spin bowling a bit more."

"Yes," said Giles, "and even good fast bowlers eventually lose their pace. A good spin bowler can keep going much longer in his career without losing his edge."

Ash took another piece of cake thought about this for a while.

"Will you show me how to do it, Uncle Rupert?"

"Let your uncle finish his tea first," said his mother, "and leave a little cake for the rest of us."

"Yes," said Giles, "let me eat my cake and then we can go out and see whether this wicket will take any spin. It looks a bit green to me. I don't think much of your groundsman."

His brother laughed. "If you want a wicket that will spin well, go across to the club. One of the nets at the far side is bone dry and hard. That should do you. But I don't want you to corrupt my son too much and deprive England of a future fast bowler. Now that we've regained the Ashes, we don't want to let them go again."

"If he's good, he can learn both for now. It never hurts to be flexible and constant practice is essential."

* * * * *

May 1997

Dear Uncle Rupert,

I know Dad told you I'd been picked to play for England for the one dayer against Australia at the Oval, but I thought I'd drop you a line to let you know how it went.

They batted first and made 249-6 from their 50 overs. I didn't take any wickets, but I managed not to let them slam me all over the field in my stint.

I didn't bat. We made 253 with 10 balls to spare. Athers was great. He made 113 not out. He's a fantastic captain and really encouraged me all the way through the game, Mum sent a coffee and walnut cake to the BBC commentary team and they mentioned it on the radio. She says she's going to do it every time I get picked for England.

How's your new job going? Mum says you are working as a librarian in some high school over there. What's all that about it's a bit different from the museum, isn't it?

Anyway, any chance you can get some time off over the summer? You can come and watch a few of my games for Warwickshire. I can get tickets in the Members' Enclosure.

Don't take any lip from those American school kids.

Love, Ash.

* * * * *

7 August 2005 Edgebaston

Giles couldn't remember a more thrilling end to a test match. Australia has started the day on 178-8 needing 107 runs to win with only the tail enders left to bat. When Warne had hit his own wicket when Australia were on 220, he thought things were all tied up. That was before the final pair put on an impressive 59 runs until Harmison made his final breakthrough and Kasprowicz was caught behind for 20, just 3 runs short of their target.

The England team clustered around the gate to clap the Australian batsmen off the field and the ecstatic crowd stood to cheer the historic victory.

As he stood waiting for the Australian team to return for the match presentations, Giles saw a tall figure in white running up the steps of the members' enclosure. The crowd cheered as the England player made his way up towards the front of the pavilion and then pushed along a row of supporters.

"You see, Uncle Rupert," the man said, "I told you I'd play for England and beat Australia in an Ashes game."

In the commentary box, Henry Blofeld saw the two men hug.

"I say, Aggers, do you think that's the famous Uncle Rupert that Ashley Giles is talking to? He once told me in an interview in Pakistan that it was his uncle's influence that made him keep practising his spin bowling in case he never made it as a fast bowler."

"You know, Blowers, I think you might be right. And we have one of Mrs. Giles' famous coffee and walnut cakes here, too. But here's the Australian team and the presentation party to hand out the match awards."