Panesar vital to England gaining 20/20 vision

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The Independent Online

Monty Panesar is a low-maintenance player. He is not selfish, he has no ego, and he does not behave like a spoilt brat when things do not go according to plan. He just gets on with it. But one could sense a touch of anger and frustration in his voice yesterday when he spoke to the media during a practice session here at the South Perth Oval.

Panesar, like any England player who wants to keep his place in Duncan Fletcher's squad, would never dream of publicly criticising the coach, but he has every right to be perplexed over the way in which he has been handled so far on this tour. It would be wrong to suggest that England would not be in the pickle they are had Panesar played in Brisbane and Adelaide, but his omission has summed up the defensive nature of the side since they arrived in Australia five weeks ago.

Ashley Giles is being persecuted for failing to catch Ricky Ponting when he was on 35 in the second Test. The Australian captain went on to score 142. Giles' batting has also brought scorn, because he was picked ahead of Panesar in the hope he would score runs. But it is not Giles' fault that Panesar is yet to play in Australia, it is the flawed selection policy England have adopted.

"I was disappointed not to have been picked in the first and second Test matches," Panesar admitted. "I would obviously like to be in the starting XI, but I am aware that the side needs to be balanced. I can understand the logic behind the selectors' decisions but I still want to play. You have to back the views of the captain and the coach and help out if you possibly can.

"But all I can do is focus on the games that are coming. We have two warm-up games and, hopefully, I can bowl well, put my name in the hat and then the captain and coach will take notice. But it is up to me to perform well. It is flattering to hear that people at home are saying nice things about me. But selection is out of my control. All I can do is focus on the things I need to do and prepare for the games over the weekend and, hopefully, the Test match as well."

The performance of Giles in Adelaide and the 2-0 series scoreline mean Fletcher and the captain, Andrew Flintoff, England's two selectors on tour, are under pressure to pick Panesar for the third Test which starts next week. If England are to win a Test they need to take 20 wickets, a feat that has so far been beyond them. And if they are to take 20 wickets they need to forget about the tail scoring useful twenties and thirties and pick their best bowlers, of which Panesar is one.

Panesar's push for selection started early this morning when he played for an England Invitation XI in a Festival match at Lilac Hill but his true test will come at the weekend when he plays in a two-day match against Western Australia at the WACA. He will not find it easy to make an impression. The WACA was the quickest and bounciest pitch in the world but it has recently lost a lot of its fire.

Yet it remains a venue where spinners struggle. In 11 Test appearances there Shane Warne has taken only 32 wickets, at 37 runs each. Only three spinners have taken more than 10 Test wickets in a match at the ground. Bruce Yardley, an off-spinner, took 19 in four Tests and Bishan Bedi, the great Indian left-arm spinner, to whom Panesar is often compared, claimed 10 for 194 in his only Test there.

"The pitch here will test my skill as a spinner but we will have to wait and see whether the ball spins," Panesar said. "If the ball doesn't turn much, it will be a test of my skills. It will test many things in me but you play this game to be tested because you want to see how you react to it. I have been watching how the Australia batsman have been playing Ashley Giles and I have also watched how Shane Warne has bowled too. But really I want to be out there in the middle. It is hard to say whether I would have made a big difference. But there was a bit of turn in the pitch and I would have liked to give it my best shot. I will not be putting any extra pressure on myself, I will just be trying to bowl as I did before."

Fletcher admitted yesterday that Michael Vaughan's chances of playing in the Ashes were slim. The England coach said: "There's not much cricket between the third, fourth and fifth Tests. Especially cricket where he has to stay in the field for a long time, probably two days standing on that leg and for a long innings. So until he can do that and be confident in his knee, we won't consider Michael Vaughan."

* The Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq returned to international cricket yesterday with an unbeaten 42 to seal a two-wicket win over West Indies in the second one-day international. After dismissing West Indies for 152, Pakistan completed victory with 10 balls to spare. Inzamam completed a four-match ban after his team refused to take the field in the fourth Test against England at the Oval in August.