Monty Panesar: This is the golden era of English cricket

Sandipan Banerjee
Saturday, 31 August 2019

England were bowled out for 67 in the first innings of the Headingley Test. Next day, a video surfaced on social media, in which Monty Panesar was seen providing batting tips to his English colleagues. A section of fans considered that clip serious trolling citing Panesar’s Test batting average of 4.88.

England were bowled out for 67 in the first innings of the Headingley Test. Next day, a video surfaced on social media, in which Monty Panesar was seen providing batting tips to his English colleagues. A section of fans considered that clip serious trolling citing Panesar’s Test batting average of 4.88.

Nevertheless, a decade back, in Cardiff, it was Panesar's grit, patience and application with bat that helped the home side escape with a draw, without which the Ashes could not have been regained at The Oval.

So who better to talk about the most important one run in English cricket at the moment, which came off the bat of another left arm spinner in Jack Leach during England’s repeat of the Headingley 81' miracle?

“Under such challenging situations, a No. 11 batsman is always under pressure because he has to block the ball and the opposition tend to go all out against him. You can expect bouncers as well as in-swinging yorkers aiming at your toes, along with all the chit-chats of the surrounding fielders,” says Panesar.

“So, I felt, under pressure, Jack Leach had done exceptionally well. He kept his calm and composure while Ben Stokes had to just find the boundaries. Remember, the pressure was on Leach to defend the ball as at the other end Stokes was going for those fours and sixes. Nobody would have blamed him [Stokes] if he had got out at that point because he was chancing his arm. But, Leach could not afford to lose his wicket.”

The 1981 parallel has gripped the cricket loving public in the UK, and Panesar is no exception to the euphoria or the romanticisation. Ben Stokes, the new Ian Botham, he says, has become a complete cricketer.

“I feel, his [Stokes’] achievement is much similar to what Ian Botham did in 1981 at this particular venue. Also, here Ben has shown that he is a complete batsman. He grafted at the start and showed the prowess of a proper Test batsman. Later when required, he accelerated like a T20 veteran. It shows, if you are confident about your abilities as a batter, you can block or take the bowling on at will according to the match situation. Ben Stokes is a complete cricketer, the best all-rounder in the world right now.”

Yet, it wasn't in an alternate reality that Stokes was in the dock for a physical altercation outside a Bristol pub, missed an Ashes series, and faced charges of affray, before the Bristol Crown Court declared him not guilty about a year ago. Panesar believes that the psychological turmoil Stokes went through has contributed to his growth as a cricketer.

“After making a comeback following such a tough time, you get more focused as a sportsman. You just want to train more and achieve higher things on the field and in life in general. So, to get over his past, Ben stokes wants to achieve amazing records in cricket which will satisfy him and his mind,” says Monty, who has himself juggled his battle with mental illness and his desire to get back into the English set up.

Talking about England’s Test batting, and the cracks that even Stokes' brilliance can't paper over, Panesar feels, the problem lies in the approach, especially at the top.

“They tend to play aggressively against the new ball, but unlike white-ball cricket, in Test matches, especially with the Dukes ball, sometimes you have to see out the initial spells of bowlers. Later in the innings, when the ball is not doing much, you can up the ante and start hitting through the line or on the up,” he explains.

In fact, Panesar believes, if someone like Jason Roy, who has struggled as an opener so far in the series, can bat a bit lower down the order, he can still have a career in Test cricket.

“He [Roy] should bat in the middle order when the ball is a bit old and not doing much. He likes to get bat on ball, but here in England as an opener one needs to be more circumspect. If Jason is given a chance in the middle, he can play his natural game and it will be beneficial for us.”

The left-arm spinner, who has represented England in 50 Test matches, also opines that Joe Root’s current batting position at No.3 is ideal for him.

“I know he feels comfortable at 4 but I think England need Joe [Root] at 3. He is the best batsman in this team and has the technique and temperament to tackle any kind of situation.”

Meanwhile, with the series now levelled, and two Tests left , Panesar gives England the edge over Australia.

“The Leeds victory has given England a lot confidence. Also, since the inclusion of Jofra Archer, this English attack looks far better than before. Let’s not forget that Jimmy [Anderson] might play at Old Trafford, his home ground. So, yes in the next two games, we can expect close encounters, but for me England are favourite here.”

For his own ilk, England’s spinners, the past few years have been unprecedented. Last year, Root’s boys whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0 in their backyard, and the spinners did plenty of damage on responsive wickets. Even in white-ball cricket, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid play pivotal roles in Eoin Morgan’s World Champion team.

In the next four years, England will play a lot of cricket in the sub-continent, which includes a five-match Test series in India, a World T20 Championship and the 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup. According to Panesar, the spin-department is well represented to be successful in those assignments.

“They have off-spin, leg-spin and slow left-arm. When was the last time England had such a balanced spin-attack? This is excellent for English cricket,” the 37-year old says before throwing his own hat in the ring.

“I still have ambitions to play county cricket again and play for England. I hope I will get picked up in the leagues [which includes a possible stint for Pondicherry in the Ranji Trophy] over the winter to get my playing career back on track.”

Finally, it has been an incredible summer for English cricket. First, the long-awaited World Cup triumph, followed by a highly competitive Ashes series – we are witnessing some sort of renaissance for the game of cricket in its motherland. Panesar believes this is the ideal time for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to regain lost ground and attract more eyeballs, especially the younger generation.

“The premiership has started and cricket is still in the headlines. Can you imagine this?” he exclaims.

“Cricket is crazy in England at this moment. It has really taken off and it is being played everywhere. I see kids playing cricket in parks and trying to emulate Ben Stokes. Our cricket needed this attention and for me this is the golden period for English Cricket,” Panesar adds before touching upon the contentious subject of “The Hundred”.

“The timing is perfect,” he says.

“I think it will be an amazing concept and it will kick off with huge success. Our limited-over cricket will get stronger.”

(Sandipan Banerjee is a well-travelled cricket journalist based out of Kolkata. He tweets at @im_sandipan)

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