x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Panesar’s fight against adversity is not over as he comes back into the Ashes squad with another promise, writes Osman Samiuddin

Panesar's fight against adversity is also to the fact that his left-arm orthodox spin is out of favour in the current phase of cricket. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
Panesar's fight against adversity is also to the fact that his left-arm orthodox spin is out of favour in the current phase of cricket. Gareth Copley / Getty Images

Panesar’s fight against adversity is not over as he comes back into the Ashes squad with another promise, writes Osman Samiuddin

It is true that we know almost nothing of men from the sportsmen they are in front of us.

They are human beings, with many layers of personality, most of which viewers will never glimpse.

But still, there is a degree of unpleasant discombobulation between the Monty Panesar urinating on nightclub bouncers in Brighton and the Monty Panesar of the cricket world.

There is no way to avoid watching the video of his chase, capture and eventual arrest and the reaction it produces is typical in an age of YouTube, reality TV.

It is must-see viewing precisely because of how pathetic it is. What has happened to Panesar?

He is in the England squad for the Ashes, but has gone from being England’s frontline spinner, the country’s most exciting spinner in generations, to becoming just the back-up to teammate Graeme Swann.

Actually, that in itself has probably not been easy for Panesar to deal with. After all, as recently as last year, when he bowled so beautifully against Pakistan in the UAE, he looked more dangerous than Swann.

And yet, what happened, despite having played a Test fewer and still finishing as England’s top wicket-taker in that series?

One indifferent Test against Sri Lanka later, he was out of the side. England brought back another pacer, but decided to keep Samit Patel in Colombo; if you are a left-arm spinner and see yourself dropped even as Samit Patel is retained to provide a left-arm spinning option, then, well, it is difficult.

To then come back so strongly – against India no less – and yet play no part in the Ashes and to be overlooked in favour of Simon Kerrigan?

His genre probably also works against him. Left-arm orthodox spin, for reasons we will never really know, is just not a sexy kind of bowling.

In some sides, during some periods, particularly in the subcontinent, it has been common to have them and they know how to handle them. They have even been celebrated.

But Australia, where Allan Border was probably the last great left-arm spinner, is the more illustrative example.

There is always something, cricket imagines, that is better than a left-arm spinner.

Multi-dimensionality has always worked against Panesar, too.

His misfortune was not that he played for England, as opposed to a subcontinent side like India, where his bowling might have been better appreciated.

It was that he played for Duncan Fletcher’s England where, if you could not recite pi to 17 decimal places as you completed a 100m egg-and-spoon race, while making a gritty 37 from No 10, then you were nothing. Panesar cannot bat, he remains an uncertain fielder and in England that makes him a third of the cricketer that he actually is.

There is another observation, and it is purely an observation made from far afar, with no claims of telling insight whatsoever into Panesar’s mind or the workings of England’s inner circle.

But every time I see Panesar play, whether or not he does well, it feels like there is a basic aspect of his sporting personality that has, even now, yet to be seen on the field.

Every now and again there is a flash in those eyes, at once soft, dozy and murderous, of another life.

Sometimes it is obvious in the stutter of his celebrations, when it feels like he wants to be more celebratory than he is being.

Something is hidden, an anger or aggression that he does not channel, or maybe it is some mischief or venom.

Maybe there is a Phil Tufnell hiding inside him that needs to come out.

Some days, you can see it in his bowling too, a quality of self-abnegation when it feels that he is doing something he needs to do rather than something he truly wants to.

England’s current bowling strategy is not an extemporary triumph and what scope there is for it belongs to Swann.

Then there is the entire Andy Flower regime, which sounds a little strait-jacketed and schoolmasterly.

Panesar described to the Daily Mail this weekend how he called each and every member of the management – that is seven different people – to apologise for the Brighton incident.

Surely one call to whoever is in charge would have been enough? He called Mushtaq Ahmed, too, who, given the high jinks of his own career, was probably surprised to be receiving an apology from a man who had not urinated on him.

Ultimately, if on the one hand it is good to know that Panesar still has some place in England’s plans, on the other, knowing that and him not being right at the core of those plans is an uneasy prospect.

Being on a long tour but potentially not really being there; no one can be sure whether that is a boon or bane for Panesar.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae