Peter Roebuck at the WACA: The spin wizard whose craft comes from graft

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The Independent Online

Monty Panesar's seventh delivery did not look troublesome as it made its way down an admirable pitch. Despite his efforts it appeared innocuous and his opponent started to organise his defences. Not much was expected. In fact, it was the start of something special.

At least the ball was likely to land on the spot. Although the spinner was playing his first Ashes Test, he had already bowled an over and had not shown any nerves. Perhaps the sight of a familiar figure at the opposite end had helped settle such butterflies as may have been fluttering. Panesar and Michael Hussey had spent a season together in Northampton and spent every spare moment in the nets. Hour upon hour they practised till one could bowl in his sleep and the other had scarcely a flaw in his game.

Panesar's accuracy did not surprise those acquainted with his work. He is a craftsman not an artist. Wizardry has long been assigned to any spinner wearing cloth upon his head. Bishen Bedi is to blame. A whiskered bowler of many deceptions and moods, the Punjabi seemed to represent an entire way of life.

Although blessed with the same flashing eyes and high spirit, Monty belongs to a different tradition. He is not a genius, does not pretend otherwise. More reliant on curve than flight, he is happiest bowling long, probing spells. His greatest attribute is his ability to spin even his fastest deliveries. Also he knows his own game and does not stray from it.

Still, Justin Langer had no reason to fear. He stretched out, bat and pad close together, ready to drop the ball at his toes. Forced to work hard all morning, he was looking forward to the lunch break. No spinner was going to get him out, not on the first morning at his home ground.

Langer appeared impregnable. Then came the sound of breaking timber and the sight of a leaping bail. Replays suggested the ball had been a little faster, and an "armer" to boot. Panesar punched the sky and ran around joyously, pausing long enough to exchange high-fives with his captain. Langer had the air of a man whose socks have mysteriously disappeared.

For a time thereafter the spinner's fortunes fell. A change of ends affected his rhythm but he did not lose heart. Eventually the wickets started to come. Panesar ended with a bagful. It was a fine performance. It was also a triumph of the spirit. Oh Monty, Monty, where have you been?

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