Variety no longer the spice for Monty
Monty Panesar has blamed moves to expand his spin bowling repertoire for his poor first-class returns this season, and has vowed to revert to his natural game if pitched into Ashes combat this summer. Panesar, who this year surrendered the mantle of England's premier Test spinner to Graeme Swann, has taken just six wickets at 86.66 apiece in six first-class matches for Northamptonshire in 2009 but has retained the faith of the national selectors, who have named him in the England Lions squad for the tour match against Australia on Wednesday.
Shane Warne is among those to have criticised Panesar for a one-dimensional approach to spin bowling, and the left-armer has used the first half of the county season to experiment with new deliveries. Those changes, he concedes, have been difficult to implement, and Panesar will instead rely on instinct in his bid to partner Swann against the Australians this summer.
"I would love to right now have loads of wickets under my belt but I know things haven't gone as planned," Panesar said. "Sometimes you've got to take a step back for the longer and the medium term.
"My strength is that I have a natural ability to bowl a certain pace, bowl lots of overs and get a lot of maidens. I think I've got to trust myself, go back to that and reproduce that natural bowling style that I have. During the Northants phase I've just tried to go into the development side of things … but this current situation gives me the opportunity to rise to the situations and reconnect with what I do naturally."
After losing his place in the starting XI in the wake of England's humbling Test defeat in Jamaica, Panesar worked with England's spin coach, Mushtaq Ahmed, on broadening his game. He hopes the moves will serve him well in the years to come, but admitted they have not helped his form for Northants this season.
Panesar also delivered a thinly-veiled swipe at Peter Moores, suggesting the analytical approach of the former England coach over-complicated matters and bred confusion within the team.
"I obviously struggled at the start of the season and I was in a way trying to experiment with my variation of pace and length," he said. "I understand that in an ideal world I would have loved to have taken stacks of wickets prior to the Ashes series and that would be a good preparation for me. But I understand that for my development, and to go further, I have to maybe take a backwards step to go forward for the medium- and the long-term.
"I have got the opportunity to work closely with Andy Flower, who I think is a thoughtful and intelligent man. He's able to give you the space to actually work things out for yourself. I had similar success with Duncan Fletcher. I think sometimes if there's too much information being put to you it can actually overload you and you can be confused with what you're doing. The space that tends to gives you helps you to work things out for yourself."
Panesar's cult status since joining the Test side has at times been overwhelming, and the spinner admitted the time away from international cricket has afforded him the rare opportunity to decompress.
"I enjoyed the time out because it gave me the space to do my own thing and my own training," he said. "It let the dust settle down and let me review my game and where it needs to go. One of the challenges I've had at Northants, I've had four-day games, one-day games and Twenty20 games. In ideal world I would like to play back-to-back four-day games and get myself into a good rhythm. That has been quite testing, trying to adapt from one form to another form."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo