Shamik Das

Friday, July 25, 2008

Give Monty a break

Flying Sikh: Monty Panesar has been dubbed the "Sikh of tweak"

WITH his grizzly beard, navy blue patka, impish smile and iron kara which glistens every time he whirrs his ten-inch hands, Monty Panesar is one of the most recognisable, and most popular, sportsmen in Britain.

At over six foot tall he is a lot bigger than people imagine, and with more than a hundred wickets at 32 runs apiece – including eight five-fors – from his 31 Tests for England his quality cannot be doubted.

The 26-year-old from Luton only made his debut in 2006 against India, bursting onto the scene in style by trapping the great Sachin Tendulkar leg before wicket for 16.

Yet every time he takes the field or strides out to the middle, there’s a strange, almost surreal atmosphere, in which the whole ground, to a man, cheer his every move, applause borne more out of sardony than respect.

At first you felt the crowds were genuinely cheering for Monty, a man nothing like any of the 630 England Test players before him, the first Sikh to play for England and the first Sikh to make it big in Britain while staying true to the symbols of faith.

But continue it did, through the Ashes, World Cup and series against Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies, India and New Zealand; he’s now played against every major cricket power.

Fast forward to the summer of 2008 and the current series against South Africa, where now, some two-and-a-half years into his international career, the novelty shows no sign of wearing off, the mocking roars as loud as ever.

High-five: Monty celebrates a wicket at the Oval

You've got to feel for the guy. Every time he fields the ball an almighty cacophony builds up, rising to a crescendo as he races round the boundary, slogging his guts out for his country, the raucous fans willing him on but secretly hoping for a fumble.

The pressure he must be under is enormous, far greater than any other fielder, and wholly undeserved, for the slip-ups and girlie throws are a thing of the past, with new England fielding coach Richard Halsall adamant that Monty can hold his own.

"His performances have been nothing short of brilliant," Halsall told the BBC's Test Match Special. "He's under almost unbelievable pressure every time he fields the ball.

"At Lord's he threw in four returns out of four right over the bails, from all corners of the ground, in the first three overs of the day.

"He works really hard at his fielding and batting, he takes a lot of pride in what he does. Without doubt he's the most improved fielder in the squad."

There you have it, straight from the horse's mouth: the merciless derision of this fine, young sportsman must stop, for the boorish antics of the beer-bellied clowns in Monty masks may one day cause him to implode.

So the next time you pop along to an England Test match or one-day international, control your urge to join in the whooping and the hollering; a smattering of polite applause when his throws ping the keeper’s gloves should suffice.

Monty's official website
Panesar's Cricinfo profile


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