England in New Zealand 2012-13 March 20, 2013

Panesar should back himself in lone role

Monty Panesar so far hasn't looked at himself as the leading spinner in England's side. It is time he changed that mindset

There was one moment in the Wellington Test that would not have been seen a few years ago. On the third evening, with England striving to make inroads before the weather closed in, left-arm spinner Monty Panesar remonstrated with his captain, Alastair Cook, about his close-catchers.

From a distance away it appeared he did not much like the leg side, perhaps he wanted another man in the covers instead. Cook got his way and the leg slip stayed in place. Panesar completed the over then got an arm round the shoulder from Matt Prior. With rough to aim at and wickets an urgent need, the pressure was on Panesar. As it turned out he did not make further inroads and, ultimately, the Test was a watery draw.

That moment, however, when Panesar questioned, or challenged, his captain, was important - that is what people had wanted him to do. Come out of his shell; be confident in what he wants; set the agenda himself rather than have it set for him. A few years ago Shane Warne remarked: "Monty Panesar hasn't played 33 Tests, he's played one Test 33 times" in reference to his lack of development of self-thinking. The fact he did not get it on this occasion does not matter and, it must be hoped, it will not stop him from trying again in the future.

Panesar was not expected to play any part in this series. Then, Graeme Swann's elbow became too great a concern for the England management and he was sent off to the United States for surgery. Suddenly, on the morning of the first Test in Dunedin, Panesar was pitched into the series without having bowled a competitive delivery since the Nagpur Test in mid-December.

He was rusty in Dunedin. His economy, normally a safe house for him even when he isn't taking wickets, was high as Hamish Rutherford, especially, made an effort to get after him. In Wellington he was better, playing an important holding role in the first innings to allow the quick bowlers to rotate and dismiss New Zealand for 254 on a flat pitch. At the start of the second innings, Panesar made one spit and bounce out of the rough to remove Rutherford but that was as good as it got despite a few near misses.

There have been suggestions that Panesar's place could be under threat for the final Test, either from James Tredwell or a fourth seamer, on a surface unlikely to offer much for the spinner. Panesar, though, should be persevered with. He is not a naturally confident person so, although Test cricket is not a place for soft decisions, he needs to be given the sort of strong backing which will keep his self-belief high.

This is the first time Panesar has been England's lone spinner since the start of the West Indies tour in 2009, when he played the Jamaica Test, where England were bowled out for 51, and the next match in Antigua that was abandoned on a sandpit outfield after 10 deliveries. He was then dropped, in favour of Swann, for the rearranged Test at the Recreation Ground, and ever since has only ever partnered Swann, until this tour.

Being the main man is still not a position that comes naturally to Panesar. His successes in the UAE and India came when he knew the expectation was on Swann, something that Swann does not struggle to cope with. Yet Panesar can, even though he perhaps doesn't realise it, take a leading role. Cook's second-innings hundred in Ahmedabad instilled belief in England they could compete, but Panesar's spell on the first day in Mumbai - which included dismissing Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar - sparked them into life.

This tour, and especially the final Test with the series still square, is an important challenge for Panesar. The very early signs are that Swann's elbow surgery has gone well, but it will be a few more weeks before anyone has a clearer picture. Swann, certainly, is unlikely to be tweeting any downbeat thoughts. Panesar, however, must get his mind around the possibility that he will be England's one spinner in the Ashes not just that he might, yet, be part of a two-man spin attack that is looking tempting after Australia's problems in India.

If there was a combination of conditions Panesar would not want to have, it could well be what he will encounter at Eden Park. A drop-in pitch is unlikely to encourage the spinners and then there are the odd dimensions of the ground; short straight boundaries which are no more than a chip away. In his favour, he has a batting order filled with right handers and the DRS.

And, it might just be that one of the most discussed facets of Panesar's game helps him. Pace, pace, pace is often the theme when he bowls. Why can't he vary it more? Toss one up, Monty. Sometimes it can be infuriating when there appears no discernible difference during a long spell, but the slower he bowls often the more erratic he becomes. With short boundaries inviting lofted shots, Panesar's quicker speed, which gives batsmen less time to get under the ball, might just give him another trick up his sleeve.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • david on March 21, 2013, 15:55 GMT

    samroy right with steyn but come on ajmal struggle in eng and aus, and other than when playing in uae has not done much. and murli and warne got wickets in most countries,with india soso but most spinners have struggled in india in the past. monty i feel bowls well with swann in tandem, but on his own other than a few games does not pose the threat of swann.

  • John on March 21, 2013, 10:54 GMT

    @TATTUs on (March 21, 2013, 5:52 GMT) No - you're wrong there. Monty made a huge difference but if Monty was the sole spinner in that series England would not have won the series just like if Swann was the sole spinner England would not have won that series

  • ramachandra on March 21, 2013, 5:52 GMT

    More than Swann definitely and perhaps along with Cook it was Panesar that won the series for England in India.

  • Benjamin on March 20, 2013, 18:18 GMT

    The last sentence of the 6th paragraph makes no sense whatsoever.

  • Graem on March 20, 2013, 17:52 GMT

    Perhaps the more pertinent point Andrew is that England should trust Panesar, given there are rumours that they may not play a spinner.

  • sam on March 20, 2013, 15:55 GMT

    @big_al_81 Herath is a vastly different bowler to what he was 5 years ago. Then there was Murali and he was a talented support spinner who sometimes got a game. Now, he is the strike bowler and has to take vast majority of top order wickets. Swann doesn't have to do that. There is Finn, Anderson, Broad and sometimes Panesar to help him out. Yet he has almost singlehandedly defeated SA(away) and Pakistan(home) in a test match. Swann is a very good bowler, in my mind currently the third best spinner, after Herath and Ajmal. Ajmal is a great bowler and others can't be compared to him. Even Murali was a great bowler but was he successful in Australia? No. Ajmal has that aura which no other spinner currently has. Ojha has a better flight and loop than Panesar. Ashwin has also learned to vary his pace and control his impatience to a certain extent. They are not yet better than Panesar but they will become better with time.

  • Christopher on March 20, 2013, 9:57 GMT

    I think it is important for Monty to be unleashed. To develop, his view on strategy is supremely important and the Chef needs to understand that. He, Cook, is a brilliant cricketer but he is not a spinner and needs to allow Monty to take wickets - not merely contain. Swan wouldn't accept Cook disciplining him out of wickets and nor should Monty - within an overal team goal of winning and NOT losing.

  • Alistair on March 20, 2013, 9:40 GMT

    @SamRoy. There is one matter on which I nearly agree though. I'd say there is only one bowler in the world who is truly a cricket great, and that is Steyn. Tremendous averages, out of this world Strike Rate, and creates wickets for others like Philander, Morkel, and the rest. Already an all time great. Whether that would get him into an all-time XI I doubt, but 11 is a small number in about 150 years of international cricket.

  • Alistair on March 20, 2013, 9:28 GMT

    @SamRoy, bold assertions are no real match for actual facts. Saying that Herath, who plays the vast majority of his cricket at home, is a better bowler than a Swann, who has proved it all round the world, is on current evidence, total conjecture. It will be good to see how good Ajmal actually is after a few more games in a few places, but the evidence so far is that he is probably the best right now. As for Ashwin, the only evidence we have suggests he's very good at home and very poor away. Since India manage to play most of their cricket at home, he'll carry on looking good, until England or SA turn up again (or possibly Pakistan or SL!) Excellent short format bowler and jolly useful lower order batsman though.