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Spotlight back on Panesar after England defeat

December 18, 2008 10:50 IST

An initially amusing but ultimately irritating feature of Monty Panesar's bowling is the frenzied appeal after he beats a batsman and hits him on the pads outside off-stump.

Because the batsman has attempted to play a shot, he cannot be given out lbw. Yet Panesar will still beg the umpire to give a decision contrary to the laws of the game.

His unquestioned physical gifts and boundless enthusiasm have rightly won him a place as England's premier spinner.

But Panesar's seeming inability to come to terms with the rules of a sport which rewards him with a handsome annual income has raised one question mark about his overall capacity to master orthodox left-arm spin.

Now the spotlight is on Panesar again after his failure to take a wicket in the second innings of this week's first Test against India in Chennai where the home side seized a memorable victory on a wearing pitch.

Shane Warne, whose ability to coin a phrase remains undiminished in retirement, said before the match that Panesar had not played 33 Tests. He had, said Warne, played the same Test 33 times.

Former England coach Duncan Fletcher entered the debate on Wednesday with a similar message.


"Monty has to come to terms with the way a batsman's mind works and second-guess his intentions," Fletcher wrote in his regular Guardian newspaper column. "But he's just sending down the same ball again and again."

According to Cricinfo website Panesar took 65 wickets at 28.40 in his first 17 Tests. In his second 17, he has taken 52 at 37.82.

The overall statistics are still impressive in an era of inflated batting and bowling averages. But they do indicate that batsmen are playing Panesar with increasing ease.

In the spinner's defence, he was woefully short of match practice before the Chennai Test and was confronted for much of the second innings by the genius of Sachin Tendulkar.

"People talk about him developing and changing pace and that takes time, we know that with spinners. They have to add things to their game as batters do and all cricketers do to stay ahead of the game," coach Peter Moores told reporters.

"He wants to develop his game and he is developing his game and he's at that point in his career where he is learning all the time.

"Once you learn something, you practice it and then you can start to use it in a game. It's not an overnight process."

It is also true that despite Fletcher's well-documented reservations about Panesar's batting and fielding, he is the most gifted England left-arm spinner since Phil Edmonds and the most successful since Derek Underwood plied his craft in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Possibly because England supporters were yearning for a match-winning spinner and partly because of his idiosyncrasies, Panesar was greeted as the messiah from the start," former England captain Mike Atherton wrote in The Times.

"He is no Shane Warne, never has been, never will be. He is, however, a bloody good finger spinner and still the best England have by a distance. One bad game does not change that."

John Mehaffey
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