Ashes 2013-14: Monty’s antics even manage to melt hearts of Australians

Foolish though Cricket Australia was, it perhaps showed how fondly he is regarded.
  • @stephenbrenkley

It was a joy to have Monty Panesar back in the England team. It is always a joy. Cricket Australia welcomed him back with a preposterously inappropriate Tweet which they soon deleted, showing four intended Panesar lookalikes in Teletubby fancy dress.

Foolish though it was, it perhaps showed how fondly he is regarded. When he came on to bowl he was cheered by all sides of the ground. Monty is one of the few cricketers who inevitably adds to the gaiety of the nation.

He took only one wicket in his first Test since playing at Auckland last March but might have had three if he had not spurned a return chance he should have accepted and had Michael Carberry not fumbled a dolly late on the first day of the second Test.

Graeme Swann, who has been Panesar’s spin twin since their days as teenagers at Northamptonshire, said: “I thought his bowling was excellent. It’s never easy coming back into a team because obviously a lot of spotlight goes on you, a lot of expectation.

“He did the job that we wanted him to do and that’s all Monty ever does, he just turns up and plays his game,” Swann said. “We don’t care what’s happened off the field with Mont, he’s one of the boys and we love him to bits.”

What happened off the field was that Panesar had a few too many drinks one night in Brighton last summer, was asked to leave a nightclub and responded by urinating on the head of a bouncer. He left his county, Sussex, soon afterwards and probably made this tour only because there were no other options.

Swann could not stop himself being mischievous when he was asked if there was a difference between Panesar now and then. “Put a bit of weight on, I think,” he said. “No, Monty’s Monty. He’s always been a bit left-field and a bit different to everyone else and it’s one of the reasons we love him so much. We don’t care what’s happened in the last 12 months off the field. He’s one of the boys and we embrace him as ever and we love seeing him do well.”

In its way it was a low-key, if fascinating, day which saw two Australians, Chris Rogers and George Bailey, trying to persuade the selectors to extend their careers with craftsmanlike fifties. The teams were almost courteous to each other after the hothouse insults of Brisbane.

“No, we still hate each other’s guts,” said Swann. “I told Michael Clarke I’d rip his ears off but I don’t think the stump mic picked it up. There’s always going to be a bit of niggle between England and Australia, between certain protagonists on the field. I’m not one of them, I bowl spin. What’s the point of chirping? You get smashed back over your head next ball, you look an idiot.” He was joking, of course, and probably not joking at the same time.