Monday 19 August 2013

Panesar deserves support

A couple of years ago a friend of mine from Brighton saw Monty Panesar taking his bins out. As he walked back to his door, Panesar wheeled his bowling arm over. It's a lovely image and much in keeping with popular perceptions of Panesar at the time: unaffected, exuberant and innocent.

News of Panesar's ugly night out in Brighton blew that apart. Harassing women and pissing on bouncers jarred with our idea of the once teetotal man. The stereotypes about Panesar, though, were always lazy. Though partly an affectionate reaction to his hapless fielding and wide eyes, the repeated caricatures of Panesar as an essentially meek and laughable man risked slipping into murky territory.

Panesar has struck a disaffected figure this season. His marriage broke down and he has, apparently, been repeatedly in Sussex's bad books. His bowling has also suffered with 23 Championship wickets and 40.39 this year, though he still the leading English spinner in Division One.

From a distance it seems as though Panesar has been trying for some time to be taken more seriously. Gone last winter were the wild wicket celebrations as he was delivering one of England's greatest overseas triumphs. In their place were more aggressive and poised reactions. He also added an MBA over the winter to his earlier BSc, taking his exams while on tour with England. 

Despite his resounding success in India (something people forgot far too quickly), Panesar's ability was again questioned after three poor games on unhelpful tracks in New Zealand. The grumbles over his batting and fielding resurfaced, complaints over monotonous bowling returned, and the names of young spinners across the country were talked up.

On Sunday England dumped Panesar and picked Lancashire's Simon Kerrigan for The Oval squad. Though understandable for now England should be doing all they can to support one of their prime assets.

Panesar is unlucky to have played in the same era as one of England's greatest spinners. Having basked in limelight at the start of his international career he has been stuck on the margins since Graeme Swann's emergence. His mentor Neil Burns told the Daily Mail Panesar “sees himself as “an outsider”, who only becomes “an insider” when he is bowling well.

“Some have developed an inflexible view of him and only seem to value him as a bowling machine, and tend to ridicule other parts of his game and personality,” said Burns. “Dealing with rejection, and feeling on the outside again, proved a difficult emotional challenge.”

Panesar is off to Essex until the end of the season and it is possible he will return to Northants next year. When he left his boyhood county in 2009 Panesar was reportedly suffering in a hostile dressing-room atmosphere. Still he donated £10,000 to Northants, thanking them for their role in his development. It's difficult to think of many others who would do the same.

Swann's sore elbow might curtail his England career soon and though 31 years old Panesar is very fit and a proven matchwinner. Of course Panesar himself is responsible for resolving his problems but as he looks to get his life back on course, he deserves respect and support.

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