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Monty Panesar may not be a new man but his familiar methods are perfect for this pitch
George Dobell in Mumbai
November 23, 2012
Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as attempting the same action over and over again but expecting a different result. But whatever his excellence in the field of quantum physics, Albert Einstein was surely not much of a bowler.
Certainly Monty Panesar has made a career out of repeating the same action over and over and hoping for a different result. While you suspect he might not be much of a physicist - though he would put all his theories in good areas - he has, for more than a decade, made a virtue of his remarkable consistency. He runs in, puts the ball in more or less the same area, and hopes that, this time, it will either spin sharply enough to take a wicket or that the batsman will make a mistake. Some days the ball spin; some days it does not, but Panesar changes very little on any surface and against any opposition. It means that he can, on unsympathetic surfaces, be rendered somewhat lacking in subtlety. But, on pitches such as this one, he is a fine bowler.
There were rumours heading into this match that Panesar was a new man; that he had learned a few tricks from net sessions with Shane Warne and that, during the last part of the season at Sussex, he had experimented with a little more variation.
It is not so. Perhaps Panesar used the crease a little more than he has in the past but, aged 30, he is not going to learn too many new tricks. He is, by and large, the same bowler who came into the England side in 2006. It is surely time to stop expecting him to change.
Panesar's four wickets on the opening day maintain a fine run of form for England. Indeed, he went into this match having claimed five-wicket hauls in two of his three previous Tests.
With such a record, Panesar could be forgiven for questioning why he is not in the side more often. But it is his misfortune to be considered a one-dimensional cricketer in an era where all-round skills are highly valued. With a Test batting average of 5.47 he cannot claim to be anything but a specialist bowler. It is also relevant that, in his last Test, he dropped two chances including one painfully simple effort at mid-on that reprieved, of all people, Mahela Jayawardene. England, understandably, are reluctant to risk him.
It is also Panesar's misfortune to be a contemporary of Graeme Swann. While some will insist that Panesar's left-arm spin is the more potent weapon, Swann's record with the ball - 199 Test wickets at 29.79 apiece - remains slightly better than Panesar's (146 at 32.99). While Panesar took two five-wicket hauls to Swann's none when they played together in the UAE, Swann actually took only one fewer wickets in 36 fewer overs and had the better strike-rate of the pair. He is also a far better fielder and batsman.
It is hard not to warm to Panesar, though. His unabashed delight at taking a wicket is as simple and unaffected as a Labrador puppy taken for a walk. He may be one dimensional but he remains a potent weapon in the right circumstances. And this pitch, worn and tailor-made for India's spinners, really does offer the right circumstances.
It seems unlikely this will be a high-scoring game. This pitch, used three weeks ago for a four-day game, is already providing assistance to the spinners and will surely only help them more as it wears further. A couple of balls have already exploded from the pitch and batting fourth could prove desperately difficult.
For all that, though, perhaps only Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni were the victims of almost unplayable deliveries. The rest of the Indian wickets owed more to either pressure - Virat Kohli, tied down for 55 balls for his 19, drove impatiently and Virender Sehwag played across the line - or technical errors: Gautam Gambhir lost balance as he played across one and a tentative Yuvraj Singh missed a straight delivery. England, on the whole, could feel satisfied with a much tighter performance. The substitution of Panesar for Tim Bresnan was a clear success.
Yet England will be concerned at India's fightback. Having reduced India to 119 for 5 and then 169 for 6, they saw Cheteshwar Pujara and R Ashwin take the game away from them with a seventh-wicket stand of 97.
Stuart Broad, despite a decent first spell, was disappointing. Conceding five an over in these conditions is damagingly wasteful.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the first day of the second Test between Australia and India in Brisbane