Monty Panesar is a “luxury” England can afford as they seek a historic series victory in India.
It was Panesar, of course, who shared top billing with Kevin Pietersen in the tourists’ famous series-levelling win in Mumbai.
It will be the slow left-armer too, fresh from his career-best 11-wicket match haul there, who will be a key performer when the third Test of four gets under way here on Wednesday.
The man himself senses he is beginning to reach his true potential as an international bowler, approaching his 44th Test at the age of 30.
Panesar accepts nonetheless that many observers still query his presence, because his batting and fielding have been found wanting.
Often a resident number 11, he also put down two catches which will not be easily forgotten during England’s drawn Test series in Sri Lanka last winter.
“I’m obviously aware that some people think I’m a bit of a luxury player... that I can’t bat and can’t field,” he said.
“I know I’m not the world’s best batter or fielder... but I have made improvements in both.”
England know too that, while Panesar works hard on his two weaker suits, he has become a major asset on sub-continental pitches tailor-made for him.
Conditions in Mumbai, in particular, were ideal as he got the ball to grip at pace — but Panesar knows he may have to adapt his skills again at Eden Gardens.
“My strengths are getting the ball to turn and bounce with pace.
“I began to understand that different pitches have optimum pace for maximum turn.
“The pace I bowled in Mumbai might not be right for Kolkata.”
Come what may next week, when England will also look to Graeme Swann for wickets again — after the off-spinner took eight at the Wankhede Stadium — Panesar will be bowling with confidence.
“Coming into the (Mumbai) Test, I felt under a lot of pressure — but the sort of pressure I love playing in.
High on confidence
“I love playing for England; I love bowling to the best batters in the world. For me to produce a performance like that, I knew I had to be at my best, so my self-belief had to be high as well.”
Having switched counties from Northamptonshire to Sussex three years ago, Panesar has also acted on the advice of former first-class wicketkeeper Neil Burns as well as specialist sports psychiatry counsel.
He believes he has become a more rounded personality, and more resourceful cricketer as a result.
“When I came into international cricket I wouldn’t speak to anyone; I wouldn’t speak to the coaches or anyone,” he said.
“Now I’m confident in speaking to the captain, the coaches and the support staff,” he added. —
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