England in India 2012-13

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

George Dobell

December 2, 2012

Comments: 29 | Text size: A | A

Monty Panesar finished the Mumbai Test with 11 wickets, India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 4th day, November 26, 2012
Neil Burns helped Monty Panesar go back to building on his own strengths, not trying to become a different bowler © BCCI

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by flavoidastic 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.

Posted by kumar692 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.

Posted by Nutcutlet 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!

Posted by JG2704 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

Posted by JG2704 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.

Posted by   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".

Posted by bumsonseats 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

Posted by bennybow 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!

Posted by SDHM 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!

Posted by Lmaotsetung 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.

Posted by Passion4TMS on (December 3, 2012, 9:06 GMT)

Thank you, George, for a revealing article. It's the first time I've heard of Neil Burns and the LCCC. I've just written to Neil to express my deep appreciation for giving us back our belov├ęd 'Monty' with interest. There is nothing like encouragement for someone who has received so much unwarranted criticism. "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." Monty clearly has confidence in himself now and in his particular giftings. Come on England!

Posted by trav29 on (December 3, 2012, 7:27 GMT)

@ jassid why is it farcical to have picked the bowler who has been the teams top wicket taker in 4 of the last 5 series you have played ?

Posted by Solid_Snake on (December 3, 2012, 6:28 GMT)

Indian team proud of playing spinners perfectly.Monty is gonna tear apart them apart.He did that before & he'll do it again..

Posted by Baundele on (December 3, 2012, 5:49 GMT)

He should learn from the KP example. Being himself can be pretty costly in the English team.

Posted by   on (December 3, 2012, 5:21 GMT)

I am glad England fans are as baffled by ECB selection policy as I am..They insist on picking bowlers who can bat ! What a load of nonsense! Since when did a team pick bowlers based on batting ? McGrath couldnt hold a bat!..

Basically, this a consequence of English batting failures. The batsmen need to do their job and pick the bowlers that give you the best chance of picking 20 wickets.

I also think having broad in the team in farcical. If fit Finn/Onions should replace him. I think England can win this series but they need a more complete performance , more batters need to contribute and the fast men could do a better job. Win or lose this series England will take a lot out of this. They have shown fight none of which the Indian team did.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (December 3, 2012, 4:55 GMT)

@Cpt.Meanster on (December 02 2012, 21:06 PM GMT), exactly what hypocrisy are you talking about? The ECB gave Monty a run as #1 spinner and he wasn't good enough to retain his spot at the time. He's potentially improved a bit now but it's still debatable whether he would be good enough to be first spinner on unhelpful tracks. It's not that the ECB have made him an Asia-only bowler. It's that they don't believe that a second spinner will do better than a third seamer in conditions that don't significantly aid spin. That theory has been serving them well until recently, but it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that Monty would have been the answer against SA. You don't need to get imaginative when you're winning.

Posted by   on (December 3, 2012, 4:52 GMT)

Lets see if he can even take a single wicket in kolkata..

Posted by jmcilhinney on (December 3, 2012, 0:33 GMT)

I'm sure those who like to mock England for their "imports" won't be interested in the fact that Compton would likely have faded into obscurity if not for the coaching he received here, in England. As for Panesar, he has really shown his worth in UAE and in India now. Although he has obviously improved as a player, I'm still not sure that he has what it takes to be England's #1 spinner because his still somewhat one-dimensional nature would likely come to the fore in less helpful conditions. In conditions like Mumbai though, he can obviously be a match-winner. As a spinner, he's still young enough to still be playing when England next visit the subcontinent, but he may have more competition by then too. He is obviously a fairly sensitive person so I'm very happy for him that he seems to have found some peace and comfort with his own abilities and limitations. Applause to Neil Burns for helping that happen.

Posted by njr1330 on (December 2, 2012, 22:05 GMT)

Compton is right about building his defence; as Geoff Boycott once said: 'You can't get runs if you're in the pavilion'!!

Posted by   on (December 2, 2012, 21:22 GMT)

You're right Edd. On flat pitches England need to start picking a balanced side. 5 batsmen, 1 batsman keeper, 1 all rounder, 1 bowler who can bat and 3 bowlers. You win test matches by taking 20 wickets and controlling the game in the field not having the 9,10 and 11 chipping in with the odd 20 or 30. The fifth bowler should also be a genuine wicket taker and capable of bowling 20 overs in a day. The stand out options for the all rounder spot seem to be either Chris Woakes or Ben Stokes. Playing the all rounder allows you to play with 2 spinners option more often as well allowing a bowler like Finn or Meaker to be used sparingly as an out and out strike weapon.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (December 2, 2012, 21:06 GMT)

Bunch of hypocrites are the ECB selectors. How can they make this man an 'ASIA ONLY' bowler ?? Monty should be given a go even in home tests. There is nothing wrong in Swann and Monty bowling together in places like the Oval, and Edgebaston where the pitches eventually tend to slow down and break up. Why do the ECB have zero imagination ? They are as bad as the BCCI in that regard. I have always believed Panesar is a good bowler even with his lack of variations. He's a slow left armers of the old ways, a classic bowler with a classic action. It's time to make him play all over the world consistently.

