England v West Indies, 4th Test, Chester-le-Street, 5th day June 19, 2007

England's enjoyment returns



Monty Panesar has been England's star bowler despite largely seamer-friendly conditions © Getty Images
England's healing following a traumatic winter is a long-term process and three victories against a desperately poor West Indies side provide only the gentlest of starts. However, winning is a habit and there is an enjoyment back in England's game that vanished during the previous six months. Nobody enjoys their cricket more than Monty Panesar and his third five-wicket haul, which led to the Man-of-the-Series award, put England firmly on course after West Indies had threatened to prolong the match.

Panesar had a mixed winter after he was left out of the first two Ashes Test before returning with five wickets at Perth then suffering a variety of experiences in one-day internationals. But through it all he didn't stop smiling. Barring four days at Old Trafford this series has been played in damp, overcast, cool conditions that would normally leave a finger spinner with his hands in his pockets and the occasional over before an interval. Panesar, though, ends as the leading wicket-taker on either side with 23 scalps. Without him England could even have lost at Old Trafford.

His success has come through guile and intelligence. Two dismissals today were snapshots of Panesar's craft at its best. Dwayne Bravo had deposited him over deep midwicket, with swift footwork, but Panesar held his nerve and tempted him again. Bravo found mid-off. Then he bowled Denesh Ramdin with a delivery that almost matched his mesmeric ball to Younis Khan last summer, pitching on leg stump and turning to take out off. "I guess that was the perfect left-armers's dismissal," he said.

Michael Vaughan was fulsome in his praise. "It was a slower wicket [than Old Trafford] with not as much spin but I think the delivery which he got Ramdin out with will be a delivery that is shown to young left-arm spinners for a long time. It was a perfect spinning delivery. He's offering control and giving it a good rip."

He is proving to be a man for all conditions and is able to adjust between a flat Lord's pitch, where he used his arm ball, to a spitting-cobra surface in Manchester and something in between at Chester-le-Street. The key is he never negates his wicket-taking potential as some previous England spinners did when conditions weren't loaded in their favour. The fascinating duel against India's ageing middle order awaits.

While Panesar has moved on from the Ashes and missing his only two Tests since his debut, Steve Harmison's efforts at forgetting Australia have not gone exactly to plan. However, a hostile 17-over spell, split by lunch, followed his improvement from last week at Old Trafford. There was even a flash back to Sabina Park in 2004 when he steamed in at Fidel Edwards with six slips lined up. A couple of fearsome deliveries rose off a length and would have been too good even for Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

I don't look at the runs column when Harmison is bowling. I look at the pressure he is putting on

Vaughan on his strike bowler

"Figures can sometimes be misleading," Vaughan said. "Steve Harmison's run into bowl and he's got five slips so there are plenty of gaps and every time you hit the bat it goes for runs. I don't look at the runs column when Harmison is bowling. I look at the pressure he is putting on. More importantly is the people waiting to bat and the ball whistling past batsmen's heads. It can't be nice and certainly on a side-on ground like this one it must be intimidating. That was Steve back to somewhere near his best today."

Now comes the next spanner in the works. At some point he has to go under the knife for a "non-serious hernia" and depending on the invasiveness of the surgery he could be ruled out for as long as six weeks. The first Test against India starts on July 19, and he is set to play in Durham's Friends Provident semi-final on Wednesday, so it's a tight time frame. With Harmison finally finding some form a return to the sidelines couldn't have come at a worse time. He's in rhythm and desperately needs to keep it going.

"My summer's been a bit like the West Indies," Harmison told Sky Sports. "When it was good it was really good but when it was bad, I hold my hands up, it was pretty poor. There have been times where things haven't gone well for me but I've never dropped my head. I've wanted to keep trying and keep going.

"I said at Old Trafford I'd climbed a few rungs up that ladder from where I'd been on that Friday and I was honest with myself that it wasn't good enough. But I've just got to keep trying to climb that ladder and there's a bit to go, but I'm closer to the top than the bottom."

The relish with which he steamed in from the Lumley End on his home ground has been a rare sight in recent times. "He's worked something out and people always give others credit when you get it right but Steve deserves a lot of credit himself," Vaughan said.

Perhaps he was spurred on by the ovation Paul Collingwood received yesterday, but his spell supported the line handed out earlier in the day that the hernia isn't affecting his bowling. It is wise, though, to sort out the issue while it's minor although Harmison said after the match that he was keen to play until the end of the Tests against India.

England have a history of waiting and waiting then being made to regret it. In 2002 Andrew Flintoff was patched up and played against India, at Headingley, only to do himself more damage. England have showed promising signs of moving on during this series. It would be silly not to learn from previous mistakes.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo