Monty wins over the
man on the street if not his coach
Perhaps the Barmy Army,
England's travelling band of supporters, should select the national team in
If the English media
rumour mill is to be believed, Monty Panesar was in danger of missing the
victorious second test against Pakistan at Old Trafford.
England's coach Duncan
Fletcher, so the theory goes, favours feisty, all-round cricketers. Panesar
may be able to bowl but he is not yet much of a bat, his fielding is comical
and he ca not even celebrate properly either. Every time he takes a wicket
he hops about like a disjointed new-born lamb.
In short, he does not
exactly fit the Fletcher blueprint of an England cricketer.
The uncapped Jamie
Dalrymple, in contrast, is just the ticket. A useful batsman, he also bowls
neat off spin and fields like a tiger. Fletcher loved his nuggety attitude
and intelligence when he made his debut for the England one-day side this
After the drawn first
test against Pakistan at Lord's -- when Panesar notably failed to bowl
Pakistan out on a fifth-day pitch -- Dalrymple was added to the England
squad, fuelling suggestions that he might be preferred for the second.
The Barmy Army would have
been furious if he had been.
They simply love Panesar,
the first Sikh to play for England. He is cheered whenever he gets near the
ball and sometimes, indeed, when he does not get near it at all.
"Monty, Monty, give us a
wave," they chanted during the second test at Old Trafford. And he did,
while managing to still look shy behind the camouflage of his bushy beard.
The Army, it seems, see
something in Mudhsuden Singh Panesar, the 24-year-old from Luton's full
name, that the coach does not.
Their vocal support is
not based on ridicule, despite Monty's propensity to let the occasional ball
between his legs or to swipe about hopefully with his bat. They think he is
a rather special bowler who should be excused his other idiosyncrasies.
Fletcher must surely have
come close to agreeing with them on Saturday when Monty, in his eighth
England appearance, bamboozled such mighty batsmen as Mohammad Yousuf,
Younis Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq at Old Trafford on the way to test-best
figures of five for 72.
"I just tried to stay
patient and not get too carried away with the way the ball was turning and
bouncing," Panesar told a news conference. "I tried to keep it simple rather
than go for magic balls against Pakistan, since they are very good players
"I also sometimes tried
to change my pace and trajectory so as not to turn the ball so much and try
to get the ball to slide on for lbws. I may have been lucky to get Inzamam
(caught off his bat, then the end of his boot) but I enjoyed that one most,
since he's such a top player."
Simple it may have been
but England, with apologies to the likes of Ashley Giles (who is currently
injured but hoping for an Ashes recall later in the year), Robert Croft and
Phil Tufnell and the rest, have not had a spinner able to give the ball such
a tweak for years, a handicap which has consistently hampered their
ambitions away from home.
No Englishman, indeed,
has bowled spin with such verve since the days of Phil Edmonds in the 1970s
and 1980s and Panesar's performance on Saturday seemed particularly
appropriate, 50 years to the week after Jim Laker took 19 wickets in a match
against Australia on the same ground.
Panesar was beaten to the
man-of-the-match award by strike bowler Steve Harmison, who took 11 for 76
in the match compared to the spinner's eight for 93.
Harmison, though, only
had words for praise for his co-conspirator in a match in which no other
England bowler got a wicket in the home side's innings and 120-run win.
"A lot has been said and
written about Monty but he was brilliant," Harmison said.
The Barmy Army would
England's most colourful
fans may be noisy and loud and lacking due respect at times. But they know a
good bowler when they see one, even if the England coach remains on the