The rise and rise of Monty

Some bloke dressing up as Monty Panesar. Has the patka ever been this popular?

Jim as some cricketer


Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 5th day

I’ve a feeling England won’t last until lunch. Andrew Flintoff has forgotten how gifted he is in simply hitting the ball; Geraint Jones is far too desperate to impress anyone and there begins the tail. Kevin Pietersen’s still in though, the freak, so how about he gets his fourth score of 158 and puts on 220 with Monty Panesar, who ends up 121*?

Yeah, ok. Chat away.

Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 3rd day

The third day at Perth. It’s quite simple for England: take 9 wickets for about 50 and knock off 200 runs. It’s possible, too; all they need is for Steve Harmison to find some bounce and Monty Panesar some turn. Fortunately, Harmison is finally looking like a bowler in this series and not a stray from the Barmy Army. And Monty, well – we all know about the Montster.

Blind optimism is well and truly the way to go. It’s the 1990s all over again. Also: if you have any Russian friends, here’s how to say Happy Christmas: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom.

Get chatting.

Monty’s two-finger salute

It’s been as emphatic a two-finger salute to Duncan Fletcher as he could have produced; a five-wicket haul, enthusiastic fielding and a classy cameo at No.11. Monty Panesar hasn’t put a foot wrong and has made Fletcher look even more stubborn, righteous and pig-headed than we already suspected.

And his time is nigh. This is it for Fletcher. Only he will reason why he chose to alter a winning attack for the first Test at Brisbane, trying blindly to resurrect the dream of Ashes 2005. But come January the call for his head will ring louder than the Barmy Army’s bugler, and so it should. For all his outstanding work during his tenure, his copybook has been spectacularly blotted. Sadly, for he really did help engineer a change in attitude in English cricket (for the better), he is now a millstone around England’s neck.

Before this series, any decision he made was justified by the media. Nasser Hussain, in particular, has always been quick to defend Fletcher’s selections while describing him as a coach who rarely, if ever, makes the wrong choice. When Monty on-drove Stuart Clark for four, straight back past the bowler, during a vital last-wicket hurrah with Steve Harmison, there were quizzical looks from the Australian fielders. Who is this bearded wonder? It was as classy an on-drive as any left-hander could have dreamed for. And another nail in Fletcher’s coffin.

You know what really gets me…

…about the whole Ashley Giles selection is he has been vilified for being him. By everyone. Me included, and it’s pretty unfair. Those selected can’t help being selected. Therefore, just to reiterate, it is the selectors’ fault – not helped by Giles’s inadequacies of course, but he can only do what Ashley Giles can do…as he memorably said in 2005. Will hates people who talk in the third person. He finds it stupid and embarrassing.

If you went to a fish restaurant and ordered the chicken, you can’t expect it to be the best piece of poultry you’d ever tasted. And that’s not the chicken’s fault…it’s Fletcher’s for not choosing the cod.

Anyway, just a small point there. I’m fully aware I’ve just compared Giles to a chicken and Monty to a piece of cod. Apologies to both.

My other gripe is about Monty. He’s clearly buzzing and (unless Fletcher has a death wish) ought to play at Perth. But the pressure he is now under is approaching boiling point. He is England’s saviour apparent. 10 wickets beckon, even a knighthood. But Australia will come at him, hard, right from the off. So let’s hope he can hold his nerve, adjust his pace and loop accordingly, and see what he’s made of.

Also…Mahmood should play. In fact, go on then, what’s your XI for Perth?

A rift through the English team?

This can not be a positive for England:

A MAJOR internal rift is brewing in the England camp following the revelation that coach Duncan Fletcher has been wrongly blamed for snubbing spin bowling cult hero Monty Panesar.

Fletcher is privately fuming at being held accountable for omitting Panesar from the Adelaide Test, a match where England’s No.1 spinner Ashley Giles took just 2-149 to leave his career hanging by a thread.

The Courier-Mail has learned that at team selection meetings in Adelaide, Fletcher leaned toward Panesar to play in the Test but captain Andrew Flintoff went for his Lancashire teammate, swing bowler Jimmy Anderson, who went on to perform poorly and may not play another Test on tour.

Flintoff won out after the issue was discussed by a committee of senior players including Geraint Jones and Andrew Strauss.

The fallout over the omission of Panesar has become so great in England that it is threatening to undermine Fletcher’s future as England coach and also drive a wedge between Fletcher and Flintoff.

