Nick Cook urges Panesar to stay grounded
Nick Cook, the former England left-arm spinner who had a sensational start to his career, has urged Monty Panesar to remain focussed on his cricket and not get carried away with his early success. Having been the first coach to spot Panesar as a 16-year old in Northamptonshire, Cook was thoroughly satisfied the way an "uncut diamond" had turned into a "rare gem".
Cook stormed onto the international stage with 32 wickets in his first four Tests, in 1983-84, but saw his career fizzle out soon after. "Because of his background of being a Sikh, Monty has a better chance of staying grounded," he said. "Perhaps guys like me listened too much to the press and had their off-field antics. Monty is absolutely focussed and his cricket is still right at the forefront. And he has to make sure he remains there."
Hardly anyone had heard of Panesar back in 1998 and Cook's only regret is that he did not put money on him becoming the first Sikh to play for England . "He came to Northampton as a 16-year old after Brian Reynolds, our scout, spotted him. His first game was pre-season against Oxfordshire where he bowled on a flat pitch that was very good for batting. He turned it and bounced it square. And to my regret, I should have rang up Ladbrokes and said, 'I got somebody who will play cricket for England and he'll be the first Sikh to play.' After seeing him for one day, I knew he had a great chance. Turned it, bowled it at pace, fantastic fingers, hands like buckets."
One of the umpires for the Indians' tour game against Sri Lanka A, Cook felt Panesar should bowl at a fastish pace and not listen to those encouraging him to slow it down. "People say he bowls too quick but that's absolute rubbish," he said. "If a spin bowler can get a bit of drop, some loop and turn ... he's going to be a better bowler. My thoughts when I see any bowler - get it down there as quickly as you can, provided you have loop and can turn it. Monty can do that 2-3 mph quicker than most. As he gets older he'll learn how to bowl it slow now and again. It's far easier to get people to take pace off it than put pace on it. I've never seen a really slow, slow bowler who turns it square and gets good people out. Bishan Bedi gave it plenty of flight but he could also bowl a quick ball."
Does he see any similarities between his bowling style and Monty's? "Apart from two or three years of my career I wasn't a big spinner of the ball," said Cook, who began his career with a five-wicket haul (and eight in the match) against New Zealand at Lord's in 1983. "I was more a containing sort of bowler whereas Monty was a massive spinner of the ball. The fact that we bowl slow left-arm is where the resemblance ends."
Cook's honeymoon period ended after the first Test of the England-Pakistan series in 1983-84, after his memorable 11-wicket effort at Karachi. The next series, against the all-conquering West Indies, hastened the end. "That was a bit of a watershed series, shut me down. You had Greenidge, Haynes, Gomes, Richards, Lloyd and Dujon. They kept coming at you one after the other. Sometimes we got the top order out but Dujon, Harper and even Marshall took the game away. They just whitewashed us."
He survived just two more series after that, another away tour to Pakistan and the home series against Australia in 1989, and was enshrined in Ashes history when David Boon swept him for the winning runs . It was a moment when England surrendered the urn, heralding a 16-year period of Australian dominance.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo