Panesar turns on the magic to leave his critics in spin

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The Independent Online

If day one of this Test was significant for Steve Harmison, then it was also of no small importance to Monty Panesar.

The patka-wearing left-arm spinner, has made an enormous impression since he became the first Sikh to represent England in Test cricket, demonstrating the potential to become a genuine match-winning international bowler as well as achieving cult-hero status with England supporters, although not always for the right reasons.

Yet he was in serious danger of being omitted from the starting XI here as England pondered whether to choose the safer option of selecting James Dalrymple, of Middlesex, as the side's front-line spinner.

Wednesday's grapevine pointed some commentators towards the conclusion that England were leaning towards a conservative stance against a Pakistan side they could see scoring buckets of runs on a dry, hard Old Trafford pitch and that Dalrymple would be given the nod.

The decision, ultimately, to let Dalrymple return to his county meant a reprieve for Panesar, whose tendency towards accidents in the field may have endeared him to spectators but leaves him vulnerable should his game's main skill slip short of the required standard.

The moment he was tossed the ball yesterday, then, saw him under some pressure. At 90 for 2, Pakistan had recovered from the latest failure of their top order. What is more, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, two parts of arguably the finest middle order in world cricket today, each looked well set.

Yet Panesar was nerveless. He opened with a maiden but with the added spice of making the ball turn from the outset, claiming a wicket with his fourth delivery as Yousuf, never quite set for the stroke, deflected the thinnest of edges into the gloves of the wicketkeeper Geraint Jones.

Cue the usual, extravagant celebrations, skipping and bounding wild-eyed into the arms of his colleagues. What would Jim Laker make of that, from his celestial vantage point, at the scene of English spin bowling's finest hour?

This is Panesar as showman. Yet he clearly has the ability, not easily mastered, to close his mind to distractions when it matters, enabling him to maintain discipline under pressure. The consistency of his control was most impressive.

More success came quickly. In his second over, separated from the first by the lunch interval, his fifth delivery produced a ball that turned and jumped and ended Faisal Iqbal's brief adventure by the same route, snapped up by Jones behind the stumps.

The punches being landed by Harmison at the other end restricted Panesar to fewer than eight overs but it was time enough for him to score another victory as Shahid Afridi, excited by the six he had just struck over long-on, injudiciously took on a ball that was wider and flatter, heaving it horribly to backward point.

The comfort of earning trust among the England selectors may yet be some way off for Panesar, but the spinner may yesterday have taken a decent stride towards it.