Monty spins into reckoning as personality of year

Panesar's attacking verve and mastery of his specialist discipline banish fears that his singular talent cannot justify him a place in Fletcher's multi-tasking world
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Harping on about the decline of spin bowling has been a perennial pastime among the romantics and nostalgics lining the boundaries of English cricket grounds pretty much since the rot set in the 1980s and it is not a subject that much interests Duncan Fletcher, the squarely pragmatic national coach.

In his adherence to a philosophy that awards the greatest value to players proficient in multi-tasking, Fletcher tends to regard two ticked boxes as the absolute minimum require-ment for sustained involvement in the national side, which is why there has been a suspicion that Monty Panesar, for all his talent in one discipline of the game, might pass through the Test arena as merely a passing dalliance.

That suspicion can almost certainly be banished now. If there were any doubts lingering in Fletcher's mind that Panesar is not the real deal as an England cricketer, they have surely been removed. As a display of attacking spin bowling, yesterday's performance by the 24-year-old Northamptonshire player was as good as has been witnessed from anyone in an England shirt in decades.

With brilliant variations of flight, a superbly disciplined control of length and the bonus of giving the ball a real rip and bounce, Panesar tore the heart out of Pakistan's innings in a manner we have become accustomed to witnessing only from England's opponents.

The skill and nervelessness with which he dismissed in turn Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, who make up arguably as talented a middle order as exists in world cricket today, confirmed Panesar as a bowler who not only takes wickets but those of good batsmen, and there is little more evidence necessary to identify someone whose place in international cricket should not be in any doubt.

His shortcomings as a fielder and batsman have clearly given him something more to prove in his battle to convince Fletcher but there can be no suggestion now that he should not be in England's party for Australia this winter, irrespective of whether Ashley Giles has regained his full fitness. From this platform, unless he succumbs to arthritic fingers, Panesar can build a career as England's front-line spin bowler for the next decade and even beyond. Given his age and the infancy of his experience, he can only get better, too.

The arguments over his batting and fielding are valid enough in the modern era, although the notion that he is a complete duffer at either is not really upheld by the evidence. His support for Paul Collingwood in Nagpur in the winter, where he defended for 66 minutes as his team-mate completed a maiden century, was not that of a man who cannot hold a bat; nor the 28-ball 26 he scored at Trent Bridge this summer. As a No 11, he is no more a passenger, for instance, than Danish Kaneria or Stuart MacGill.

In his fielding, meanwhile, Panesar is determined to improve and will, according to Kepler Wessels, his former Northamptonshire coach, who says that his mental strength and commitment have been underestimated.

"He is annoyed when he makes mistakes and while he is unaffected by crowd reactions or comments by opposing players, he does not want to be embarrassed," Wessels said.

His popularity, already established, has increased several-fold with yesterday's deeds and if BBC Sport are scratching their heads, after a fairly bleak year elsewhere, as to who might be in the running for their Personality of the Year award, they now have a clear contender.

Yet there is no hint that being in the spotlight is blurring his focus nor corrupting his modesty. Indeed, he was keen to hail his team-mate, Stephen Harmison, as the match-winner.

"This is as good a day as I have had so far," he said. "It is always nice to play for England and play a match-winning role but all credit must go to Steve. He was the difference between the sides and he did a wonderful job for the team."

The key to his own success, he believed, was "to keep it simple". "There was bounce in the pitch and turn and I could easily have got carried away and try to bowl magic balls so I tried to stay patient," he said. "I tried to change the pace and trajectory so the ball did not always turn as much. When I come across players who are very good I try to keep it simple because if you get it wrong, the way they strike the ball they could easily hit you out of the park."

Panesar accounted for Yousuf, Pakistan's hero at Lord's, in both innings, although it was the wicket of the Pakistan captain he prized most. "Getting Inzamam was probably the most satisfying moment because he is such a good player, although I was probably a bit lucky to get him out the way I did [Inzamam was caught after hitting the ball into his boot]," he said.

Lucky? He does himself an injustice. Monty's moment in the spotlight is the consequence of a talent that should be developed without impediment now. The quest for a spin magician may be over.

The Highlights: Harmy 'n' Monty a top double act

SHOT OF THE DAY: Not too many from the tourists but the stroke that brought Mohammad Yousuf four off Sajid Mahmood before lunch, beautifully timed off the back foot, had a touch of class.

DELIVERY OF THE DAY: Despite Monty Panesar's heroics, the one with which Stephen Harmison dismissed Kamran Akmal in his second over, rising steeply off a length and catching the glove.

GAFFE OF THE DAY: The lapse by Harmison at mid-off that allowed Younis Khan three runs off a vexed Mahmood.

MOMENT OF THE DAY: Monty Panesar showing Harmison how it should be done with a sliding pick-up at long leg, bringing huge cheers from his fan club.

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