Monty Panesar made his England debut in India in 2006. His grandparents, who lived in Ludhiana, were eager to see him play. They were especially curious about the left-arm spin he was famous for. His grandfather Hari Singh said, “He’s a bowler and we are more keen to see him bowl. His batting will no doubt come in the later order.”
Three years on, the situation has changed. It is Monty the Batsman who is the star. Panesar’s entertaining, but gutsy survival as the last man in the first Test in Cardiff was the turning point of the series that England won 2-1. Yes, at the Oval in the decisive Test, there was Stuart Broad’s spell, Jonathan Trott’s hundred on debut and the Flintoff slingshot throw to run Ricky Ponting out. But if not for Panesar braving 35 balls, 35 bullets, England would not have been in contention in the first place.
India have been a crick in the Australian neck for over a decade. In 1998, Sachin Tendulkar gave Shane Warne nightmares with assaults on his leg spin. Even canfuls of baked beans and Vegemite could not help Warne. In 2001, VVS Laxman’s 281 changed his initials forever from ‘Vangipurappu Venkata Sai’ to ‘Very Very Special’. Rahul Dravid was a barrier that the Kangaroos could never leap over. Sourav Ganguly wormed into their heads with his gamesmanship. Now another man with an Indian connection—Mudhsuden Singh Panesar, the first Sardar to play for England—has filled up their urn of woe. That too with an unlikely weapon. Panesar defeating the Aussies with a bat was like a robber pulling off a bank heist with a rolling pin.
There are innings when the number of deliveries faced is more important than the number of runs scored, and Panesar’s was such an innings. Thirty-one of the 35 balls he faced were dot balls. The runs were important, agreed. Without them, England would not have overtaken the Australian score and made them bat again, thus buying more time. But this was a situation where the primary objective was survival.
Australia and India are the two bullies of cricket. Australia for their cricketing might and arrogance, and India for their money. Other nations like to see them lose. Australia have fallen. India should not. For that, they must learn from the Panesar example and make their tail-enders spend more time batting. Even for bowlers, cricket is a batsman’s game.