By Sam Dalling
Monty Panesar has urged the country’s slow bowlers to force themselves out of the shadows and prove they’ve got what it takes to thrive at the top level.
The success of ace new ball pairing Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Board – who between them have snared more than 1000 test wickets – has meant a bit-part role for spinners in recent years with the ball chucked their way largely at the back-end of games and on turning wickets.
And having enjoyed a prolonged, if enforced, rest over the past few months, England’s evergreen duo are shoe-ins to spearhead their country’s attack once more when the West Indies come to town next month.
But there will come a day when the country can no longer call upon the services of the veterans who can, statistically at least, count themselves amongst the world’s best of all time.
With that in mind Panesar – who lined up alongside both during his career – is desperate for the likes of Jack Leach to grab back some of the limelight, despite the temptation to take a back seat.
“I don’t think we’ll find another attack like Jimmy and Broady – they are equally good bowlers on these decks and they’ve made themselves like that,” he admitted.
“There can be that sense because we’ve got such great seamers that a spinner can hide behind them.
“A spinner can in the mind think “If I hold it tight they will come on and do the business.”
“But you’ve got to be like “No, I want to cement my spot in the team, I’m going to take most of the wickets.”
“That should be Jack Leach’s mindset. If you want to be a regular England player you’ve got to take on these responsibilities – you can’t shy away from it.”
“You’ve got to find a way to rise to the occasion, you can’t hide. You’ve got to want to lead it.”
“It’s a great feeling when a spinner produces a lovely spell and you know you’ve contributed towards a win for your country.”
Panesar himself enjoyed a stellar career in an England shirt, his half century of appearances yielding 167 victims.
Fresh from a breakthrough season with Northants in 2005, the slow left-armer was thrown in at the deep when handed a test debut by against India in Nagpur the following winter.
Not one to be phased by pressure, the man they call Monty stepped up to dismiss one of the game’s all-time greats – Sachin Tendulkar – for his maiden test wicket.
With such a high calibre of victim under his belt, an outsider may find it hard to believe that self-belief was an issue for the young spinner.
But when reflecting on his early days at the top level, Panesar has revealed how backing from the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Michael Vaughan was key in enabling him to flourish at test level.
“When I was younger I didn’t really back myself as a cricketer,” he admitted.
“Sometimes I wish I had the believe that Andrew Flintoff had – he backed me and thought I was the real deal.
“Him selecting me gave me a huge confidence boost. Michael Vaughan was brilliant as well- he just let me bowl.
“My confidence grew and I started to believe myself and think “yea I do believe in myself at this level”.
“I absolutely loved when players backed me and made me believe.
“Eventually, you’re go to the captain and telling “give me the ball, I’ll take this guy out”.
“Initially you aren’t like that but then they see a change of attitude.
“Now I’m giving the initiative and they like that. They can say “go on Monty have a go at him then.”
“That’s what people in international cricket wanted to see – they want to see that you back yourself to in any given situation to do the business.
Panesar has been out of the game since bringing down the curtain on his professional career back in 2016.
But now, at the age of 38, the former Essex and Sussex man wants to pay back the sport that helped him travel the world and realise his dreams.
The production line of quality spin bowlers – or the lack of it – has been a topic of discussion for many a year in this country.
And the man with 711 first class poles to his name wants to be on hand to help the next cabs off the ranks develop their game – whether that be as a player or as a coach.
“I’ve had time to reflect and think the ECB, my country, the fans, the people – it’s because of them I am where I am now,” he explained.
“If I didn’t have that platform there would have been no Monty Panesar.
“There’s a sense of duty to give something back and help develop cricket in this country.
“I’d love to get involved with helping the development of the younger players.
“I feel like a 30-year old, I want to play and that’s the best option.
“If I can dovetail coaching / player role – maybe a coaching consultant with the ECB that would make me feel like I’m giving directly back to the professional game.
“Maybe going around the counties and helping the younger spinners to come through.
“And afterwards Ed Smith, Ashley Giles, Joe Root feel like they’ve got a healthy selection of young spinners coming through.
“That would be amazing. That would give me a sense of satisfaction.”
It’s difficult to think of Monty and not raise a smile when remembering that infamous celebration.
The crowds adored the man from Luton not just for his wizadry with ball in hand, but also for the sheer joy every time he took a wicket in England colours.
Whether it be top order men or tail enders – and it was frequently the former – the end result was the same; up goes the finger and away wheels Panesar.
In many ways in brought supporters closer to the action, with those in the stands able to relate to that sense of jubilation they know they’d feel if doing the business for the three lions.
And the man himself has revealed that he was taught from a young age to savour those moments and teach his brain to desire more of that winning feeling.
“The celebration was important,” he said laughing.
“I was taught from a young age to celebrate your winning moments and celebrate them hard.
“It takes a long time to get there so when you get that moment just celebrate as much as you can until the next one.
“What ends up happening is your body and mind begin to recognise what a celebratory moment is.
“It’s that rush. The more you acknowledge it as a good thing, the more your body and mind recognise that they want more of it.
“Your mindset and attitude changes. It’s a great feeling and you want more of it.”