Thursday 27 September 2007 

Monty Panesar - Monty's Turn: Taking My Chances

Monty Panesar has become one of England’s most recognisable and popular sportsmen. It is difficult to believe that it is only 18 months since he made his international debut in a Test match against India in Nagpur. His exuberant wicket-taking celebrations and mostly missed high fives and his obvious passion for the game, have made him a cult hero with fans. He was one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year for 2007 and ICC rankings put him joint sixth among bowlers in the world.

Monty was born in Luton in 1982, and brought up in Stopsley. His father, who moved to England from the Punjab region of North-West India in the 1970s, worked night shifts at the Vauxhall car plant but now runs his own business.

As a child Monty was more interested in swimming and football and only picked up a cricket bat at the age of 9. Hitu Naik who worked in the same factory as his father started Sunday morning coaching sessions and he has had a huge influence on Monty’s cricketing life. Once Monty picked up the basics he was hooked. His boyhood hero was Sachin Tendulkar. Monty played for the Luton Indians, a club he still supports today, and also joined Dunstable CC. His first break came when he was selected for Bedfordshire Under-13s. They saw him first and foremost as a bowler so his batting and fielding suffered and he’s had to work at both ever since. Monty was educated at Stopsley High School and he still supports Luton Town and Arsenal. He won a sports scholarship to Loughborough where he studied computing and management and was coached by Graham Dilley. He was the youngest player ever to represent Bedfordshire at senior level at the age of 16. He didn’t have a kit bag but used any old plastic bag for his kit and carried his bat in his other hand. But he cared passionately about winning and used to get depressed if they lost. ‘Sometimes I forgot that I was a human being first and a cricketer second.’

He was selected for the England Under-19s under Ian Bell as captain and was selected for the Under-19 winter tour to India . It was a huge learning curve and he was taken aback by the massive interest from the Indian media. One of the highpoints was meeting Bishan Bedi. He describes feeling the weight of history when he first played at Lord’s in a Combined Universities side and was amazed when Nick Cook told him he’d been selected for the England Academy squad to go to Australia where Rod Marsh ran the fitness programme; it made him realise ‘what bowling spin is all about.’

In his book Monty discusses influences that coaches and players have had on his career, from Kepler Wessels at Northamptonshire and Duncan Fletcher to David Parsons and Peter Moores, and he discusses the captaincy styles of Vaughan, Strauss and Flintoff ‘a Roman gladiator in the way he was always there in the front – and always there at your side’.

2005 was his breakthrough season with his Test debut for England in India. He couldn’t believe that not only would he be bowling to his childhood heroes Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid but that he would take Tendulkar’s wicket – his first in Test cricket. He talks about his bowling technique, the great bowlers of the world like Munaf Patel and Anil Kumble and the uniqueness of Muralitharan, the impact of England’s Ashes performance on county cricket and what it was like to be the first Sikh to play for any other country apart from India.

Monty follows the normal principles of Sikhism. He has never eaten meat, tasted alchohol or cut his hair. Religion has always been part of his life and he is proud to wear at patka when he plays cricket.

At Lord’s Monty was given his first Test bowl in England to tremendous support from the crowd. His tally of five wickets for 92 runs on his opening appearance in the 3rd Test in the 2006-7 Ashes Test secured his place in the nation’s affections and Monty Mania began. At one match every time he switched from long leg to third man the crowd cheered. Nicknames abound including The Turbanator, Monty Panadol and Bambi on Ice – a comment on the way he runs. At the Headingley Test he became aware of the crowd wearing Monty masks for the first time and a clothing manufacturer produced a T-shirt for female fans that said MmmmmmMonty.

In his book, Monty takes a look at his extraordinary and rapid rise to stardom. He writes: ‘The Oval was my twentieth Test appearance for England. I still wonder how it has happened to a boy who basically learnt to play the game on a park.’

PUBLICATION DETAILS

Publication Date: 4th October 2007
Publishers: Hodder & Stoughton
Price: £18.99 (Hardback)

AUTHOR DETAILS

Monty Panesar: Player Profile