08 August, 2006

Cricket: We Love Monty!

Whilst 2006 has not been the golden cricket summer that was 2005 - when England wrested the Ashes from Australia in the series of the decade - there's been glimmers of glory and performances to cheer. The emergence of Monty Panesar, of course, tops the list.

Panesar was one of several key players in England's win today over Pakistan clinching the 4 match series 2-0.

If you'd told me 10 years ago that England's cult cricket hero would be a left arm spin bowler from Luton wearing a Patka, I think I might have raised an eyebrow. Monty has raised eyebrows over the last eight months since being a surprise selection for the test series in India. And, what a debut. Panesar's first wicket was none other than the great Sachin Tendulkar.

Injury to England's tried and trusted Ashley "Wheelie-bin" Giles has meant that Panesar has enjoyed an uninterrupted run in the England test side in this summer's series - a disappointing split with Sri Lanka and now the morale boosting victory over Pakistan. It's morale boosting for two reasons. This is England's first series win since the Ashes triumph, followed as it was by a 2-0 defeat to Pakistan in late 2005; second, it puts England in good spirits before the return series against Australia this winter.

England continue to have a selection dilemma. Over the summer injuries meant the likes of Monty, Sajid Mahmood and Ali Cook were been called up to the side. All have performed well, sometimes reaching great heights, as did Monty at Manchester.

If Giles is fit, the selectors have a tough choice between left arm spinners. Giles is more than handy with the bat and fills the difficult No.8 spot. But, Panesar has proved himself to be a both an attacking and defensive bowler, something Giles is not. Then again, can the inexperienced Monty handle the pressure of Aussie crowds? Can England risk someone who's a batting and fielding liability?

There are other big choices. At wicketkeeper: Read's 'keeping ability versus Jones's (so far invisible) bat. As for the bowlers, does Mahmood have the discipline to succeed Down Under?

Thos questions can wait. For now, it celebration time.

There's other positives to take from England's success. The series against Pakistan has been played in good spirit. Given world political that could have been an issue. (Though I'm keeping an eye out for reports of crowd behaviour given Leeds' sad history of racist spectator behaviour.) Then there's the appearance in the team of a British born Sikh and Lancastrian of Pakistani origins. A small statement for British multicultural society; a bigger statement for cricket in the modern era.

Why do we love Monty? The return of classic left arm spin bowling; his success, of course; his quiet determination; his youthful enthusiasm. He's from Luton!


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