Posted by Alexk400 on (December 2, 2012, 20:42 GMT)

He is a good spinner But he do not posess athletic movement. JERKY fielder. If you have to go left , he goes right. Special talent always go other way than normal people. He is a good spinner he needs support. He probably need someone to teach him fielding stuff. I know you can't teach athletism for non athletic people. It is not possible to teach how to dance. Dancing comes naturally. He has perfect height and ball comes from top tough to judge where the ball gona pitch. But just like every one he will have ups and downs. It is captain's job when his spinner has off day and remove him. He probably better spinner than swan but swan is confident bloke. Thats only difference.

Posted by bumsonseats on (December 2, 2012, 20:03 GMT)

edd as they say about spinners 1st thing to do is spin the bowl give it a big rip. warne said of monty that he bowls the same bowl over and over.there agan he also said lyon was a good spinner so maybe he was better spinner than a talker.

Posted by trav29 on (December 2, 2012, 19:17 GMT)

@edd not really sure i can agree with that. i just dont think panesar has enough variety in the length, pace or flight he bowls with to be effective in conditions that are not helpful. he needs the conditions which give him that extra bounce and the late and fast turn off the pitch or he just becomes too predictable. given he adds very little with either his fielding or batting then i just cant see how he earns a spot when he doesn't have the support of the conditions.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (December 2, 2012, 19:05 GMT)

Good & interesting reading, this, GD! It's amazing how often cricket mirrors life. We begin adult life full of ideas, become overimpressed with others, some of whom become our heroes. We may, indeed, try to emulate them, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. We 'spend time' (how appropriate is that expression to being a prisoner!) trying to become someone we are not, & then, some time later, we rediscover ourselves & are happier, more fulfilled & certain of who we really are. When we know that, we immediately become more effective & give ourselves a good chance of success in our chosen field. So with Monty, & N Compton, T Linley, D Stevens & probably with Billy Godleman & doubtless many others. Their inspiration comes from Neil Burns, clearly a man possessed of a very special talent: to bring others to an understanding of themselves, like a very special teacher. The process may be long & daunting (long dark night of the soul), but its benefits are incalculable & life-long!

Posted by subbass on (December 2, 2012, 18:34 GMT)

Yes you can certainly see a more relaxed Monty these days. Good to see I think he is a world class spinner his methods on the whole work. Just need to get that test 50 with the bat now monty lad ! But he has around 150 wkts at around 32 runs for each one those are high class figures for a English spinner sod the longer tail, bowlers win games fact !

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (December 2, 2012, 18:26 GMT)

Whilst it is great to have three dimensional players, sometimes the real quality performer in one dept. gets overlooked for someone with lesser skills in that dept because he is moderately three dimensional and this can be wrong. Monty puts more of his body into his bowling now and constantly drives the ball into the wicket, and he gives it a rip. He provides an interesting contrast to Swann who is floating the ball up, though still giving it a rip. To the England side the problem is how to fit Monty and Finn in the side while having Anderson at 9. But it does not look like the bowlers who can bat have performed any better so what does it matter? Re Neil Burns it is good to have a few these guys around who can put a lot of work into an individual. Linley is an interesting case and it is a bit annoying that he did not play more last summer after 2011.

Posted by   on (December 2, 2012, 17:51 GMT)

Nice article George. People need to accept Monty's bowling for what it is, he is on his day a world-class performer so we should be grateful for that. He seems to have quite a decent arm ball on the few occasions he bowls it, that should be enough variation if the pitch is turning. He's never going to be a Bishen Bedi with flight and guile and changes of pace, but he can turn the ball sharply at a very awkward pace, and doesn't bowl much loose.

If England were prepared to bat Matt Prior at 6 (which he is easily good enough to do) then we could play Swanny and Monty with 3 seamers all over the world, rather than just in the subcontinent as seems to be the case, and we'd probably have a lot more success.

Posted by   on (December 2, 2012, 15:14 GMT)

Lovely insight George!..I can imagine the hardwork that players put into turn them from a county player to an international..Infact so many players bounce back and forth..

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