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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
Why we love Monty
By Martin Gough

Panesar applauded by the Old Trafford crowd
Panesar gained plaudits for his performance at Old Trafford
All was doom and gloom for England this summer until their victory over Pakistan at Old Trafford.

And while Steve Harmison took the man of the match award for his 11-wicket haul, Monty Panesar shared the limelight after setting up the victory with five key wickets.

With Andrew Flintoff on the sidelines, Panesar has taken over as the focus of affection for England fans.

Now Panesar is one of the top five contenders to follow Flintoff as BBC Sports Personality of the Year, listed by some bookies at 10-1. This is why:

FIGURE OF FUN TURNS FULL-BLOWN TALENT

With his distinctive appearance and a few high-profile fielding gaffes, Panesar quickly gained a cult following at English Test grounds.

When I go to fine leg or come on to bowl, the fans seem to follow that

Monty Panesar
His legend started when he dropped a catch on the final day of England's Test victory in Mumbai, fortunately making amends just balls later.

By the first match of the summer, good natured cheers accompanied every instance of Panesar running as if in treacle in the outfield.

But what has really made the difference is his success with the ball, with two five-wicket hauls in the last three matches, the first against Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge.

ENGLAND NEEDED AN ATTACKING SPINNER

No English spinner has taken 10 or more wickets in a match since Phil Tufnell, another cult hero, ran through the Australia line-up at The Oval in 1997.

Ashley Giles has led the England attack on occasion - he was the leading wicket-taker in the series against West Indies two summers ago.

He's got this lovely looping flight and his change of pace is very good

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer
More regularly, though, Giles has been used in support of a four-pronged pace attack, used to contain batsmen while the faster men reap the rewards.

With Flintoff absent, the onus has grown on Panesar to take wickets, and he has stepped up in impressive fashion, with 10 Pakistani victims at an average of 24.6 so far.

GETS GOOD PLAYERS OUT

He dismissed Indian superstars Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid on Test debut at Nagpur and Panesar's tendency to take key wickets has continued.

TOP VICTIMS BY ICC RANKING
2. Rahul Dravid (Ind)
4. Mohammad Yousuf (three times) (Pkn)
6. Inzamam-ul-Haq (Pkn)
8. Kumar Sangakkara (SL)
21. Sachin Tendulkar (Ind)
44. Sanath Jayasuriya (SL)
Mohammad Yousuf has fallen to the left-armer three times so far - on the only occasion he escaped, the batsman made 202 at Lord's.

Harmison wrapped up the Old Trafford match but it was Panesar who starred around the lunch break, with the key wickets of Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq.

Yousuf was stumped off the first ball after lunch after being lured into an ugly grope and beaten by just enough turn.

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was particularly impressed, saying: "He's got this lovely looping flight and his change of pace is very good."

"He's got a very good arm ball and bowls at a very good pace so people find it difficult to come down the pitch to him."

ENGLISH CRICKET'S FIRST ASIAN SUPERSTAR

For the last decade, whenever England have played one of the powers from the subcontinent, critics asked why there were no Asian stars in the side.

Former captain Nasser Hussain has continually down-played his Indian heritage, although he was born in Madras.

Spinner Min Patel (1996) and batsman Aftab Habib (1999) lasted two Tests each and both Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali are one-day specialists.

Finally Panesar, the first Sikh to play for England, is a high-profile representative of the more than two million UK residents with roots in cricket-playing countries in Asia.

It is yet another small step, but a significant one, as England strive to be seen as all-inclusive and forward-looking.

YOUTHFUL ENTHUSIASM

If you took a wicket in Test cricket, how would you react?

Panesar celebrates
Panesar's wicket celebration is one of youthful exhuberance
Probably in a similar way to Monty Panesar, who flutters his arms as he leaps up and down in apparent disbelief.

Panesar's whole-hearted enjoyment of the Test stage has endeared him to fans at the grounds and TV viewers.

Off the field he is softly spoken, quite reticent and very difficult to tempt into a quotable quote but he has taken success and celebrity status calmly and confidently.

"I guess people do follow whatever I'm doing," he told BBC Radio Five Live.

"When I go to fine leg or come on to bowl, the fans seem to follow that.

"I guess you enjoy it but also focus on what you need to do for the team."

HE COULD HELP WIN THE ASHES

Although Giles played a vital role with the bat, scoring the winning runs at Trent Bridge, his bowling during the last Ashes series brought 10 wickets at 57.80 runs each.

England prospered through aggressive pace bowling on wickets that were generally helpful but this winter Adelaide and Sydney are both likely to favour spin.

Giles and Simon Jones - who took 18 wickets in four Ashes Tests in 2005 - are both serious injury doubts for the rematch in Australia.

And after inconsistent displays by Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood, Panesar is the only bowler brought in as a replacement who could keep his place even if the first choice-players return.


One person who doesn't love Monty

Amid the celebrations on Saturday and the plaudits for Panesar, there was one cold voice of reason, that of coach Duncan Fletcher.

He's doing a job for us because there's no-one else at the moment who can fulfil that role

Duncan Fletcher
Fletcher, thought to have supported Jamie Dalrymple's candidacy for a Test debut, places massive importance on the batting and fielding skills of his bowlers.

"I think Monty is a very good bowler, but we have to produce 11 players who can produce two of the departments efficiently, whoever is playing for England.

"I still have slight reservations about his batting and his fielding," he said.

"But he's an outstanding bowler and doing a job for us because there's no-one else at the moment who can fulfil that role."

But is it better to have a bowler who can make 20-odd runs and take a handful of wickets, or one who might score less runs but who could potentially dismantle an entire battling line-up almost by himself?

During warm-ups on each morning of a Test match Panesar clearly spends extra time working on his fielding.

His batting is better than commonly perceived - witness his 26 against Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge.

And while he keeps taking wickets, he makes up for weaknesses in other parts of his game.



PAKISTAN SQUAD GUIDE
 

SEE ALSO
Pakistan in England 2006
27 Jun 06 |  Future tour dates
Live cricket on the BBC
19 Apr 06 |  Cricket
Woolmer tips Panesar to be great
30 Jul 06 |  England
Panesar does family proud
01 Mar 06 |  England


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