No hiding place for 'ferret' Panesar

This ought to be the most uncomfortable week of Monty's playing life, writes Mike Selvey.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2006 13:20 IST

If there is any serious intent to turn Monty Panesar from a young county cricketer of strictly monochrome promise into a fully fledged robust representative of the modern multi-dimensional international, this ought to have been the most uncomfortable week of his playing life -- the equivalent, perhaps, of the rookie marine jolted out of his comfortable college reverie by the bootcamp brutality of the training regime. Panesar, by repute anyway, is a hapless batsman: a gimme, a walking wicket, a bowler's bonus. He follows in the long tradition of the ferret (goes in after the rabbits) in striding to the crease to the sound of the groundsman's heavy roller chugging into life.

The trouble is that what was once taken as part of the game, a humorous diversion from the real contest between bat and ball, is no longer acceptable to coaches, captains or team-mates, not in the England side at any rate. Hopeless heaves or a bugle retreat to shake hands with the square-leg umpire as the ball is delivered at pace do not wash. Where once we had Devon Malcolm's myopia or Phil Tufnell's unashamed anxiety bringing up the rear of an England innings, we expect Matthew Hoggard's yeoman forward prod or Steve Harmison's hand-eye coordination or the ball-striking of Simon Jones.

The lower order contributes now. So, from the first time he strapped on his pads as a member of the England squad and walked into the Mumbai nets, it would not have been a few gentle throwdown half-volleys from a string of local net bowlers that Panesar should have expected. Instead he might have found Harmison trying to use his ribcage as a xylophone, Andy Flintoff powering down a cricket ball that appears to be twice its normal weight and jarring from his teeth any fillings the batsman has and Jones attempting to carry out heavy duty chiropody with his yorkers. There would be no hiding place.

Over the weeks that follow on this tour he can expect to be bruised and more battered than a Harry Ramsden cod fillet. There will be a risk of fractured digits, limbs or skull. No holds will be barred nor should they be. But it is all in the cause: cast ahead 10 months and he might be facing Brett Lee with one over to protect the Ashes. There will be no flinching then, so none now.

That is all very well but first it would be reasonable to understand precisely what sort of batsman Panesar is expected to become. He is not, overnight, going to be transformed as if it was a Trinny and Susannah makeover. So consider what is on offer from England's current nine, 10 and jack. There is Hoggard's doggedness - he scores few runs but needs to be prised out with a crowbar. Harmison and Jones, on the other hand, are much more naturally gifted, can play more exotic strokes and, if we are honest, more should be expected of them.

Of the three it is Hoggard who would be the role model. The beginning was not promising: as his first Test came to a resounding climax he sat on the Lord's balcony, last man in, and almost chewed through his bat handle. Fortunately, with hindsight, he was not required. Contrast that with the fellow who last summer, with a Test and therefore the Ashes in the balance, strode purposefully to the Trent Bridge crease, told his partner Ashley Giles "let's you and me get this thing done" and then duly did. It came about through diligence, hard work and having a game plan. "A man has to know his limitations," as Clint Eastwood says in Magnum Force. So he cocks forward to the straight ones, ducks the bouncer and flags it through when it is wide. It is not much to ask but few men of his capabilities have done better for England.

If Panesar has a ticker - and we will find out soon - he will be able to match that, impress Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan and bring additional value to the side. It will be up to him. But, if he wants further proof of what he could contribute to cement a career, he should consider Glenn McGrath. Over the course of his distinguished career he averages only around eight, not hugely different from Tufnell's five or Malcolm's six, but statistics, like bikinis, conceal as well as reveal. Perhaps cricket should introduce a new statistic, the "assist", a reflection of partnerships. Then ask yourself which of those three you might want in a crisis. Even Paris Hilton could answer that one.

First Published: Feb 25, 2006 13:20 IST