England in India 2012-13 December 2, 2012

Panesar focused on being himself

Having drifted into the cricketing wilderness, Monty Panesar looked to Neil Burns to help transform his career and return his focus to being his own bowler

If England do go on to secure a series win in India, they may have a largely unsung hero to thank for their success.

Two of the players involved in England's resounding victory in Mumbai credit Neil Burns, the former wicketkeeper-batsman with Essex, Somerset and Leicestershire, for helping them turn around careers that seemed destined to end in disappointment.

Burns runs the London County Cricket Club. Founded by WG Grace in 1899 with the aim of providing "invaluable first-class match experience to many cricketers who could not otherwise get it", the club lay dormant for a century before Burns revived it in 2004. He first ran a talent identification scheme - the first beneficiary of which was Surrey's Tim Linley - and then developed his ideas to provide a mentoring service designed, among other things, to enable high-class sportsmen to realise their potential.

Nick Compton and Monty Panesar both credit the work they have undertaken with Burns as the key turning point in their careers. Compton, of whom so much was expected at Middlesex, had to move to Somerset to start to fulfil his potential, while Panesar endured two-and-a-half years out of the Test team before claiming four five-wicket hauls in his last four games. Indeed, those four Tests have earned him 27 wickets at an average of just 22.70 apiece. The previous four earned him just six wickets at 64.16. Darren Stevens, who turned around his career at Kent with the help of Burns, was another beneficiary, while Burns has recently started working with Billy Godleman, who recently joined Derbyshire having been released by Essex.

The key for Panesar was to understand what made him such a valuable cricketer. By the time he was dropped by England in 2009, his mind had become clouded with doubt, confusion and fear. He was questioning who he was and what he did and the result was a lack of confidence and performance. The skill that had originally won him selection and success - his pace, consistency, turn and bounce - were increasingly being denounced for its lack of variation and subtlety with Shane Warne famously mocking his lack of development by stating that Panesar had "played the same Test 37 times".

"I remember at that time that I was out of the team, you guys, the media, were saying I needed to have lots of different variations," Panesar said as he reflected on the performance in Mumbai that brought 11 wickets. "That was a period I needed to reflect on. That's when I went to Neil Burns. I felt I needed to know which direction to take my game. I needed to go back to my strengths and bowl good stock deliveries which relates to becoming a quality bowler at Test level.

"I'm aware that some people think I'm a bit of a luxury player. I know I'm not the world's best batter or fielder, despite all the effort and improvements I've made since my Test career began. So I've done some work with Neil, who has helped build my emotional resilience and mental focus. I believe to take 20 wickets you need to have quality bowlers so, a couple of years ago, I went back to working on my strengths. Rather than trying to be a bowler I cannot be - to do this or do that - I went back to building my own strengths. It's nice to have that professional guidance and emotional support than Neil has given me."

Players may sometimes be reluctant to open up to county coaches in case it has repercussions to their subsequent selection or employment prospects.
Neil Burns' unique support has transformed the likes of Panesar

A "luxury" player is probably the wrong description of Panesar. "One dimensional" may be a more appropriate description. But, while Panesar has accepted that he will never possess the all-round skills of Graeme Swann or the variety of Saeed Ajmal, he has learned to trust his own special strengths. They are, in his words, "getting the ball to turn and bounce with pace."

Certainly it was that skill that proved so decisive in Mumbai. Panesar simply concentrated on "his processes" and allowed the results to take care of themselves. As he tells it, when he bowled Sachin Tendulkar in the first innings with a peach of a ball that drifted in, pitched on leg and spun to hit the top of off, he was thinking purely of ensuring his action was right, not of bowling the perfect delivery.

"The previous ball had been short," Panesar said. "So I was thinking to myself: 'What are my processes here; focus on that; get that right.' That's what I was thinking about when I was walking back - 'get my mind right; how is my breathing' - these are the things I have been working on. All of them are on the checklist in my mind. It was like I was doing a service on myself. It was probably one of my best balls. It even caught me by surprise. The conditions helped because it was a used wicket and when you're bowling at that pace there's a slight chance for it to grip. But if it was a flatter deck it probably would have skidded on."

