Essex v Northamptonshire, Colchester, 1st day August 20, 2013

Panesar finds going tough

Northamptonshire 343 for 5 (Sales 131, Peters 101) v Essex

Northamptonshire's first team players arrived in Colchester on Monday anticipating that Monty Panesar, one of their own after all, would be playing for them against Essex. At any rate, certainly not as a member of the opposition.

Upon arrival in the old garrison town, a shock awaited them. For there he was, down on the team sheet as a representative of the opposition. Inevitably this will cast some doubt on a proposed return to Northampton next year.

Not that Panesar caused any particular concern for Northamptonshire's batsmen until he took his first wicket, in his 30th over. Alex Wakely drove a full-pitched ball to short extra cover, eliciting relief more than any celebratory feeling.

That was because David Sales and Stephen Peters had struck centuries on a pitch which might give Panesar some assistance later in the match - always assuming, of course that his new colleagues are not bowled out twice and beaten by an innings.

It was the brainwave of Paul Grayson, the Essex coach, to sign Panesar for their remaining six first-class matches in the hope, of course, that he might spin them towards promotion. Sure enough, this iconic figure, well received by a decent crowd at Castle Park, was his customary enthusiastic self - or, more to the point, his enthusiastic self of old before his well-documented off-the-field problems and his release by Sussex.

There was not one dissenting voice among the crowd. Not even when Sales lifted the left-arm spinner straight for six and when there was a dive, swallow like, over the ball in front of the sightscreen, which resulted in a soft Northants boundary. It was quite evident that here was a cricketer who was trying his utmost to succeed. When Essex prepared to take the field at the start of play, Panesar was to the fore, as if intent on running onto the pitch ahead of the umpires.

He bowled his overs in several spells, never other than tidily, not necessarily inviting the batsman to drive, but always giving something to ponder, even as the runs continued to flow from both Sales and Peters, the latter who like Panesar was playing against his old county.

Whether or not Monty enticed uncommitted spectators to come on account of his publicised presence was hard to gauge. Essex attract good attendances to this cherished outground, where, as David Acfield (who was present) and Ray East would emphasise season after season as they strove to become champions, the dry pitches take spin come August.

Essex are having to make do without Tom Craddock for the remainder of the season, on account of personal problems, so Panesar will have plenty more bowling to do in the weeks to come before making a decision as to where his long-term future lies.

As for Sales, he drove the ball sweetly in compiling 131 off 201 balls with 21 fours and that driven six off Panesar. Peters, more circumspect by comparison, reached his century off 178 balls with ten fours. The wickets that fell in the post-tea session did not disguise the fact that Northamptonshire have a pretty handy total.

Afterwards, Panesar would not speak to the assembled media. To the surprise of Essex officials, he had been told by Sussex that he could not do so - even though he has been released. Given that he is on loan to Essex, there was nothing his new employers could do about that.