Monty Panesar: Far from relieved

It is usually difficult to manage the transformation from being a hard-working domestic player to a big-earning international cricketer. Panesar may have become part of careers which have been doomed due to this.

Updated: August 22, 2013 12:06 IST
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There are few worse sights in cricket than a player who has undeniable talent and a proven track record falling apart. History is littered with instances of some truly gifted players losing their way, for one reason or another.

The phenomenon is not limited to one country or culture and seems to be species neutral in that fast bowlers, spinners, batsmen and wicketkeepers are all equally susceptible to the affliction. (Related read: Monty Panesar's marriage ends after secret divorce: report)

The most common cause is a young player being unable to deal with the trappings of success. From being a hard-working performer in domestic cricket, the step up to the next level brings money, which can be managed by specialists, fame, which is irresistible to all but a few, and new friends, who are often attracted not to the player himself but how well he is doing. To come undone at this stage is remarkably easy, but, given that this usually happens when a player is fairly young, there is often the chance to get back on the rails.

The second thing that has derailed many careers is the inability to deal with failure. After being the best among peers over the years, from school ground to age-group cricket to first-class cricket, a player suddenly finds he is a small fish in a vast ocean in international cricket. All of a sudden a player's best is not good enough, and this leaves him with feelings of helplessness and despair that make the situation worse.

While dealing with success and failure are fairly well documented, and this is easier said than done, how does one deal with rejection?

It is not uncommon for players to curse their luck at not being selected, and this leads to blame being apportioned and a lack of introspection that can be lethal to the development of the player in question.

To see what Monty Panesar has gone through over the last month or so has been less than edifying. While there was always something of a manic gleam in Panesar's eyes as he charged around the outfield after picking up a wicket, or taking a catch that stunned him more than the opposition, there were no outward signs to suggest that his career would come unstuck in such a public manner. (Also read: Panesar has let England down, says Alastair Cook)

When your columnist first met Panesar, he was in India on an England under-19 tour in 2001. Panesar was comfortably outbowled by the other young spinner on that tour, Robert Ferley, also a slow left-armer, who played a bit for Kent but never really made the cut at higher levels. Also in that group was Ian Bell, whose career graph has been steady, if unspectacular. Panesar was shredded by the young Indian batsmen on that tour and, by the time it ended, the best thing he could have got out of it was meeting his idol, Bishan Bedi.

Since then, Panesar has had to work hard for every little success that came his way. With Duncan Fletcher believing that every cricketer must have at least two skills with which he could contribute, life became difficult for Panesar, whose batting and fielding were never likely to help him across the line.

The emergence of Graeme Swann as England's No. 1 spinner - and he can crack a cover drive as well as anyone else along with being a safe slip fielder - meant that the only way Panesar would play Test cricket was if England fielded two spinners in the XI. While that was likely to happen on subcontinental (or Emirati) dust bowls, the majority of England's Test cricket would be played on pitches that did not warrant the inclusion of two specialist spinners. Even when England came to India last year, Panesar was considered surplus to requirement in the first Test, at Ahmedabad, the only game England would lose in the four-match series.

When he did play, in the India series, Panesar was the most compelling bowler on either side. His pace through the air perfectly suited the conditions, and, when the ball gripped the surface, it turned quickly and genuinely beat batsmen brought up on a heavy diet of slow bowling. With 17 wickets from three Tests, Panesar compared favourably against Pragyan Ojha and Swann, who both had 20 wickets from four Tests. Since that series, Panesar has managed three Tests, away against New Zealand, thanks mainly to the fact that Swann was injured and unavailable.

While Panesar clearly has issues to sort out - people who are well rounded and comfortable in their skin do not generally urinate on nightclub bouncers - the fact remains that life has not been particularly easy for him. From being a promising symbol of the British Asian community's impact on English cricket, the smiling sardar from Luton has become the butt of unfortunate jokes.

If Panesar asked himself why being exceptionally good at a delicate art, and working hard at it, was not good enough to secure him a place in the England Test team, and with it the career he desires, it would not be completely self indulgent. If Panesar asks himself whether it was fair that the last home Test of his 48-Test career came some four years ago, it would not be totally out of place.

For impassionate outsiders, the answer is fairly obvious: life isn't always fair and you don't always get what you deserve. But telling Panesar that at this stage would be cruel, and only inviting similar treatment to what was meted out to those unfortunate bouncers.

At 31, Panesar is at the age when spinners are traditionally at their best, in terms of skill. When he should be making the most of his experience and harvesting wickets, Panesar finds himself in a position of having to rebuild his career. If, at this juncture, the system, administrators, fellow players and fans choose to laugh at Panesar rather than help him back into the fold, the joke will not be on the spinner, but the game itself.

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