Monty Panesar, Hove to


So let’s say what we know about Monty Panesar so far:

  1. Anybody who’s seen him bowl can see that he’s a marvellously natural bowler. He has a gift for controlling his length and enough of an innate variation in pace to deceive world-class batsmen. He doesn’t turn it much, but half a bat’s width is all you need.
  2. He has taken 126 wickets in 39 Test Matches. That’s  very good. He’s a very good bowler. Ashley Giles, until then England’s main spinner, retired at the young age of 33 within 9 months of Panesar’s debut. The writing was clearly on the wall.
  3. In 2008 England appointed Mushtaq Ahmed as spin bowling coach, to “mentor our leading spin bowlers“.
  4. Since then, Panesar’s career has gone into a steep decline. He lost his England place to Graeme Swann and at the end of the 2009 season Northamptonshire admitted he was a luxury they could no longer afford having taken only 18 first class wickets in the season.

So what’s gone wrong with this gifted cricketer? I’m afraid the clue may be No.3 above.

Panesar’s limiting factor is his lack of guile. His naivety reveals itself in his self-conscious and clumsy fielding and batting. Only with a ball in his hand does he become a creature of grace and beauty. He doesn’t have the imagination to plot the downfall of a batsman like a chess game, he lets the batsman do this himself. And most batsmen will ultimately think themselves out if they can’t score runs and they don’t know why. So his limiting factor is also one of his unique strengths.

Panesar’s lack of ego is a contributing element to this. If he gets hit for a boundary it is not revenge that is uppermost in his mind but a desire to correct the minor fault that caused the lapse. To his credit, his response is not to bowl a flat defensive ball nor a cunning trick delivery but to bowl the same ball again with his natural minor variations. This is what gets good batsmen out.

What he needs is help in understanding this. Help to retain the natural gifts over time and help to see why they are his main weapons.

What do we give him? Mushtaq Ahmed. The other sort of spinner.

Mushy is cunning. He has a wide variety of deliveries, each more perfidious than the last. He is clever and aggressive. He is so not what Monty needs. And now he will have his advice not just with England but with Sussex, Panesar’s new county and Mushtaq’s old one. Here’s the Sussex manager Mark Robinson:

We have got Mushtaq working with us a little bit, who is anything but a technical coach, to preach the love of the game and use of the imagination

And Monty loves him:

I spoke to Mushy who still thinks of Sussex as his county and he was keen to have me at Hove. He said that there was a real family feel to the club and Mike Yardy, who I have toured with, was also very persuasive.

There’s your answer. Monty needs technical help in retaining and exploiting his natural gifts. The last thing he needs is somebody to give him an imagination. Mushy’s input will be entirely towards this destructive goal and not at all with the technical thing.

I see no way back for Monty at this point.

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