Monty turns himself into a tour de force

After spending three years out of the England side the left-arm spinner sought psychological help and he is now reaping the benefits

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The Independent Online

Before the ball of his life, Monty Panesar gave himself a good talking-to. He had just bowled too short to Sachin Tendulkar, but it went on with the arm a bit and he escaped punishment.

Two balls earlier in the over it had not turned out so well. A leg-stump full toss had been nonchalantly dismissed through midwicket for four. Things needed to change quickly, and Monty knew it.

"I was thinking to myself, 'What are my processes here? Focus on that, get that bit right'," he said. "When I was walking back I was thinking about that, get my mind right, how's my breathing? You know when you panic your breathing goes up and when you're relaxed it's a lot more fluid.

"All of these things were on a checklist in my mind, I was ticking them off. It was like I was doing a service on me, like an MOT. Then I get that right and the timing obviously clicked."

What happened after this bizarre unseen ritual on the first morning of the Second Test in Mumbai was the perfect left-arm spinner's delivery. It fizzed through the air and bent towards leg stump. Tendulkar, groping forward, was powerless as the ball pitched, turned acutely and smashed unceremoniously into his off stump.

Tendulkar is 39 now and in the death throes of a marvellous career but that ball would have bowled him when he was 29, 19 and nine. It left India in serious trouble at 61 for 3, and though they partially recovered, they lost the match by 10 wickets.

The victory was greeted rightly as one of England's most precious and it is 1-1 in the series going into the third match of four on Wednesday.

There were 10 more wickets for Panesar in Mumbai, including that of Tendulkar a second time and for the fourth in all Tests. His figures of 11 for 210 were a career best, but it is that solitary ball that will endure as an image in the mind.

"It was probably one of my best balls, it even caught me by surprise," said Panesar, reflecting on it a few days after the victory. "The conditions helped because it was a used wicket, and when you're bowling at that pace there's a slight chance for it to grip. But if it was a flatter deck it probably would have skidded on."

But it said something, too, about the bowler, maybe the man that Panesar has become. That swift analysis of what he must and must not do as he went back to his mark for the fifth ball of the 19th over was the upshot of another kind of analysis.

For three years Panesar was England's first-choice spin bowler but he was overtaken by Graeme Swann, with whom he formed such an effective partnership last week. Being dropped hit him hard and he sought guidance and advice from Neil Burns, the former Leicestershire wicketkeeper, and Dr Ken Jennings, a psychologist, at London County Cricket Club, which was first established by WG Grace and was reformed eight years ago as a so-called mentoring organisation, among other things, helping cricketers to make the best of themselves. "It's helped build emotional resilience and mental focus," Panesar said. "Rather than trying to be a bowler I cannot be – do this, do that – I went back to building my own strengths. It's nice to have that professional guidance and emotional support that Burnsy has given me.

"Dr Jennings has helped with developing who I am as a person. He's given me more sense of who I am as a person. I think when I first came into the international arena I would defer to coaches, captains and players."

If 11 wickets in Mumbai and 27 wickets at an average of 22.70 in four matches since being recalled by England earlier this year for the first time since 2009 are any yardstick, something appears to have worked. Panesar, anyway, is convinced it has, which is what counts when trying to get into the mind of the professional sportsman. He certainly seems a different bowler now. It was noticeable that he ushered his fielders around in Mumbai in a fashion he would not have done before. Whether he responds to different conditions will be seen in Kolkata this week, where the black soil is different. It so happened the red soil at Wankhede Stadium perfectly suited his fast spinners.

"My strengths are getting the ball to turn and bounce with pace," he said. "And I began to understand that different pitches have optimum pace for maximum turn. The pace I bowled in Mumbai might not be right for Kolkata. But I've developed a mindset where I don't take anything for granted."

One thing that has not changed is his unalloyed delight at taking a wicket. When Tendulkar became Panesar's first Test wicket in Nagpur nearly seven years ago, lbw for 16, the bowler ran joyously round the ground. It took 10 seconds for his team-mates to catch up.

Last week it was a little different, except for the elation. Panesar revealed that he has been trying to emulate some of the moves in a recent Bollywood smash hit comedy movie, Son of Sardaar, based on rival Sikh families. "My dancing moves are probably better than the actors'," he said, though his team-mates might disagree.

While he mentioned the movie with pleasant memories, he prefers to keep religion and cricket separate. "My heritage and my cricket are two different topics," he said. "Outside cricket it's something I follow, but they are two separate things."

He still has relatives in India, and while dismissing Sachin on his home ground might have been pushing it a bit, he has been made to feel welcome as usual: "I can see there's a lot of love, they're very hospitable." They might begin to change their minds if he finds Eden Gardens as obliging as the Wankhede.

Querying the pitch

Groundsmen are delicate souls. On balance, they would prefer their lovingly prepared surfaces not to be played on. If they must, they must, but the second-worst thing in their eyes is being told what type of pitch to concoct.

A huge row has erupted four days before the Third Test between India and England, with the curator at Eden Gardens walking out and asking for a month's leave. Prabir Mukherjee took exception to India's captain MS Dhoni's demand for turning pitches in the series.

"Why does Dhoni want a square turner on the first day? Then why are you selling tickets for five days? It's immoral," Mukherjee said in a television interview.

Dhoni famously called for spinning pitches from the first ball after India's First Test victory and did not appear to regret it after their Second Test defeat. A member of the BCCI's grounds committee was drafted into Kolkata to help in the pitch's preparation.

While the spinners can expect to bowl most overs, with the Kolkata pitch slower than Mumbai, England are extremely eager to field fast bowler Steve Finn. He appears to have recovered from his thigh injury and will bowl at pace in the nets today, aiming to replace an out-of-sorts Stuart Broad.

Their other selection dilemma is whether to recall Ian Bell, who has returned from paternity leave, in place of Jonny Bairstow. They probably will, on the grounds of experience rather than form.

England have won only once in Kolkata, in 1977, when Tony Greig scored a hundred and fast bowler Bob Willis dismantled India's first innings with 5 for 27.

Stephen Brenkley

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