It is remarkable England performed as well as they did in the Second Test given this dispute, and it is hard to imagine what the mood is like in the English camp now. These relevations make things work; the British media will be on to them like a pack of dogs on a three legged cat.

Fast, and not so fast, bowlers

There’s been more ink and bytes spilled on the Steve Harmison issue then any other English player in the last week or so then I can remember. Given that so many English hopes rested on his shoulders, that is understandable.

Jagadish crunches some numbers on Harmison. Meanwhile, his fellow fast bowlers escape scrutiny.

England’s other bowlers deserve some stick as well. Matthew Hoggard is an honest toiler, but he will struggle in Australian conditions. The lack of reverse swing has gone a long way to de-fang him. And, let me make it clear, it would have de-fanged Simon Jones as well, if he had been here. There might have been a few less half volleys, but it is wishful thinking to think that England’s attack would be much more dangerous with Jones about. At best, he might have stemmed the tide.

Since Jones is not around, England called upon two younger sorts. Jimmy Anderson got the nod at Brisbane, and he was mediocre. His bowling figures reflect that too. He was not able to bowl a consistent line or length to develop any pressure on the batsmen and Australia’s batsmen just waited for the bad balls and picked him off.

And there’s no excuse for that- his performance was barely worthy of first class cricket. Anderson needs to stop worrying about his hair product, get a copy of his Brisbane pitchmap, and get his arse in the nets and start working.

He certainly doesn’t deserve a place in the Adelaide Test but he might get it; the only other pace alternative is Sajid Mahmood. I saw Mahmood in the first game of the tour against the Prime Minister’s XI, and he was even worse then Anderson. If England seriously bring him into the XI for Adelaide, it will be Christmas come early for the Australian batsman.

Much more likely is the introduction of Monty Panesar. I’ve not seen him bowl except for highlights, but everyone that has seen him was surprised that he wasn’t included at the Gabba. From what I can tell, England’s best option is to include both spinners, and rely on Flintoff to attack with short sharp bursts, including the new ball.

Giles is not regarded as a serious wicket-taking options, but he does have the merit of keeping it tight. That is a handy virtue to have while Panesar is attacking at the other end. It is a huge ask to Panesar on Ashes debut, but England’s bowling plight is desperate, and there’s nothing else for it.

Anyway, that’s my take. Tim de Lisle has his take here. What’s your take?

Abandon all hope ye English that enter here?

Andrew Flintoff might not be able to avoid talking to the Australian media, but he’s best advised to avoid reading the media. As his team flies into Sydney today, the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage takes on a traditionally gloomy (if you are English) tone.

Mark Waugh, never backward in coming forward with his opinion, thinks it’s going to be a 4-1 walkover.

I’m not sure if Flintoff is good at two-up but he needs to win four out of five tosses to give England hope.

Even allowing for some luck with the coin, I’m predicting a 4-1 victory for the Aussies. England might sneak a Test, with Adelaide the most likely venue for that.

They have a decent record there and Australia have not been so good recently. It’s a vital toss to win, with the wicket difficult to chase runs on or survive on during days four and five. With virtually no rain around Australia, the likelihood of a draw goes out the window.

England have brought a squad of 16, with plenty of question marks about many of them. Their form since winning the Ashes has been ordinary at best. They did a super job to draw the Test series in India, but performances against Sri Lanka and Pakistan were below par.

Waugh’s not being totally dismissive. He does have some nice things to say about the newer players.

England look a slightly weaker team on paper than last time, but fresh faces might give them hope. James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood look useful pace bowlers who can swing the ball. Anderson has had an interrupted career bowling a full length, giving him a chance. Mahmood is raw but talented and could be a trump card.

Panesar is worth the gamble for England. He offers more attacking options for Flintoff than Giles (who has never won them a Test match against Australia).

Other positives for England are the growing stature of Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood as batsmen. I’m not convinced they are real dangers against our quality bowlers, but they have racked up some Test runs since we last met.

Game-breakers Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen need to fire. Flintoff will have a big workload, and Pietersen can be expected to cop the short stuff. They won’t have an easy time but should produce entertaining battles in the middle order.

There’s no way Ricky Ponting and Australian coach John Buchanan will allow any complacency to sneak into the camp. After hammering England at Lord’s, Australia might have underestimated England’s ability to bounce back and paid the price.

Like all cricket followers, I’m looking forward to this series and although England beat us last year, Australia will start clear favourites. We’ll bounce back strongly on home soil with a full-strength line-up.

In the same publication, Peter Roebuck, that doughty Somerset batsman-cum multimedia guru, ponders on an England fading into the sunset.

Although England’s batting will be boosted by the return of Alistair Cook and Marcus Trescothick, the bowling was more or less at full strength in India. Matthew Hayden and company will have taken heart from Steve Harmison’s loss of control and the punishment dished out to Sajid Mahmood and James Anderson.

About the only encouraging sign for England’s vast following was the sight of Andrew Flintoff trundling down a few overs in Ahmedabad. Although not at full pace, he was able to maintain his unerring line. Still, it is not easy to recover rhythm after a long break and the Lancastrian might not be much of a threat at the Gabba. Flintoff has a huge heart but his fitness and form with the ball will be followed closely.

Nothing much can be said about Flintoff’s captaincy except that he spoke well at press conferences and did not let it affect his game. He seems to be a straightforward leader. The choice of captain must have been touch and go because both Strauss and Flintoff were capable candidates. In the absence of any compelling reason to demote him, the vice-captain deserved his chance. He is an impressive figure in the game.

Ashley Giles has also been bowling in the nets. Most likely his solidity will be preferred to Monty Panesar’s potency. He ought to have been recuperating at home. England cannot afford to think only about the Ashes. It is important to keep going forwards.

Certainly it will be different in Brisbane. It is another form of cricket played in another country and in front of a large and devoted group of supporters. Moreover, England will have a properly constructed team. Still, it is better to win than to lose.

Well, um, yeah. You can’t argue with that last bit.

Monty: is that a restaurant?

“Monty Panesar – what’s that? Is it a restaurant, or a place?”

So said a girl to me tonight. After stitching my sides back in place, I realised what a great name for a restaurant it’d be!

Ricky Ponting on Monty Panesar

Australians have historically had some trouble against slow left armers, although more so on their own wickets then in Australia, but  Ricky Ponting rates Panesar highly. So much so that he’s already decided that he has to be attacked from the outset by Australia’s batsmen, in order to prevent him from settling into a rythym.

“I’ve watched it all pretty closely. He’s got this cult figure behind him, but more importantly for them, he’s actually doing the job for them on the field,” said Ponting, who first noticed Panesar during last year’s Ashes tour when he took Michael Clarke’s wicket in a county game.

“He didn’t look like he was scared to throw the ball up a little bit and actually try and get you out,” Ponting said.

“A lot of the Englishmen over the years have been a bit guilty of just firing the ball in a bit too fast, and you can see with him he uses the air a lot more. He’s got good, subtle changes of pace and, watching the other night, a really good arm ball as well. You could see from that that one day he might have the chance to play for England.

“He’s probably a more attacking bowler than Giles was, and a wicket-taking option for them, more so than Giles was. Giles … did what the team required of him, but it looks like this guy can actually do both — keep it reasonably tight if needed and when it starts to turn a bit more, he can bowl some pretty handy deliveries as well.

Ponting is looking to the lefthanders in the lineup to ‘get after’ Panesar.

“The left-handers especially, Justin and Matty, the way they generally play spin is to be fairly aggressive,” he said. “But at other times, we won’t be able to be. We’ll try to make some sort of impact on him early on — hopefully a positive one — and we don’t let him get on top of us.”

The Australians will study plenty of footage of Panesar between now and the Ashes, perhaps keeping in mind that New Zealand’s left-arm finger spinner Daniel Vettori has a fine record against them. Still, Australian coach John Buchanan said England’s first dilemma would be whether to play the new cult hero ahead of Giles, who is desperate to return from a hip injury. “He (Giles) has been one of the key players for an England side for a long period of time and someone that (coach Duncan) Fletcher has relied on quite a lot … so they will have some interesting decisions,” said Buchanan, who also has been impressed with Panesar.

“He’s actually a spinner, whereas I think Giles began as a medium pacer, then developed into a spin bowler. But Panesar is a craftsman, I think, a bit of an artist.”

Another key figure might well be Michael Hussey, who will undoubtedly anchor the middle order. However, Ponting is right to take this approach. Confidence is everything to a bowler, and especially spinners. If Australia can negate Panesar’s confidence, England will find their task much harder.