The prince of spin
The first Sikh
cricketer to play for a team other than India has bowled over
fans with his spinning heroics. Ramandeep
Singh on England’s lethal weapon Monty Panesar, who’s
gearing up to trouble Indian batsmen in the upcoming series
Panesar is fast emerging as the next ‘big thing’ in cricket.
He has the talent and charisma to not only rival Shane Warne and
Muttiah Muralitharan but also outshine them. Panesar, the first
Sikh to play for a cricket team other than India, firmly
underscored his worth to his team when he bowled England
to victory in the third Test against the West Indies recently by
grabbing 10 wickets — the first English spinner to do so in 10
medium-pace bowler, he shifted to spin when he was 16. Panesar,
who represents Northamptonshire, was 19 when he made his
first-class debut in 2001 against Leicestershire. His
appearances over the next few years were limited, partly because
of his commitment as a full-time student at Loughborough
University. After graduating, he became a more important member
of the team and had a fine season in 2005, taking 46 County
Championship wickets at an average of just 21.54. This was
followed by a stint at the Darren Lehmann Academy in Adelaide,
Panesar was in top
form in 2005 and was on the verge of being selected for the tour
to Pakistan but somehow missed the bus. But in January 2006 he
was included in the squad for the tour of India. Panesar
regarded this as a spiritual journey to the birthplace of his
forefathers. He made his debut in the Nagpur Test and scalped
the prized wickets of Sachin Tendulkar — his first Test victim
— and Rahul Dravid.
toured England last year, Panesar was ready for them. He took
three wickets in the first innings of the Test at Old Trafford.
His wicket-taking was overshadowed by Steve Harmison, who took a
six-wicket haul to bundle out Pakistan for just 119 in the first
However, in the
second innings, Panesar took 5-72 while Harmison got 5-57. The
pair took 19 of the 20 Pakistani wickets in the match (the other
being a run-out) in an innings-and-120-run victory. This was the
first time two bowlers had taken all wickets since Jim Laker’s
staggering match figures of 19 for 90 against Australia again at
In the second
innings, Panesar took the wickets of five of the six specialist
batsmen, including Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Mohammad
In the first
innings at Headingley, Panesar picked up three wickets, which
included that of Inzamam-ul-Haq. In the second innings, Panesar
had figures of 3 for 39. Pakistan lost the three-match series
With this outing
against a side which plays spin very well, Panesar announced his
arrival on the scene big time. In no time, he took over the
mantle of being England’s premier spinner replacing Ashley
Giles and was soon being compared with the legendary Bishen
Panesar celebrates with wicketkeeper Matt Prior after the fall of a West Indian wicket during the Old Trafford Test
performances in the Tests, Panesar was overlooked for the 2006
Champions Trophy in India.
As the Ashes
approached, the mind games started in earnest with some
Australian players indicating that they would take an aggressive
approach towards him. Australian captain Ricky Ponting said they
would try some sort of strategy on him early on in order to stop
him from getting on top.
was all praise for Panesar as well. The Aussie skipper said
Panesar was not scared to throw the ball up a little bit and had
good, subtle changes of pace and a really good arm ball.
observed that Panesar was probably a more attacking bowler and
wicket-taker than Ashley Giles — the top English spinner at
Because of his
poor fielding and the tough attitude of the Aussie crowd,
Panesar sought the advice of a sports psychologist to prepare
himself mentally for the task ahead. He also talked to former
England left-arm spinner Phil Tufnell, who too was poor at
inexplicably left out of the England team for the first two
Ashes Tests, which the touring team lost, and this led to a
virtual outcry to include him in the team for the next Test.
eventually selected to play in the third Test at the WACA in
Perth. He finished the first innings with figures of 5 for 92
off 24 overs, with Justin Langer, Andrew Symonds and Adam
Gilchrist among his wickets. This haul made him the first
English spin bowler to take five wickets in a Test at the WACA.
He also performed respectably with the bat, finishing at 16 not
out as part of England’s best partnership in the innings.
He quickly became
a favourite with both Australian and English fans, eliciting
cheers from the crowd when fielding, bowling and batting.
He remained in the
team for the rest of the series, finishing with 10 wickets at an
average of 37.90. Even though he played in just three of the
five Tests, he emerged as the third highest wicket taker for
England behind Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff. He shared
this position with Steve Harmison.
After the Ashes
series, Panesar was selected in the England squad for the
Commonwealth Bank one-day series, which had Australia and New
Zealand as the other participating teams.
attacking bowling style worked well. He bowled economically and
aggressively in equal parts. He made his debut against Australia
at Melbourne and played in nine matches in the series, taking
nine wickets and conceding just 4.6 runs per over.
were whitewashed 0-5 in the series, Panesar returned home with
his reputation intact and was selected for the World Cup squad.
His performance in the Caribbean was mediocre but he came back
with a bang in the home series against the West Indies.
A devout Sikh, who
has uncut hair and sports a beard, Panesar believes that it is
his religion which makes him disciplined towards his sport and
also inspires him to do his best. That explains the extra time
he puts in at training ground honing his cricketing skills long
after his team-mates have left. He is always the first to reach
the ground and the last to leave.
Panesar is just 25
and has at least a decade, if he keeps on performing at the
level he is performing now, to go before he can think of hanging
his boots. In the latest LG ICC Player Rankings for Test
bowlers, Panesar has shot up 27 places following his 23-wicket
haul in the Test series against the West Indies.
Panesar, who was
ranked 33rd in the world at the start of the four-Test series
against the West Indies, has shot up to the sixth spot, which he
now shares with team-mate Matthew Hoggard.
He is now the
third-ranked slow bowler in the world behind Muttiah
Muralitharan and Anil Kumble. But Panesar has the wherewithal to
not only catch up with their records but also surpass them.