Monty Panesar has said there were moments he feared he would never play Test cricket again during his long absence from the England team.
Panesar, who returned to Test cricket after a break of two-and-a-half years, bowled 33 overs on an absorbing first day of the second Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi and clearly enjoyed every moment of it. Panesar, the 29-year-old left-arm spinner, has been sidelined by the emergence of Graeme Swann and England's reluctance to go into a Test without three seam bowlers, but was recalled after the tourists opted to select two spinners as part of a four-man attack for the first time since December 2003.
"In a sense I was making my second debut, having been out of the team for such a long time," Panesar said afterwards. "I was nervous, but I was also delighted to get a go and bowl in tandem with my spin twin: my partner 'Swanny'. I've been out of the team for three years, so I just want to make the most of my opportunities."
Panesar even hinted that he might be prepared to take his double act a stage further by joining Swann, an enthusiastic lead singer in a Nottingham-based band, on stage at their next gig. During his time playing grade cricket in Sydney, Panesar has been singing Bruce Springsteen covers in the Mike Whitney Band. "Maybe me and Swanny can do a duet one day," he said.
"I enjoy my partnership with Swann," Panesar said. "Bowling in tandem with him works well. I might have the ball spinning away from the batsman and he might have it turning in and that creates pressure. We help each other. Some batsmen don't feel comfortable against offspin, so I'll try to get them on strike so Swann can bowl at them. It can be very effective, either in bowling sides out or creating pressure.
"I'm not thinking about being the No. 1 spinner. I have been out of the team for a long time, so I'm just enjoying this opportunity. We just see each other as partners and look to help each other."
"When you're out of the team you do wonder if it is ever going to happen again," he added. "There were times when self-doubt did creep in."
Panesar was only informed that he was playing 20 minutes before the start. While some might have wanted the extra notice, Panesar was relieved not to have known in advance. "It was good I didn't find out before," he said. "I wouldn't have been able to sleep and I'd have been practising my action in the mirror all night."
Panesar's best moment of the day came moments after his worst. The ball after dropping a relatively simple return catch off Mohammad Hafeez, Panesar bowled the same batsman with his slower ball.
"I was thinking I needed to do a bit more caught-and-bowled practice," Panesar said, of the dropped chance. "I should have taken it. But I think I meant to do it - the arm ball - and it just hit the leather and skidded on."
Panesar was quick to credit the role of Sussex in his revival. He moved to Hove ahead of the 2010 season and feels that the culture of the club and the increased role he has been asked to fulfil have helped him develop as a player.
"They've helped me grow at Sussex," he said. "They have made me play a leading role in all forms of the game and that has increased my confidence and self belief. I've just kept going and waited for this opportunity.
"You need good coaches - good people - around you to help you get through that. That is why Sussex has been so good. They have a good culture there. Mark Robinson and Mark Davies have worked hard on my game."
Panesar was not, perhaps, quite at his best. The slow pace of the pitch allowed batsmen plenty of time to cut and he was punished for pitching short. But with Tests to come in Sri Lanka and India this year, England will be relieved that they have a viable partner - or, if necessary, replacement - for Swann.
Meanwhile Taufeeq Umar, Pakistan's opening batsman, agreed that England had enjoyed the best of the opening day. "England are in the better position right now," he said. "We lost a couple more wickets than we expected. But Misbah-ul-Haq is still there and he knows how to play with the tail.
"Everyone was surprised by how much it turned, even with the new ball. But with two top spinners in our side, that is a plus point for us."
Taufeeq also praised his captain, Misbah. "He always delivers when the team needs it," Taufeeq said. "He's a great player - a thinking cricketer - and he always leads from the front."