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Monty wins over the man on the street if not his coach

Tony Lawrence

Perhaps the Barmy Army, England's travelling band of supporters, should select the national team in future.

If the English media rumour mill is to be believed, Monty Panesar was in danger of missing the victorious second test against Pakistan at Old Trafford.

England's coach Duncan Fletcher, so the theory goes, favours feisty, all-round cricketers. Panesar may be able to bowl but he is not yet much of a bat, his fielding is comical and he ca not even celebrate properly either. Every time he takes a wicket he hops about like a disjointed new-born lamb.

In short, he does not exactly fit the Fletcher blueprint of an England cricketer.

The uncapped Jamie Dalrymple, in contrast, is just the ticket. A useful batsman, he also bowls neat off spin and fields like a tiger. Fletcher loved his nuggety attitude and intelligence when he made his debut for the England one-day side this season.

After the drawn first test against Pakistan at Lord's -- when Panesar notably failed to bowl Pakistan out on a fifth-day pitch -- Dalrymple was added to the England squad, fuelling suggestions that he might be preferred for the second.

The Barmy Army would have been furious if he had been.

They simply love Panesar, the first Sikh to play for England. He is cheered whenever he gets near the ball and sometimes, indeed, when he does not get near it at all.

"Monty, Monty, give us a wave," they chanted during the second test at Old Trafford. And he did, while managing to still look shy behind the camouflage of his bushy beard.

The Army, it seems, see something in Mudhsuden Singh Panesar, the 24-year-old from Luton's full name, that the coach does not.


Their vocal support is not based on ridicule, despite Monty's propensity to let the occasional ball between his legs or to swipe about hopefully with his bat. They think he is a rather special bowler who should be excused his other idiosyncrasies.

Fletcher must surely have come close to agreeing with them on Saturday when Monty, in his eighth England appearance, bamboozled such mighty batsmen as Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq at Old Trafford on the way to test-best figures of five for 72.

"I just tried to stay patient and not get too carried away with the way the ball was turning and bouncing," Panesar told a news conference. "I tried to keep it simple rather than go for magic balls against Pakistan, since they are very good players of spin.

"I also sometimes tried to change my pace and trajectory so as not to turn the ball so much and try to get the ball to slide on for lbws. I may have been lucky to get Inzamam (caught off his bat, then the end of his boot) but I enjoyed that one most, since he's such a top player."

Simple it may have been but England, with apologies to the likes of Ashley Giles (who is currently injured but hoping for an Ashes recall later in the year), Robert Croft and Phil Tufnell and the rest, have not had a spinner able to give the ball such a tweak for years, a handicap which has consistently hampered their ambitions away from home.

No Englishman, indeed, has bowled spin with such verve since the days of Phil Edmonds in the 1970s and 1980s and Panesar's performance on Saturday seemed particularly appropriate, 50 years to the week after Jim Laker took 19 wickets in a match against Australia on the same ground.

Panesar was beaten to the man-of-the-match award by strike bowler Steve Harmison, who took 11 for 76 in the match compared to the spinner's eight for 93.

Harmison, though, only had words for praise for his co-conspirator in a match in which no other England bowler got a wicket in the home side's innings and 120-run win.

"A lot has been said and written about Monty but he was brilliant," Harmison said.

The Barmy Army would concur.

England's most colourful fans may be noisy and loud and lacking due respect at times. But they know a good bowler when they see one, even if the England coach remains on the fence.


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