England's spin champion just gets better and better June 20, 2007

Monty's got mettle

The secret of Monty Panesar's success is his utter insouciance

Panesar has been a ubiquitous presence in this series precisely because he is now his country's most reliable source of wickets © Getty Images
Extraordinary as it may now seem, there was a school of thought at the start of this series that Monty Panesar should be dropped to make way for an extra seamer. Damp green mid-May pitches, overcast conditions and the prospect of a brittle opposition batting line-up - Monty, it was assumed, would be surplus to requirements. It made far better sense, so the logic went, to thrust James Anderson into the starting eleven, and hit West Indies with a full battery of pacemen.

England's new head coach Peter Moores, however, was not of the same opinion, and in hindsight it is just as well. This summer, England 's seam attack has not been all it was once cranked up to be. Matthew Hoggard went lame after 10.5 overs of the Lord's Test; Liam Plunkett and Steve Harmison went missing for vast swathes of the series. As the main men toiled, Ryan Sidebottom emerged as a creditable left-arm swing option, but the man on whom England increasingly leaned was the eager, unassuming Monty.

What a series he has just produced. Panesar's predecessors in the England spinner's role - the likes of Chris Schofield, Gareth Batty and Ashley Giles - would hardly have got a look-in in conditions such as these. In part, that is a reflection of the current health of England's seam attack, but equally it is to Monty's own immense credit. He has been a ubiquitous presence in this series precisely because he is now his country's most reliable source of wickets.

In every match bar the second Test at Headingley, when West Indies were so woeful that England barely needed to mix things up, Monty has finished as his team's leading wicket-taker. At Lord's, he wheeled his way onto the dressing-room honours board with 6 for 129 (a feat that has eluded both Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan); at Old Trafford he helped himself to his maiden ten-wicket haul, and his first Man-of-the-Match award. And at Chester-le-Street, in a match that called for a brisk denouement after a first-day washout, Panesar routed the West Indian second innings with 5 for 46.

The secret of Monty's success is his utter insouciance. All series long it seemed his bowling colleagues were on the verge of a variety of nervous breakdowns, and yet not once did Panesar let the pressure of seniority undermine his technique. "Keeping things simple" and "bowling in the right areas" are his stock responses to any enquiry about his methods. They sound like bland clichés but in fact they are articles of faith. With his unnaturally long fingers enabling massive purchase on the ball, he needs to do little more than find his line and length and let the pitch do the talking.

Panesar was simply too good for West Indies in this series. Their squad embarked on this tour without a single specialist spinner, and the lack of familiarity showed as they groped and floundered in every session, swinging with reckless abandon or leaving their pads perilously close to the line of off stump. Only the magnificent Shivnarine Chanderpaul could claim to have got the better of Panesar, as he batted and batted and batted for five minutes shy of 18 straight hours. But even he succumbed in the end, sweeping out of the rough with only the No. 11 Corey Collymore for support, to become victim No. 5 of the second innings at Durham, and No. 23 of the series.

India will doubtless provide a sterner test of Monty's mettle, but there is no reason whatsoever to imagine he's going to be found out. His maiden Test wicket was Sachin Tendulkar after all, prised from the crease in the heat and dust of Nagpur last March. With the bat and in the field he improves with every game - his sharp caught-and-bowled at Old Trafford last week was a pivotal moment in the match, as was his slap-happy last-wicket stand with Sidebottom, and the crowd's adulation shows no sign of dimming at all.

Panesar is a bowler whose star is in the ascendancy. He has now picked up seven five-wicket hauls in 18 Tests, but all of those have come in the last 12 months alone. They've been grabbed on a variety of different surfaces as well. A first-morning track at the WACA, a seamer's paradise at Durham, a trampoline surface at Old Trafford.

Each time the method has been the same. Find the line, find the length, repeat until the cracks appear. Sometimes they are in the surface, other times in the batsmen. Never, as yet, have the cracks appeared in Panesar himself. He's loving this international cricket lark, as he loves to demonstrate with his marvellously mal-coordinated wicket celebrations. But when the ball is still in his hand, absolutely everything is channelled and focussed.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo