Monty Panesar was, incredibly, dropped from the England side for the first two Ashes Tests. While he was away he was prematurely lauded as England’s saviour. Remarkably, though, his endeavours on his first day of Ashes cricket more than merited the hype.
Ashley Giles deserves enormous credit for his generous applause after each of Panesar’s dismissals. But the fact remains that it is scandalous he was ever selected on this tour. Giles has experience, spirit and is what Duncan Fletcher would call a ‘multi-dimensional cricketer’. He is the sort of player always described as “doing a job” and one of his virtues is deemed to be that “he won’t let anyone down”. His mediocre, though generally tidy, bowling had a place when England’s pace attack was at its peak, and he contributed well with the bat and in the gully. But his efforts were put into perspective by Panesar’s efforts, while Giles is currently not even fully fit.
Giles’ batting has improved to the extent that he has averaged 24 over his last 15 Tests. This is testament to his invaluable contributions from number eight, though, tellingly, he has only passed 32 twice in his last 26 innings. He almost invariably contributes, but very rarely makes a huge impact with the bat. His fielding has regressed as his injuries and age take their toil; but, most significantly of all, his bowling is a shadow of its former self. In his last 13 Tests, his bowling has yielded just 23 wickets at 63. Any argument over the Warwickshire player’s merits must end there.
What Panesar brings to the side, beside considerable turn, flight, bounce and pace, is an infectious enthusiasm for the game. His misdemeanours in the field must be tolerated; he is certainly progressing both here and with the bat; more pertinently, his mere presence appears to lift morale in a manner which solid, dependable Giles cannot.
Panesar has impressed greatly in his ability to cope with onslaughts. Ricky Ponting promised Australia’s batsmen would attack him. The end result was Panesar was considerably more expensive – 3.83 an over against a Test economy rate prior to this game of 2.58 – but recorded better overall figures than anyone dared to dream. The passage of spell in which Andrew Symonds attacked Panesar was enthralling; was I alone in being confident throughout of England’s cult hero coming through?
Taking five wickets on the opening day of a Test match is a phenomenal achievement for any spinner. For a man who was risibly England’s second-choice spinner when the series began to do so merely highlights the folly of the selection policy that saw him omitted from the first two Tests. We can only wonder what might have been.
History will rank Giles’ selection over the Luton-born spinner on a par with Nasser Hussain’s decision to insert Australia at Brisbane four years ago. But we can only live in the present; England, thanks to Panesar and the excellent Steve Harmison, have responded impressively to the Adelaide fiasco and edged the first day.
Tagged with: Monty Panesar, Ashley Giles