There seems to be a consensus currently that Monty Panesar is treading on thin ice. That if he doesn't perform in India he should be dropped. That his record against India is poor and that Swann might do a better job. There is some sense in these views and evidence to back them up. However, I would contend that Panesar is still a top Test spinner, whose best years are certainly yet to come, and that England would be insane to drop him.
I have read numerous articles of late that suggest Panesar had an average summer for England and that his powers are waning. Having watched virtually every delivery of the series against South Africa I would refute this charge very strongly. Panesar, like all the bowlers in the series, was asked to toil on some very batting friendly pitches. This he did, ending up the third highest wicket-taker in the series, with the second best average and and excellent economy rate.
But for some very negative batting by South Africa, dropped catches, missed stumpings and atrocious umpiring Panesar could easily have ended the series with twice the number of wickets and a match-winning haul in the decisive third Test. That he didn't is the nature of cricket, but to accuse him of having an average series is grossly unfair.
It is fact that Panesar's record against India is poor. They have been his toughest opposition in his short Test career - the only team to force his average above 38, raising it to a massive 55. This is a huge hike when compared to his overall Test average of 31.95. However, it is worth remembering that the 6 matches Panesar has played against India included his first ever Test series, in India, and a home series that was dominated by the bat. In that series in England only seamer friendly conditions at Trent Bridge allowed either team to force a result, with India winning it and the series (1-0).
It is fair to say that Panesar has struggled against India, but he is not alone in that. A certain Shane Warne has a record little better against the Indians. Over 14 Tests versus India, Warne managed to take just 43 wickets at an awful average of 47.18, with an economy rate of 3.10 and a strike rate of 91.2. The great leg spinner only managed one 5 wicket haul against India, despite his constant attacking.
The truth is India play spin brilliantly. They are nurtured against slow bowlers, mastering the required technique, even when playing the best, such as Warne and Murali (whose average in India is just 39.58). To expect a finger spinner such as Panesar to do better in India than the likes of Warne and Muralitharan is madness. Yet, it seems that that is what Monty must do if he is to retain his Test place according to many critics.
Surely, it is better to expect Panesar to bowl as well as he can and hope that in doing so he helps England to perform well in what is traditionally their second toughest tour. Without the pressure of unrealistic expectations Monty might just surprise everyone and get the better of India's spin masters.