It is true that the Mumbai surface helped Panesar. Not only did the bounce help him take the edge of the bat, the skiddy nature of the pitch resulted in some natural variation which negated Panesar's lack of variety and saw some ball turn and others go straight on. The question must be, then, whether he can replicate such success in Kolkata or Nagpur.

But Panesar is no longer letting such issues concern him. While he believes he now has a better understanding of "the optimum pace for maximum turn" on different types of wickets, he knows that, however well he bowls, he will not always enjoy such success.

"I've developed a mindset where I don't take anything for granted," Panesar said. "I don't take things for granted but I commit to my processes, which help me to succeed, and I don't go beyond that."

On the face of things, it might appear that Burns' services should be unnecessary. After all, the counties and cricket boards are well funded and should be able to provide all the coaching and support a player requires. But as Burns puts it "it is not a perfect world" and players may sometimes be reluctant to open up to county coaches in quite the same way in case it has repercussions to their subsequent selection or employment prospects. Burns, by contrast, offers a confidential, non-judgemental service which is funded, in this case, by the concerned players who sought his services in an effort to realise their untapped potential.

"When I came into international cricket I wouldn't speak to anyone. Now I'm confident in speaking to the captain, the coaches and the support staff."
Monty Panesar on his newly discovered self-belief

"Monty and Nick Compton both share some similarities," Burns, who coincidentally was Panesar's maiden first-class wicket, said. "They both want to be the best they can be and they've both, after a period of early promise, experienced a period of underperformance followed by a period of confusion and doubt.

"Monty was finding things tough. Things that had worked for him in the past were not working anymore and he had become a bit constricted by fear. He was a high-quality individual who just lost his way. He needed some emotional resilience and some confidence. He needed to go through a period of experimentation to realise what his strengths were. He has grown as an individual and as a player."

Confidence is a key theme in the new Panesar. The Panesar that first appeared in international cricket was too timid to ask the captain to change a field or ask a coach for advice but, thanks to the confidence instilled in him by Burns, he now feels happy to make suggestions.

"When I first came into the international arena I'd defer to coaches, captains and players," Panesar said. "Put a ball in my hand and I'd be happy to bowl line and length, but Neil and the sports psychologist, Dr Ken Jennings, have given me more idea of who I am as a person and what I can bring to a cricket team.

"I feel a better cricketer. I'm a lot more confident in many contexts. When I came into international cricket I wouldn't speak to anyone. I wouldn't speak to the coaches or anyone. Now I'm confident in speaking to the captain, the coaches and the support staff. That's the kind of area they helped me develop."

It was a similar story with Compton. Burns did not try and reinvent him; he helped him to realise what his skills were and develop those rather than trying to be something he was not.

"I was disillusioned when he got hold of me," Compton said. "I had played a bit of first-team cricket and I was impatient for more. I remember him saying to me, 'What have you actually done?' It brought me back down to earth when I realised I hadn't actually done anything. So we spent six months just working on my defence. It was the most uncomfortable six months of my life but we really built a new package, all based on the understanding that it doesn't matter how good your cover drive or your pull is if you can't stay out there. I wanted to play the one ball I faced with as much quality as I could to make sure I could play another ball. I scored 1,300 runs that season."

Whatever happens in the rest of the series in India, Compton and Panesar can take immense satisfaction at turning their careers around and earning themselves a place in the Test team. It may well be that England cricket could learn a few lessons from Burns, too.

Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, is the title sponsor of Test Match cricket in England. Visit the Investec Cricket Zone at investec.co.uk/cricket for player analysis, stats, test match info and games.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kulparkash on December 4, 2012, 6:55 GMT

    Share same thoughts with bennybow that when Monty first appeared on national scene, it seemed England finally found a spinner who could actually turn the ball.It is pertinent to mention here that there were very few quality spinners in the world who could extract turn from an unfriendly track.Maybe Monty is not among that league nor any of his contemporaries.But whenever the pitch assists, as it usually does on fourth and fifth day of the test match, it makes Monty worth the pick.

