Modest Monty a real turn-up for England

Published: Sunday, July 30, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Manchester:Anyone meeting Monty Panesar off the field would probably think they had been introduced to a polite, almost shy, young man.

And while all that is true, if you give him a cricket ball he becomes a man transformed, an animated artist of a spin bowler England have so rarely enjoyed.

The Northamptonshire left-armer was an entrancing figure while taking a Test-best five for 72 as England completed a crushing innings and 120 run victory in the second Test against Pakistan with more than two days to spare to go 1-0 up in the four-match series here at Old Trafford.

Watching Panesar bowl with the kind of genuine turn not seen from an England left-arm spinner since the days of Phil Edmonds in the late 1970s and 1980s, it was hard to believe that he had been at risk of missing this match.

But after he had 'failed' to bowl Pakistan out on the final day of the drawn first Test at Lord's, England added uncapped off-spinner Jamie Dalrymple to their squad.

Dalrymple is very much a cricketer of the type England coach Duncan Fletcher is often heard praising, a 'two out of three' man, whose batting and fielding are reckoned to be better than those of Panesar's.

Admittedly Panesar did not help his cause early in his international career with some wretchedly inept misfields.

Meanwhile England have steadfastly kept him at No 11 where he has shown some ability in seeing a couple of team-mates to centuries and, earlier this season, sweeping Sri Lanka star Muttiah Muralitharan for six at Trent Bridge.

But although his wicket-taking celebrations have the jerkiness of a puppet whose strings have just been cut, there is no denying the effective elegance of his action.

Fast bowler Stephen Harmison may have taken the man-of-the-match award at Old Trafford for his overall return of 11 for 76 but, on the final day, it was Panesar who removed Pakistan's three leading batsmen - Mohammad Yousuf, captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan - all renowned as fine players of spin.

Fletcher has remained grudging in his praise of Panesar, his comments more suggestive of doubts about the player's worth rather than a desire to keep the already level-headed 24-year-old's feet on the ground.

But the English cricketing public have no such worries. Quite simply they have taken Mudhsuden Singh Panesar, to give the bowler from Luton his full name, to their collective hearts.

Their affection was obvious at Old Trafford where every time Panesar, the first Sikh to play Test cricket for England, returned to his fielding position, he was greeted by chants of "Monty, give us a wave, Monty, Monty give us a wave,". Eventually, he did just that to raucous cheers.

Panesar, who thanks to his beard and Sikh head covering stands out from his team-mates even before he has done anything, insisted there was no great secret to his success.

"I just tried to stay patient and not get too carried away with the way the ball was turning and bouncing," he told reporters after Saturday's close.

"I tried to keep it simple rather than go for magic balls against Pakistan, since they are very good players of spin."

Panesar's match haul of eight for 73 seemed appropriate in a match coinciding with the 50th anniversary of England off-spinner Jim Laker's Test world record 19 for 90 at Old Trafford, against Australia.

That match saw Laker and fellow spinner Tony Lock take all 20 wickets between them. Here Harmison and Panesar shared 19 with the other down to a run-out, not one of their fellow bowlers.

Ashley Giles, very much a man after Fletcher's own heart, is battling to overcome a hip injury and regain the left-arm spinner's position for the Ashes tour of Australia later this year.

But England captain Andrew Strauss, leading the side in the absence of the injured Andrew Flintoff, was in no doubt about the quality of Panesar's performance.

"Monty did a great job. There was turn and bounce there but the way he approached his bowling was first-rate.

"He's a pretty happy man up in the dressing-room and rightly so."

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