Panesar Test place 'not secure' says Fletcher

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The Independent Online

Bob Woolmer, the highly respected coach of Pakistan, declared him to be "the bee's knees", echoing the avalanche of approval that has flowed from cricket commentators since his match-winning performance at Old Trafford on Saturday. Yet Monty Panesar, the spin-bowling sensation of the summer, still cannot secure the unqualified approval of the man who holds the key to his career, the England coach, Duncan Fletcher.

If Stephen Harmison's 11 wickets in Manchester, including 6 for 19 in the first innings, rightly earned the man-of-the-match accolade for the Durham fast bowler, Panesar's 5 for 72 in the second innings was equally vital to England's second Test victory by an innings and 120 runs.

Woolmer, a former England Test batsman, was massively impressed with the way the 24-year-old Northamptonshire player, a classical left-arm spinner, tore through a Pakistan side with some of the best players of spin in the world. Were he in charge, Panesar would be a key player when England defend the Ashes.

Fletcher, however, having opted to play Panesar at Old Trafford after considering Middlesex's spin-bowling all-rounder, Jamie Dalrymple, as an alternative, has yet to be convinced Panesar has the qualities required.

"Monty bowled very well, no doubt about it," Fletcher said. " The wicket really suited the spinner and quite often you get on a wicket like that and try too hard. He bowled a good line and length and spun the ball on occasions a great deal." Whether Panesar has moved ahead of the injured Ashley Giles, a less predatory bowler but a proven asset with the bat and in the field, Fletcher was unsure.

"Let's have a look at Monty when he bowls on other wickets and let's make a decision when Gilo is ready," he said. "It was a good wicket for Monty to bowl on and he bowled damn well. But what wickets are we going to play on? Would we need Monty on a green top? We have to look at the balance of the side and it's very important that we look at Monty on wickets that don't help him as much as it did today."

There were no such reservations from Woolmer, the former Warwickshire and South Africa coach. "I thought Panesar's performance was terrific," he said. "He has superb loop, very good pace on the ball, changed his pace but at a high pace, 58mph."

Woolmer was unsure that comparisons with Derek Underwood, England's last consistent match-winning spinner, could yet be stood up but agreed Panesar is an outstanding prospect.

"Deadly [Underwood] was unique," he said. "But of the classic left-arm spinners, Monty is right up there. He has loop, in-dip, spins the ball, beats people on both sides of the bat without actually having the doosra. He is a very fine prospect. If he bowls like this, he could do well in Australia, too, because the wickets are more bouncy there. He's the proper article, the bee's knees."

Even Giles, a Fletcher favourite, acknowledged his place as England's No 1 slow bowler is under threat as he struggles to recover from hip and groin injuries. "Monty is a brilliant technician," he said. "He gets a lot of revolutions on the ball so it drifts in nicely, he turns the ball and he is consistent. He is the man in possession and I have to get my place back."

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