  • Muthu on December 4, 2012, 5:40 GMT

    I don't think Monty is the best left arm spinner in the world. i still feel that ohja is far better bowler than Monty on any given day. i tell you why as a left spinner you need a lot variations to deceive the batsman which i don't think Monty has. He is kind of predictable with his pace and doesn't like blowing slower throw the air which is not a good sign of a left spinner or it matters to any spinner in this world. yeah he did well against India in last match, that's cause wicket offered him fast turn (which Indian blowers failed to exploit and showed lack of experience) which you don't expect in any other country. i think it has to with the red soil pitch which turns more when you blow bit faster.

  • ian on December 3, 2012, 18:31 GMT

    @Jassim Ahmed: Boycott was not the first to use that famous quotation about lies & statistics; Benjamin Disraeli or Mark Twain is the probable source. Boycott wouldn't have known that, but you do now! Be careful of unascribed quotations!

  • John on December 3, 2012, 18:26 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster on (December 02 2012, 21:06 PM GMT) I kind of agree that England do at times lack a little imagination but are they hypocrites for not picking Monty? I would always consider Monty as a 2nd spinner in non Asian countries but only if conditions are helpful. Thing is if he's not likely to be a threat with the ball then he's little use to the side as he can't bat or field to a decent standard

  • John on December 3, 2012, 18:15 GMT

    @maximum6 on (December 02 2012, 18:26 PM GMT) Having batting depth on paper is overrated. We had 6 batsmen plus Prior in the UAE series and the SA series and the lower order/tail never wagged at all. Same has happened in the 3 inns we've played in this series.

    @Edd Oliver on (December 02 2012, 17:51 PM GMT) I agree , although I wouldn't play 3 seamers over here. I'd probably go with Swann,Monty,Tredwell,Jimmy and another seamer.

  • Dummy4 on December 3, 2012, 15:52 GMT


    To quote boycott " there are lies, damn lies and statistics "..If you look at Broad s career and the number of games that he has played and how he has performed in them you will see that he has had so many lean spells and then he has bowled that one good spell that has kept him the side. Broad is not and never will be world class.

    To quote one of the English posters on cricinfo " If you give a country bowler that many chances he will end up with the same figures as Broad".

  • david on December 3, 2012, 12:53 GMT

    captmeanster you just have to look at india, would they go to eng or aus and play 3 spinners. well we know that answer because they don't. india have tried it a couple of time in the uk thru the lack of decent seamers. so monty playing in the uk in place of swann, no is the answer. on sky a week or two ago the question was put would england play 2 spinners and make spinning wickets during the ashes, as the aussies have decent pace bowlers, well that was before the latest perth debacle.the answer then was no. as seam bowling was our best way of winning. the present indian coach was the person who wanted all the bowlers to be able to bat so monty was always going to struggle with the bat. swann and broad have the potential to score a 50 in conditions other than say in india were wickets are so prepared. so having monty in the side makes sense now. its india who have the problem when they go overseas as most of their bowlers are 1 dimensional and struggle with the conditions

  • Benny on December 3, 2012, 12:25 GMT

    I'm a simple soul believing that bowlers' prime role is to take wickets. Monty takes wickets and if you bother to look at his record it's everywhere, not just in Asia. I remember when he first appeared, England had their first spinner for years who could actually turn the ball. I'm irritated by this catchphrase "one dimensional". I remember the quote "is inclined to wear a hole in the pitch by dropping the ball on the same spot" about the great Derek Underwood, who would probably get put down too in the modern "who can we slag off next" era. As for Warne - an australian criticising an English player? Well there's a surprise!

  • Samuel on December 3, 2012, 11:11 GMT

    @maximum6 - as you say, it would be a more difficult decision if the likes of Bresnan & Broad were still providing runs. The fact that they're not probably makes it easier. Swann is still a more than handy no.8 (and in fact moving him back up the order might make him play with some responsibility again - like Broad, he seems to have caught the mindless slogging disease) so I'd be fairly comfortable with a long-ish tail if the trade-off is more chance of taking wickets, something Bres & Broad seem to have forgotten how to do of late. Can't wait for the game to start - both sides for me still have questions to answer, and it'll be interesting to see who the break between Tests has been more beneficial for!

  • John on December 3, 2012, 9:55 GMT

    Love the comments on English cricket by people who never follow English cricket except for the odd series every 3-4 years.

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