Essex wait on how Panesar gels
On Wednesday, Nigel Hilliard, the Essex chairman, said that the prospects of Monty Panesar remaining an Essex cricketer next year will be dependent on how well he fits into the dressing-room for the remainder of the season.
Given that he has been in the middle for most of his first few days at Colchester, bowling no fewer than 54 overs, he has hardly had time to converse with his new colleagues. Yet, according to James Foster, his captain, the signs are highly auspicious.
"I had been with him on an England Lions tour and I knew him to be a quality guy," Foster said. "Monty has fitted in really well. He keeps himself to himself but he has shown great exuberance around the dressing-room and enjoys a bit of banter. It has helped that he has known other players from the past - he has played a lot of cricket with Ravi Bopara and against Gautam Gambhir."
"I don't know what has been agreed between Essex and Sussex and have no idea if he will be back next season - that is down to the powers-that-be - but there is no question he has gone down well. I thought his bowling was excellent on a good batting pitch which did not offer anything in the way of spin. His control was relentless. It does not look as if the pitch is going to break up, either."
The perception from the boundary was that Panesar was firing the ball in at the batsmen, striving for containment and maidens rather than enticing them into trying to hit against such turn as there was or over the top. Not so, felt Foster. "There was plenty of variation and he mixed his pace up nicely. The only way a spinner could get a lot out of this pitch was through control. He was bowling against good, in-form batters. That was what I, as a wicketkeeper, found to be exceptional."
Foster said the club had had to move smartly when they knew Panesar was being released by Sussex and was amused that Northamptonshire had arrived at Colchester at the start of this week anticipating that the England spinner would be turning out against Essex. "Monty could make the difference between us gaining promotion and remaining in the second division," he said. "In theory, pitches take spin at this time of year and that is why we went for him. I am not sure whether he will play in our remaining one-dayers."
Panesar is staying in a Colchester hotel this week and will then move into the Chelmsford area. Foster said that as part of the agreement over his release from Sussex, he was not be permitted to join a Division One club - in other words, he would not be allowed to play against them for the remainder of the season. The Essex captain was unaware that Sussex had prevented him from speaking to the media during the Colchester festival.
There was no play on the third day to test whether or not there would be anything in the pitch to encourage the spinners on both sides. The presence of Panesar has been well received by Essex members and supporters, but inevitably there has been the odd grumble over the wages that will be paid to him between now and the end of the season. He will remain on the same salary he was receiving from Sussex. After that, the club will be competing in a free market.