Panesar must heed Essex lesson
Shortly before Christmas, England could still bask in the belief that they still possessed two world-class spinners. Now they must wonder if they have any at all. Not only has Graeme Swann retired, but Monty Panesar's behaviour is becoming increasingly unreliable.
In a list of minor misdemeanours, being dropped for poor timekeeping, as Panesar has been by Essex for their Championship match against Glamorgan at Chelmsford, would hardly rank a mention were it not for the fact that it fits a disturbing pattern that threatens to end Panesar's England career.
Swann retired abruptly, his spirit sapped by the pain of a reconstructed elbow and the recognition that he had lost the pace and dip that had made him one of the finest offspinners in England's history. Panesar's time should have come, but for the past year he has done nothing to warrant selection.
If Paul Downton, the managing director of England Cricket, deemed Kevin Pietersen distracted in Australia, heaven knows what he has made of Panesar's behaviour in that time. Celebrated as a wide-eyed 12-year-old when his international career began, he now seems to have advanced into a state of persistent adolescence.
Panesar failed to attend a team meeting on Sunday morning after initially being named in the side and that was enough for Paul Grayson, Essex's head coach, to omit him. Essex issued a curt statement confirming that "Monty Panesar has been disciplined by the club after breaching team rules for timekeeping", that he had been dropped against Glamorgan as a result and would be available in the NatWest Blast on June 6 against Surrey.
Essex are seeking to play down the matter, but such decisions are not taken on a whim. They draw their energy from a player's general state of mind, from the support or otherwise of his team mates, and from the need eventually to make a point. Essex should be strong promotion contenders and that they feel that challenge, temporarily at least, is better served by reminding Panesar of his responsibilities signifies that his attitude has left much to be desired.
This has not lost Panesar a place in the Test series against Sri Lanka, merely confirmed it. England's intention to field four pace bowlers and place spin solely in the hands of an allrounder - most likely Moeen Ali or Samit Patel, with Adil Rashid as an outsider - has been well signalled. Panesar was assumed to have a negligible chance even before this latest peccadillo. But all it would have taken was a heatwave or a rush of bountiful form to force the England selectors to reconsider, if not now later in the summer.
Instead, in a season where Panesar might have established himself as England's premier spin bowler, and at the very least provided stability for a few years while a desperate search continued for a long-term replacement, his attitude has been such that Essex have seen fit on at least one occasion to warn him about his body language. Sussex, who had also come to tire of his dressing room mood swings, would know the symptoms only too well.
One of the most beloved England cricketers of his age, at 32, is losing his appeal. He has recently been photographed on the field wearing spectacles - and very earnest they make him look, too - but it is himself he needs to look at. Cricket, it seems, no longer puts a smile on his face. A general disenchantment seems to run deep.
As Tom Craddock, Essex's young legspinner, took to the field at Chelmsford in his place, Panesar needed to reflect on the mess of the past year.
When his infamous early-morning escapade in Brighton last summer led to him urinating from on high on a nightclub bouncer, and Sussex's patience snapped, it was Essex who gave him a home and, by doing so, enabled him to bowl enough overs to win a place on England's Ashes tour. He played twice, without distinction, winning his 50th Test in Melbourne, a half century which it is not inconceivable will become his last.
Umpires talk in mystified fashion at some of his on-field behaviour such as his bizarre swing of his foot in his follow-through last season at Worcestershire's Ross Whiteley, or the need to tell him to calm down when Billy Godleman, a former Essex player now with Derbyshire, was widely subjected to a rough reception.
It is all desperately sad. Back in November 2012, Panesar and Swann shared 19 wickets in ideal spin bowling conditions in the Mumbai Test. "England's dust devils, The Guardian called them. It was one of the greatest spin bowling displays in Test history: Swann, artful and brimming with imagination; Panesar, zealous, disciplined, slightly vulnerable.
There was talk that England might even play two spinners at home, such was the attraction of a combination thought to be at its peak. Then, in a flash, Swann was gone. Panesar's passing looks as if it could be more problematic. Since that tour, he has rarely commanded the respect that seemed to be his by rights.
India return to England later this summer and for Panesar there remains the chance to impress once more against the country of his antecedents. Perhaps the dust devils have already been carried away on the wind. If that proves to be the case, Panesar has only himself to blame.
Downton was right when he used the word "distracted". He just used it about the wrong man.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo