Panesar confronts greatest challenge

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Monty Panesar
Monty Panesar

There have been many crash-and-burn cricketers. At their peak, they were a part of the world’s best. And after some time, they were seen tumbling towards ignominy due to loss of form, fitness or some external issues. One such unfortunate example seems to England left-arm spinner Monty Panesar.

Panesar has only just turned 33 and is second only to Graeme Swann among England’s spinners since the legendary Derek Underwood. But now, even his future as a county cricketer is uncertain. His contract with Essex expires at the end of the summer, and it is understood that Panesar is unlikely to be offered a new deal. At a time when the lack of spinners is a matter of profound concern for the England international side, which is evident from the fact that Moeen Ali is their go-to spinner, Monty should be pushing for an England recall. Instead Panesar has endured a troubled start to 2015, leading him to take an indefinite break from the game.

Neil Burns, Panesar’s coach, had confirmed that Panesar had flirted with retirement earlier in 2015. But he now says Panesar, who he is working with extensively, plans to return to the game this season. Burns is working to reinvigorate Panesar’s love for the game. “At his best he bowls with real passion and puts all of himself into his bowling – so it’s not just a technical thing, it’s that real desire to spin the ball hard and be an aggressive spin bowler. That’s about ensuring that all of his energy is in the right place at the right time. A big part of my work is helping Monty to get really back in love with the game that’s been such a central part of his life.”

Panesar made an encouraging first step, albeit a very tentative one, when he recorded figures of 4-16 against Essex for Ravi Bopara’s All Star team in a benefit match for Bopara at Chelmsford on Thursday night. His career has been at a very low point. He must take hope where he can. He must look to gain confidence from wherever he can and build upwards. It was only 30 months ago that he bowled Sachin Tendulkar out twice in a Test match in Mumbai, which is not a long time. With the help of his coach, Monty can look positively towards the future.

Panesar’s move to Essex had the feel of being a last chance. After getting divorced in 2012, he had a series of difficulties at Sussex. Famously, in August 2013, he was arrested and fined £90 for being drunk and disorderly after urinating over bouncers outside a nightclub in Brighton just after 4am. Panesar released a statement offering an “unreserved apology” for his behaviour, and soon moved to Essex, initially on loan, before joining on a two-year contract ahead of 2014.

He has certainly provided illustrations of his class at Essex. Against Glamorgan at Swansea last August, Panesar took 11-168 in 73 overs in the match. In total, he took 46 first-class wickets at an average of 24.86 last year. But Essex have grown frustrated with Panesar in spite of these impressive numbers. He was dropped for poor time keeping last season, and there have complaints about his unpredictable attitude. His batting and fielding are a major worry and his future in limited overs cricket is in serious jeopardy. Monty, who set the world alight when he entered the team in 2006, is now a shadow of his old self and we can only hope he strives to regain his composure and attitude and play for the Three Lions again.

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