Cricket: Panesar grasps his chance

By Nick Hoult

Erratic spin bowler thought his England career was over

Monty Panesar plans to make the most of his return for England against Australia. Photo / AP
Monty Panesar plans to make the most of his return for England against Australia. Photo / AP

Monty Panesar prepared for the Boxing Day test by admitting he thought his England career was over last summer.

He will have the chance to establish himself as No 1 spinner again this week when he is given first crack at replacing the retired Graeme Swann.

With James Tredwell and Scott Borthwick added to the squad yesterday, Panesar already has clear rivals for Swann's place and cannot afford a bad match at the MCG.

It will be Panesar's 50th test for England in an international career which started three years before Swann's debut but looked to be over last summer when he was arrested for urinating on bouncers outside a Brighton nightclub. He called Alastair Cook personally to apologise for letting the team down but it still cost him a test cap at the Oval where Simon Kerrigan was chosen instead. England had hoped Kerrigan would stake a claim for a tour place but his debut meltdown forced them to turn again to Panesar, a player the current set-up never quite appear to trust on the big occasion.

"I thought my chance had probably gone in the summer, I thought that was it, really. Maybe I won't get another chance," he said. "I'm very lucky to be out here, got an opportunity. I just want to grab it, make the most of it, enjoy it and play the sort of cricket with a smile on my face."

Panesar did not play a test for nearly three years after England abandoned their two-spinner policy in the 2009 Ashes following the Cardiff test. He played three tests in the winter of 2012 but was left out of the final match of the series against Sri Lanka as England tired of his fielding lapses.

It is a recurring theme that England welcome back Panesar after a period of time but his teammates soon become impatient with his eccentricity and weaknesses in the field. He bowled England to success in Mumbai last winter but by the end of the New Zealand series in Auckland it was clear England were becoming weary of him again.

But Panesar remains the best spin bowler in England, capable of winning tests in the right conditions and bowling with the control that allows Cook to rotate his three seamers. The emergence of Ben Stokes as an all-rounder is also a boost for Panesar because it allows England to pick five bowlers without weakening the batting.

Panesar performed well enough in Adelaide two weeks ago before being left out again in Perth, although England were never going to pick two spinners at the WACA. Since then he has played a grade match in Sydney at the weekend for Magpies West, taking one for 31 off 10 overs.

"I don't see myself as the No 1 spinner or anything like that. I see this as an opportunity and I have to get my bowling in good rhythm, better than I did at Adelaide. I didn't feel I bowled at my best there. There were a few opportunities that could have gone my way and my confidence might have been back. I'm hoping to get some good rhythm here and hopefully string some good overs together."

Telegraph Group Ltd

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