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England’s Monty dilemma

Bharat Sundaresan

Posted: Nov 22, 2012 at 0911 hrs IST

Mumbai: As far as ‘wanting to dig a hole and bury yourself’ moments go, Monty Panesar, the fielder, has created a niche for himself. Wankhede witnessed one such Monty blunder during the 2006 tour. Chasing 313 for a series win, India were precariously placed at 90/6 with Dhoni their last hope for salvation. And as Dhoni looked to hit off-spinner Shaun Udal out of the ground, all he did was sky the ball in the direction of Panesar at long-off.

Cupping his hands in copybook fashion, Monty was embarrassed as the ball hit the floor a few meters to his right.

“Monty hamare saath hai, yeh andar ki baat hai,” screamed the partisan and unforgiving Wankhede crowd. The rest of the English team looked away in disgust. In three balls’ time though, Panesar would make up for his miss by hanging onto an identical opportunity to get rid of Dhoni. Soon after, England would post a remarkable 212-run victory, led by some inspirational bowling.

It was a victory that the England team would have recalled with gusto as they made their way into the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday morning. Hoping certainly that it proves to be a motivation as they look to right the wrongs from Ahmedabad and keep the series alive.

Panesar, who took just one wicket in the 2006 Test, on the other hand will be desperate to play a more significant role six years hence-and also avoid any ignominous faux pas. For starters though, he’ll have his fingers crossed for a look-in.

As England began their Test campaign on a disappointing note at Motera, among their many blemishes, one that received unanimous criticism was leaving out the 30-year-old Panesar.

More so with their three seamers being nullified by the deadpan nature of the pitch, not to forget Graeme Swann and Samit Patel finishing with seven of the nine Indian wickets in the match.

Panesar to his credit has showcased a spring in his stride and an impressive bowling form in his limited outings on tour so far. He was the pick of England’s bowlers against Mumbai A at the DY Patil Stadium, and against Haryana in Ahmedabad.

He’s also kept his own teammates on their feet during the visitors’ numerous net sessions over the last three weeks. But while the Motera wicket was ripe with purchase for spin bowlers, the jury’s still out on whether the Wankhede pitch will remain true to its nature or turn for the worse. Dropping one of their seamers for Panesar would mean England go in to the second Test with an unnatural combination on a pitch that has historically provided bounce and movement-though not prodigious-for the pacers. And Panesar will remain a dilemma that is sure to give the England team management a headache over the next couple of days.

Cloud of Uncertainty

While coach Andy Flower did regret the decision to not go in with Panesar for the first Test, he did hint at the Mumbai wicket will have more bounce for his seamers, which could mean the Sussex tweaker would be left on the bench again.

On Wednesday, Panesar bowled in tandem, though in adjoining nets, with Graeme Swann. And he once again looked to be at the peak of his powers, getting a lot of loop in the air and turn off the wicket. Chances of him partnering Swann on Friday though remain unlikely.

It’s not a great predicament for Panesar to be in either. England didn’t play him on a wicket, which is sure to have suited him. And even if Wankhede does end up as a rank-turner, he’s likely to miss out again. Incidentally, England had gone in with two spinners and two pacers during their famous triumph six years ago. But then they had a certain Andrew Flintoff as skipper.

So threatening has Panesar looked on tour so far that it wasn’t surprising to see him not being employed against Kevin Pietersen in the nets at Wankhede. Especially considering the buffoonery that the high-profile batting star has exhibited against left-arm spin so far in India. Instead Pietersen was offered the less challenging prospect of Samit Patel. And that could be the case again when England look at their 2nd spinner’s option.

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