Where did it all go wrong for Monty?

An inspiration for England just a year ago, the 'Sikh of Tweak' has resorted to a season in South Africa to resurrect his career. Will he ever turn the corner?
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The Independent Online

It is not quite a case of "hero to zero", but hero to the Highveld Lions still underlines just how far Monty Panesar has fallen in the space of 12 months. This time last year, Panesar was England's premier spinner; now he is off to some far-flung domestic cricket in search of sporting salvation.

England are heading in the same direction this month and will shortly name their squads for a tour of limited-over internationals and Test matches. Whether Panesar has any hope of getting a look-in remains to be seen, but his decision to sign for a South African franchise this winter suggests he believes his best chance is to be on site and readily available should injuries bite.

With all due respect to Graeme Swann – now firmly established as England's No 1 slow bowler – and the steadily blossoming leg-spinning all-rounder Adil Rashid, Panesar's slide down the pecking order takes some understanding. This is the man, remember, who took 120 wickets in his first three years as a Test cricketer – including eight five-fors – and included the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Yousuf (all master craftsmen against spin) among his victims.

So where did it all go wrong? Actually, the "where" takes little working out. It is the "why" that may require the assistance of Sherlock Holmes.

The Monty story was never blemish-free, of course. Butter-fingered fielding may have endeared him to fans around the world but being a liability in the field, and a rabbit with the bat, put even more pressure on Panesar's left-arm bowling. And when he struggled in India last December it was time to halt production of those Monty Masks, so popular on English grounds over the previous two or three summers.

Panesar was not only out-bowled by Swann but played with such ease by Tendulkar and Co that it looked as though India's top order could swap their bats for sticks of rhubarb. At one stage, in supposedly helpful conditions, he went 47 overs without a wicket, seldom changing his pace or varying his flight when the situation demanded guile and cunning.

Shane Warne's quote about Panesar having played one Test 30-odd times, rather than 30 or so different Tests, was vindicated by events in India. But, it would seem, that a man who won several matches for England with a potent combination of accuracy, bounce, turn and limitless enthusiasm has been trying too hard ever since to become the sort of bowler other people want him to be.

It is likely Panesar will take only one fond cricketing memory out of 2009. And that really was against all the odds. He was dropped in the West Indies, after 26 consecutive Tests, missed four of five Ashes matches, had a nightmare season with Northants and, last month, lost his central contract with England.

And yet, the man whose bashful smile and hopelessly inaccurate high fives made everyone grin for two or three summers, still helped England to regain the urn – by batting out 11.3 overs with last wicket partner Jimmy Anderson in Cardiff.

Having achieved the seemingly impossible in Wales, rediscovering his old sparkle in South Africa ought to be well within Panesar's capabilities. And despite Swann's recent successes and for all Rashid's potential, England can ill afford to write off the "Sikh of Tweak" as a three-year wonder.

All spun out: Panesar's loss of form

Test record: 39 Tests, 126 wkts, best of 6-37, average: 34.37.

Best season vs this season

Test matches: 2007/2009

11 Tests 4

41 Wickets 6

6-129 Best 2-34

32.07 Average 64.16

County Championship: 2005/2009

46 Wickets 18

21.54 Average 59.44

Collingwood pulls out of Champions League

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