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Peter Hayter column – We’re in need of smoothie talking Monty…

I’m not a great fan of smoothies, but the concoction Monty Panesar recently served up to his 148,000 Twitter followers seemed even less of a treat for the taste buds than your usual fruit juice in disguise.

“Hi guys,” the former England left-arm spinner told us via video-selfie from his kitchen, sporting a skin tight training top and questionable shorts: “Today we’re going to talk about my breakfast and I’ve got a really good recipe.

“You get a cup full of kale, some chopped-up celery, and a handful of spinach. You can use pears or bananas. Today we are using apples. Then you’ve got the option of using some coconut water or just normal water. Then you squeeze half a fresh lemon. Tighten the lid, give it a good mix and away you go.”

Wisely, perhaps, he left that part to the imagination, though that applies to very little else he has filmed and broadcast himself doing in the past couple of weeks.

There is the obligatory “What’s in my cricket bag” feature. Not much, actually, except three pads (even he asks, “why three?”) and a bundle of whites that need to get to the washing machine right now.

He takes us to lunch in an Italian restaurant with his mum, “my fairy godmother”.

Like all fairy godmothers, she’s having pasta. He’s having goat’s cheese.

The first of a series of filmed workouts reveals him jogging between cones, something he subsequently describes as sprint training but which, to the untrained eye, appears about as strenuous as opening a packet of crisps. Then there is an uphill run which must cover at least 30 yards.

Later sessions, supervised by a personal trainer and pro boxer named Manny, are more like it, as he is seen putting his back and recovering shoulder into some serious weights, and, just to make sure, though, he is also seen receiving physio on the same shoulders from two separate therapists – “to retain elasticity”.

Movingly, we’re with him on his birthday as he takes us inside his Sikh temple in Luton, an experience that: “Gives me a chance to reflect on the good and bad times of the year, but also to connect with God. It gives me a sense of peace and makes me feel humble.”

We see him getting ready for interviews on Sikh TV, worrying about his shirt and his spectacles, handing over a box of stuff to a local charity shop for underprivileged kids, cooking again, or rather chopping onions and putting them in a pan with spinach, wishing Sachin Tendulkar a happy birthday and showing us a box of Easter eggs. Slurrppp, slurrppp, he tells us.

And there is cricket; introducing Middlesex 2nd XI coach Dave Houghton as he prepares to practise with them, sharing the screen with Nick Compton, who tells us how he has taught Monty a better class of “banter”. You may wish to draw your own conclusions.

Here he is taking part in a charity net at Lord’s with Alastair Cook, alongside whom he made his Test debut in 2006, visiting the Northamptonshire Steelbacks as they warm up for the start of the white-ball season and in full club gear in the dressing room at Luton CC, the place where it all started for him and, should his pleas for a county club to give him a gig continue to fall on deaf ears, where it may well finish for him.

In all honesty, it is hard to know what to make of all this.

True, towards the end of last year Monty was being touted as a possible contender for the next I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, so, if nothing else, these snippets may come in handy as they amount to audition pieces.

Some will dismiss them as further evidence of the eccentricity for which he has always been known and often loved, but which, as the demons descended turned into something else.

At the very least, it is heartening to see someone who, by his own admission has been through agonising mental health problems, including acute paranoia and depression that required significant levels of medication, simply to be enjoying life again.

But while that alone would represent a major victory, is it too fanciful to hope there remains a flicker of a chance that he could realise his dream of playing cricket for England again one day?

Down Under last winter, Australian cricket found a place for him, not only inviting him to play grade cricket for Cambelltown in Sydney, but also in recruiting him to help their spinners prepare for their Test tour to India, a move from which, after they had won the first Test in Pune, it was claimed match-winning left-armer Steve O’Keefe benefited hugely.

Are England so well off in the spin department that they can afford to close the book on a bowler who amassed 167 wickets in 50 Tests, took six wickets in an innings six times and six further five-fors?

With all due respect, is the best they can come up with this summer and on spin-unfriendly pitches in Australia this winter a combination of Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, the uncapped Jack Leach and the currently unpicked (by Hampshire) Mason Crane?

Is it really beyond the wit of England cricket, and of Andrew Strauss, in his role as director of England cricket, to harness what Panesar still may have to offer?

Or at least to try to?

For, no matter how much fun Monty is having in his own reality tv show right now, as things stand we are more likely to be watching him eating Witchetty grubs in the Aussie jungle next winter than probing a tight off-stump line against Steve Smith, and, all things considered, that just doesn’t seem okay.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, April 28 2017

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