Third Test, Perth December 15, 2006

Sikh and ye shall find

After his full-blooded sweep for four from Warne, the roar shook the temporary seating

At 24, in his 11th Test, and at the 11th hour of this series, Monty Panesar has taken the latest giant step in a career with few small ones. He has already been in line for the BBC Sports Personality crown, and been paid £300,000 to yak to a ghost writer about his life. His face is everywhere, from mags to masks. His name is sport for headline writers raised on British comedy – and there are a few of those, given the inordinate popularity of the formulation ‘Dad’s Army’. Now he has not only taken five wickets in a Test innings at the WACA -where only Daniel Vettori and Bishen Bedi have done so among visiting finger spinners - but contributed delightfully and improbably with the bat.

Panesar didn’t even bowl particularly well on the first day, struggling with the breeze in his face, and needing the support of his captain to get through a spell where he was too often short and wide. Nonetheless, the dimension he added to England’s attack was palpable: his dismissal of Gilchrist was a collector’s piece of slow left-arm bowling. So was his personality, infectious even in the field, where his presence had previously been depicted in such dismaying terms. His wicket-taking celebrations, of course, make Jean Borotra look like Steve Davis.

The wicket-taking party is cricket’s version of the rave: lots of unrestrained and frenetic activity in which it is hard to completely join. What happens on the other side of the boundary is connected in the event but not in the spirit. Panesar somehow unites the two occasions, behaving as we perhaps might ourselves. No sooner had he taken his first wicket on the first day than the Barmy Army was indulging in its choreographed ‘Monty Dance’, involving a lot of leaping and high-fiving. They kept it up – like most things they do – all day and with blissful abandon.

Panesar’s priceless quality, in a cricket world full of ‘going to work’ and ‘hard days at the office’, is innocence. He gives as dull a press conference as anyone – they’re always coming out well, but they have to land in the right areas – but on the field hides nothing. A couple of months ago, Graeme Smith warned that Panesar would face ‘an unbelievable amount of abuse’ from Australian crowds, some of which might be racist. It provided a headline for a day, but always seemed more a reflection of Smith’s flair for provocation than anything else. He was welcomed to the wicket today with a universal cheer, redoubled when he connected solidly with his first defensive shot. After his full-blooded sweep for four from Warne, the roar shook the temporary seating. After his straight-driven boundary from Clark, one half expected swooning females to shower the field in panties.

Likewise the lamentations and jeremiads about Panesar’s capture by English celebrity culture – as well meant as they might be – seem premature. In his book Late Innings (1982), the New Yorker’s baseball writer Roger Angell committed to print some sentiments that are worth calling to mind, from time to time, in the context of modern professional sport: ‘It is true that the smallest flutter of a spontaneous incident – in sports, or anywhere else in public life in this country – is now seized upon and transformed at once into a mass-produced imitation or a slogan or an advertising gimmick…It is dispiriting but we can’t let ourselves miss the moment of humour and exultation when it does come along, or deny its pleasure.’

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 18, 2006, 10:04 GMT

    yes ptb monty's appealing is worse than Warne's. It is he who should be docked his match fee. Knew it would be hard to take, but it's true.

  • testli5504537 on December 18, 2006, 8:07 GMT

    Of course they were South Africans. WA has a huge number of SA expats (many tens of thousands) and most Australians don't speak Afrikaans.

    And it's no secret what the biggest reason is that a lot of them are emigrating to Australia. South Africa has huge problems with race relations and the fact that Australia seems to accept people trying to escape it offends Graham Smith for some reason.

    It's not Australia's fault that South Africa is a basket case country, no matter how much Graham Smith would like to think it is.

  • testli5504537 on December 17, 2006, 1:18 GMT

    His appealing is worse than Warney? Please! Monster almost apologised for an appeal yesterday, and had bowled two more balls before Warney would have been back to his mark. If Warney carries on with his appealing today the way he has in recent second innings, ie:bowling 47 overs for less or equal amount of wickets than has been taken at the other end, and he still finishes with 100% of his match fee, questions need to be asked (particularly by Brett Lee). Onto Monty Monster. What a legend. About the only bowler who seemed keen to bowl to Gilchrist yesterday, despite being done for 24 runs in an over by him. And 'G'. Dead right about the unruly minority who have a deluded belief that they are acting for the majority and everyone wants to hear want they have to ramble on about (sounds like me in a forum or a blog) in between the occasional alcohol fuelled vomit. On the specific incident in Perth last year though, wasn't there but I still reckon that had to be an ex-pat South African as I doubt the average drunken yobbo would even know what some of those terms meant. No doubt the drunken yobbos got a few in later in the tour though.

  • testli5504537 on December 16, 2006, 13:28 GMT

    fantastic piece. Gideon keep writing like this forever...

  • testli5504537 on December 16, 2006, 10:49 GMT

    Hey Gideon-what now of your theory that Austrlaia's batting is overly reliant on Ponting and Hussey..not going to hold much weight after today mate..

  • testli5504537 on December 16, 2006, 6:09 GMT

    Character? Monty can do no wrong it seems. But his appealing is as bad as any bowler I have seen. (Yes you poms much worse than Warne). Half a dozen times he has charged to the other end of a pitch for an lbw appeal which was not within another set of stumps of being out. Could be annoying if he hangs around for a while.

  • testli5504537 on December 15, 2006, 19:52 GMT

    As always very entertaining to read your stories Gideon. As for Monty, wonderful to see him in the series and doing a great job. It's so nice to see a real character on the field that is loving every minute of it and giving the crowd something to enjoy as much as he is also obviously enjoying it. Makes a refreshing change from the seemingly factory made, boring yet efficient, cricketers of today. I think Monty personifies all that is great about cricket, probably not so long ago you could imagine him as the guy that was picked on in the school playground now headed for cult status and breathing some life into the England team though probably a tad late.

  • testli5504537 on December 15, 2006, 19:12 GMT

    Monty was not held back because of racism. It was just poor strtegy thats all. Inspite of what Mr. Modi and the south africans may say, England have been the pioneers in embracing a multi cultural and all-inclusive approach in cricket and life. Would a english man who becomes a indian citizen ever dream of playing for India? T

  • testli5504537 on December 15, 2006, 18:13 GMT

    Monty has proved his critics wrong. He displayed some mature moments with the bat and that demonstrates that he can be chissled into a batsman too. English batting order is brittle and they should do some self-introspection to know about their batting collapse in each inings. The bells of Ian Bell are yet to toll, Flintoff is stuggling. Petersen and Collingwood are the only two players who can drop anchor in the pitch.

  • testli5504537 on December 15, 2006, 17:33 GMT

    One innings doesn't make or break a career. Monty needs to take heart and keep at it. I hope he doesn't fall for the praises. The promise seems to more concrete than before..but the hardwork is ahead.

    Greame Smith pickers.. leave him alone. He's got a big mouth, but that doesn't discount what was dished out.. no excuses for something that is unacceptable. I have lived in the ozzie land and know that it is true. Not the majority, but racism is well and kicking. So button up and get the minority unruly idiots in the crowd identified and kicked out of the game...then we can talk.

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