England v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Old Trafford, 3rd day May 25, 2008

Panesar responds in battle of the spinners

Somehow, England still have a chance of winning at Old Trafford and that is thanks to Monty Panesar

Monty Panesar had plenty to celebrate as he picked up a career-best haul and his 100th Test wicket © Getty Images
When England squeezed past the follow-on with their last pair together the Barmy Army trumpeter burst into a rendition of The Great Escape. At the time it sounded like a forlorn attempt to bring some levity to England's performance but, a few hours later, somehow, the home team had a chance of salvation after New Zealand produced a batting collapse to match England's morning demise.

In the modern game orthodox finger spin isn't meant to be cool enough. Every team wants a legspinner, or an offspinner that can turn the ball both ways. It is perhaps fitting that at Old Trafford, a ground that many have said has failed to keep up with the times, two left-arm spinners went head-to-head to set up the fascinating finale to an enthralling match. Firstly it was Daniel Vettori making England's middle look average (and that's not a 40-run average) then, facing a deficit of 179, it was Monty Panesar's turn with a career-best 6 for 37.

"We knew we had to bowl them out them today if we were going to be in this game," Panesar said. "We have set ourselves a good platform and hopefully we can build on that. It is a tough pitch to bat on, but with the line-up we have hopefully we can knock these runs off. Daniel Vettori will have a big impact, but if we can play him well then hopefully we can win this Test."

Vettori seems to have been playing international cricket forever. He is not yet 30, but is already in his 11th year with New Zealand. Partly due to the team's lack of sustained success at Test level, and partly because he has played in an era with some truly great spinners, Vettori's contributions have often not received the deserved acclaim. By comparison, Panesar is a youngster at the top level, only in his third home season, but it's a mark of his rise that he passed 100 wickets in his 28th Test. "A few of the guys mentioned it at the time. I wasn't too aware of it but for me it's a nice moment," said Panesar. As a comparison Muttiah Muralitharan took 27 matches and Vettori 29.

Panesar was a disappointment in the first innings, conceding more than four-and-a-half an over as New Zealand's run rate ran away. He then had to watch Vettori spin a web against England's batsmen, claiming his second five-wicket haul in two innings, with a masterful display of cunning and control. Panesar explained that the wind made it tough work first time round. "In the first innings I struggled to control my line, it kept going towards leg stump. I couldn't really find my rhythm. It felt like the wind was trying to take me off the pitch every time. So I changed ends and that helped me get more control."

It clicked when he trapped Jamie How lbw, a mode of dismissal that brought him three further wickets including his 100th when he removed Ross Taylor. Replays showed it was just clipping off stump, but Panesar had closer shouts turned down at Lord's. When the momentum is with a spinner, it's best to grasp it.

"I tried to enjoy the bowling rather than apply more pressure to myself and get more tense," he said. "I did get excited so I can't lie about that. I enjoyed seeing the ball spit out of the rough and a few jumping quite high. I just went out and to express myself like I normally do. That helped me to get into my rhythm and relax. It was good to see the way he [Vettori] bowled. It gave me confidence that the pitch is there if I bowl well."

The Panesar-Vettori comparison has been bubbling for the last few months, since the pair began that battle in Hamilton. Panesar ended the New Zealand contest with his nose in front after playing an important role in the Napier victory, but the early spoils this series had gone clearly to Vettori.

Daniel Vettori tied England in knots then burst through their middle order to give New Zealand a lead of 179 © Getty Images

It was clear when Vettori made his debut at 18, against England in Wellington, looking every inch like someone who'd just skipped maths class, that he would enjoy a long and fruitful career. He is at the top of his game, and as captain is leading by example. His control and variation have been outstanding. The dismissals of Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood at Lord's and Old Trafford have shown a craftsman at work. Both batsmen tried to counter their errors from last week, but were still undone and that's the mark of a high calibre bowler.

Vettori is no Murali or Shane Warne, but he has shown that it doesn't have to be the doosra to make England seize up against spin. His arm ball has been a key weapon, trapping Pietersen (and Tim Ambrose) at Lord's, and here nailing the floundering Collingwood. He also found plenty of outside edges as he gave the ball a rip on a responsive surface. There is a school of thought that Vettori doesn't turn the ball much, but with favourable conditions he extracted plenty of bite. The key was, though, his control. It's what Panesar lacked in the first innings, although regained second time around. The England batsmen were suffocated by a lack of scoring options - they were also passive in the extreme - so the pressure was never released.

As a captain Vettori is growing into his role and has often outmanoeuvred Michael Vaughan. He is showing keen tactical awareness, and is not afraid to play to New Zealand's strengths of containment, rather than be drawn into over-attacking. Vettori's hold over the England batsmen is so great, however, that at some points he was able to have five men around the bat.

"We aren't blessed with the stars of other sides," was one of Vettori's remarks before the series began, but two matches into the contest he is one two New Zealanders - the other being Brendon McCullum - who would have a strong chance of feature in a current World XI. Then again, Vettori has never been one to pump up his - or his own team's - values. That isn't really the New Zealand way.

Vettori got his team together for a huddle after they'd wrapped England up for 202, he knew the chance that was within their grasp. However, he will have known that his direct challenger posed the major threat to New Zealand's dominance and so it proved. At the second change of innings for the day, Vettori was straight onto the outfield to warm up. He'd already been the hero once, and know had to prepare to do it all over again. By the close Alastair Cook had become his sixth wicket of the match. It's in the captain's hands as to whether New Zealand secure a famous win, or have it wrestled away from them.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo