November 26, 2012

England in India 2012-13

The devastating self-restraint of Monty Panesar

Andy Zaltzman
Virat Kohli celebrates his second Test hundred, India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Bangalore, 3rd day, September 2, 2012
Kohli: a hero to armchair cricketers everywhere  © AFP
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A dramatic, series-swivelling day in Mumbai featured some of the best batting imaginable, and some considerably less good than that, as well as a pitch-perfect demonstration of how to bowl spin in Indian conditions, a masterclass that the Indian bowlers, apparently unfamiliar with such circumstances, would do well to take on board. Earlier, Kevin Pietersen played what Americans would describe as "an innings for the ages". Whilst he was batting, it was patently an innings of incredible skill and boldness. When India started attempting to bat on the same pitch, Pietersen's reintegration-accelerating 186 began to look like a work of unarguable sporting genius. I confidently predict any future dressing-room spats between KP and his team-mates in the build-up to crucial series-deciding Test matches are likely to be resolved without him being omitted from the side.

Here, then, are the Official Confectionery Stall Mumbai Test Day Three Awards.

GREATEST ACT OF SELF-RESTRAINT OF THE DAY: Monty Panesar, on taking his tenth wicket of the match Panesar, who became one of the first England bowlers for some time to open the bowling with a long-off, took five wickets in a classic display of aggressive spin bowling on a helpful surface. He induced edges from Sehwag and Dhoni with perfectly pitched, dipping, fizzing away-tweakers, hurried a quicker, straighter one past Tendulkar to trap the fading magician leg-before, and took the left-handed Yuvraj's glove with turn and bounce.

Monty's most remarkable achievement, however, was the formidable self-control he showed on taking his fifth wicket of the innings, and tenth of the match, when he duped the charging Ashwin into misreading the length of a ball that had been held back slightly and skying a catch to cover. Somehow Monty managed to prevent himself from celebrating his personal triumph by sprinting straight into the dressing room and giving Andy Flower a cake shaped like the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad with the words "Thanks for the week off work" iced sarcastically on the top, alongside Pragyan Ojha's and Tim Bresnan's bowling figures from the first Test. That is testament to the man's remarkable equanimity.

England also erred on the side of seam in the first Test against Pakistan last winter, and duly lost on a turning pitch. Panesar returned for the second Test, and took 6 for 62 in the second innings to bowl England into a winning position, albeit one from which they absolutely and utterly failed to win. As the late 19th-century writer, wit, prison sceptic and possible cricket expert Oscar Wilde himself once wrote, "To leave Monty Panesar out of one subcontinental first Test may be regarded as a misfortune. To leave Monty Panesar out of another subcontinental first Test less than a year later looks like carelessness."

NON-PIETERSEN SHOT OF THE DAY: Virat Kohli's splooted honk to mid-off (I have disqualified Pietersen's various classical, innovative, surreal and sumptuous masterstrokes, to facilitate the judging process.)

Kohli, fast becoming an ODI great, still awaits his definitive breakthrough as a Test batsman. The stage was set for him to make that step yesterday, with his team in a dire but not irretrievable position. Kohli marched onto that stage, bowed nervously, then carried on marching across the stage before falling straight into the orchestra pit to a cacophony of clanging cymbals and angry trombonists. Metaphorically.

After a difficult start against Panesar, Kohli's eyes lit up when Swann lobbed him a full toss so juicy that the batsman should still be drinking it for breakfast. In fact, they lit up so vigorously that they seemed to burn his retinas to a crisp, judging by how far from the middle of the bat the ball was when it made contact with the wood. A curious wooden clonk resounded across the Wankhede, somewhat reminiscent of an idiot headbutting a coconut. The ball, which by rights should have been pummelling the advertising hoardings, blooped apologetically to wide mid-off, where Root took a simple catch.

Kohli reacted with the disgust and self-admonishment of someone who had just realised that he had inadvertently taken a vegetable quiche back to the nursing home and popped his grandmother into the oven, and trudged off the field at an understandably funereal pace that suggested he did not particularly want to see his coach, captain, team-mates or own reflection in the mirror.

Around the stadium, low-grade amateur cricketers such as myself were struck by the strange familiarity of that wooden clonk. "What does that remind me of?" we thought. "Yes, that's it. That is the sound of me, playing a rubbish shot in village cricket." It is not often that the humble punter can watch elite sportsmen do something at the highest level of their sport, and think: "I could have done that." But Kohli, heroically, gave us all that opportunity to feel a momentary connection with the hallowed confines of Test cricket.

Batsman are often criticised for playing a "stupid shot" when they are dismissed in a this fashion. Kohli's was not a stupid shot. It was a sensible shot. Stupidly played.

Swann, meanwhile, celebrated as if he had just bowled Bradman with a square-turning pearler. Having snared Pujara in his first over with one of his many perfectly pitched offbreaks, Swann proceeded to bowl a clutch of wicket-taking deliveries that did not take wickets. He did, however, take a wicket with that rancid full bunger. Such is cricket. Such is life.

Runners-up:

1. Cook's extra-cover drive to reach his century, exquisitely timed and utterly authoritative.

2. Prior's late cut off Ojha. Prior is a fabulously stylish batsman, whose strokemaking, had he been playing 80 years earlier, would have had Neville Cardus dribbling into his iPad and ploughing through his thesaurus for suitably expressive adjectives. Point proved, Prior then ran himself out, in what now looks like a strategically impeccable ploy to give Panesar and Swann maximum time to bowl England to the brink of victory.

3. Ashwin's straight six off Swann. Another effortless, statuesque smite by the Indian allrounder, proving why he could be a top six batsman. He then proved why he is not a top six batsman, by charging and hoicking at Panesar with eight balls remaining in the day, and a partnership between him and the resolutely battling Gambhir India's only realistic outside microhope of rescuing the match.

IMPROVED SPECTATOR EXPERIENCE AWARD: Gate 3 The ground-entry procedure about which I was grumbling a couple of days ago has speeded up considerably, and yesterday's Gate 3 transit time was a breezy 15 minutes, despite there seeming to be a longer queue than there was for Day 1's 60-minute megashuffle.

RIGHTLY BANNED OBJECT OF THE DAY: The Newspaper Newspapers have rightly been ruled as contraband products at the Wankhede, and I was only too happy to be stripped of mine on the way into the ground. The authorities for once have put the interests of the paying public first, and removed the possibility of spectators pooling their newspapers together to build a giant, 25-metre-high papier-maché statue of Lalit Modi which could easily disturb play by coming to life, stomping across the outfield, kidnapping the players, and setting up a rival match on the outfield in the midwicket area. Credit where credit is due.

POTENTIAL DAY 4 STAT OF THE DAY: This could be only the third complete Test match ever played in which pace bowlers have taken fewer than two wickets Pacers took zero wickets in the India v England Test in Kanpur in 1951-52 (which, not entirely coincidentally, was the only other time before Panesar in the current Test that an England spinner ‒ Malcolm Hilton ‒ has opened the bowling and gone on to take five wickets in the innings), and only one in Sri Lanka's innings win over New Zealand in Galle in 1998 (and that one is dependent on you considering Chris Harris a pace bowler, which might require a few stiff drinks and a blow to the head).

The only other Tests in which seamers took one or no wickets were either obliterated by rain to less than a day's play, or only ten balls long due to the pitch falling to pieces like a badly baked birthday cake in a fistfight (West Indies v England, Antigua, 2009).

For those wanting to come to my stand-up gigs in Mumbai next week, here are details for Tuesday's show in aid of the Rotoract Club of the Caduceus at the YB Chavan Auditorium, Nariman Point, and for Wednesday's show at the Schitzengiggles Club, Hotel Bawa Continental, Juhu, at which I will be doing an extended set. I hope to confirm details of further shows in Bangalore and Kolkata shortly.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by Vijay on (December 5, 2012, 2:13 GMT)

Is it just me - the typical bite that your articles had - that seems to have fizzled out recently.

Ofcourse, I do see the occassional rip rolling sentences and words - but they seem more infrequent.

To use your own analogy - I see the last few articles of yours and think silently, "Isnt this almost like what I write". Do come back to your full flow Andy. I like your pen a lot more than a full blooded blow from Kohli. Goobatsmen are a dime a dozen today. Not so the good cricket writers

Posted by ATUL DEO on (December 1, 2012, 19:15 GMT)

What India typically needed in Mumbai was a speed spin bowler like Bhagwat Chandrashekhar or Kumble on pitches that bounce with sharp spin. India has not groomed anyone to replace the speedy leg spinner. Rahul Sharma was the one on the list closest to Kumble. Ashvins carrom ball concept, which is now the fourth kind of spin option. With the success of Ashwin, we have overlooked the replacement to Kumble.The carrom ball bowling concept, will never get the best out of a bouncy wicket because of the typical grip while bowling the carom ball. India need to now work on the concept of four front line spinners on spinning tracks. Ideally, whenever India has played three spinners, it has been an offspinner, left armer and a speedy leg spinner. The speedy Leg spinner was missing in Mumbai. The pitch at Kolkatta will be slower and the venom will be out. England is over reading too much on their win.

Posted by faraz on (November 28, 2012, 8:13 GMT)

"falling straight into the orchestra pit to a cacophony of clanging cymbals and angry trombonists".. you imagination. seriously!

Posted by Venkat on (November 27, 2012, 14:48 GMT)

Your presence was a big boost for England and they won.

Posted by Njr1330 on (November 27, 2012, 11:33 GMT)

Classic, Andy, absolutely classic; a Pietersenesque return to form! I once faced C.Z. Harris, and if he's a quick bowler, then I'm a Dutchman!

Posted by jv on (November 27, 2012, 10:45 GMT)

Andy,

Any chance of your stand up show in Singapore? There are many british expats here although I am not one of them. I would love to go for your show.

cheers

Posted by 07sanjeewakaru on (November 27, 2012, 8:41 GMT)

Kevin Pietersen played what Americans would describe as “an innings for the ages” peires Morgan's American twitter followers...

Posted by jagat on (November 27, 2012, 5:25 GMT)

Superb bit of writing - haven't laughed this loud since I first watched 'A Fish Called Wanda'...hysterical! :D

Posted by Laiq Khan on (November 27, 2012, 3:43 GMT)

KP is a great player and i love him watching when he is playing, KP play the switch hit often it is amazing,

Posted by Bern on (November 27, 2012, 1:02 GMT)

Any chance of English groundsmen producing raging turners from now on, regardless of weather conditions? RFM is so 1985. I lurve the spin. Don't need number eights capable of scoring 14. Declare and get bowling. Those twenty wickets won't take themselves. Unless you're Mr V Kohli.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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