England's returning left-arm spinner revealed last night that he was told about his selection only 20 minutes before the start of the second Test. Even by the standards of this management, who are notoriously reluctant to reveal their starting XI, this seemed a tad late since the teamsheet has to be handed over at the toss, 30 minutes before play, and Monty Panesar's name was presumably on it.
In all probability, Panesar meant 20 minutes before the toss, but either way, it was a late call-up. The night before, England had settled on a bowling attack of three seamers with Steve Finn being recalled, and one spinner, Graeme Swann.
But on showing up at the ground yesterday they changed their mind and Panesar was playing his first Test since his heroic batting in the draw against Australia at Cardiff in 2009. He was nervous at the start but helped by the immediate sight of the ball turning he settled into a neat rhythm.
The last time England fielded a four-man attack comprising two seamers and two spinners was at Kandy against Sri Lanka in late 2003. On balance, the quartet chosen yesterday seemed more potent than Andrew Flintoff, James Kirtley, Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty.
Panesar's 1 for 90 off 33 overs was hardly a miraculous comeback. He was hit for four sixes, all struck by Misbah-ul-Haq, and in pairs too. Misbah hit sixes off successive balls early in the afternoon and again in the last over of the day.
"I was pleased with my bowling," said Panesar. "I was told about it 20 minutes before play and getting a lot of overs under my belt is something I did for Sussex last year. On a first-day wicket you do a holding job but I was surprised by how much turn there was.
"I was a little bit nervous. I was making my second debut in a sense, and I was delighted to be bowling with my spin twin, my partner Swanny. Our partnership with the ball spinning away from one end and spinning in at the other creates a lot of pressure on different batsmen. Certain batsmen struggle against off-spin so I am trying to get him on strike at Swanny's end. We help each other. It can be very effective."
That it was not more proficient still can be put down to England's fielding. Both bowlers had catches dropped, and Jimmy Anderson's miss at first slip when Misbah, on 30, edged a drive off Panesar was particularly disappointing for England.
"These things happen and you've just got to put that past you and keep concentrating," said Panesar. "You have got to group your overs together and bowl a good spell. Before, when catches have been dropped, frustration comes into your game but this time round I just stuck to my business."
Panesar's recall gives him the chance to stake a claim to a place in several of England's Test matches this year. Though their favoured option would be the three seamer and one spinner combination, they have tours to Sri Lanka and India planned and it is doubtful that the groundsmen in either country will be developing surfaces that give England's fast bowlers so much as a sniff.
It may take Panesar a while to rediscover his feet, but he thought the chance may never come again. "Self-doubt creeps in and you wonder if it's ever going to happen," he said. "You need good coaches to help you and Mark Robinson at Sussex and Mushtaq Ahmed, the England spin coach, have protected my self-belief and helped me to grow."Reuse content