MONTY,MEDIA,SLEDGING,SOLUTIONS FROM FOOTY
MONTY Panesar will be savaged by Australian crowds, maybe even racially abused. They'll taunt him and tease him and torture him until there is nothing left but tears and a tattered patka. That is what awaits Monty Panesar, if you believe the myth being perpetuated by the English media.
But there's a problem with all of this. A rather significant one. It's complete hogwash. Makes for good headlines, though.
What is really in store for Monty? Warmth, most likely. And cheers, even if a good portion of those are of the Bronx variety, probably following a fielding effort that Benny Hill could have based an episode around. No harm in that.
Still, this isn't the message getting through to England. This week, The Sun reported that Panesar was seeing a sports psychologist " … to prepare for the Aussie hate mob". Which makes sense. Good naturedness, after all, doesn't make for saucy tabloid reading; not like a tired old stereotype, anyway.
The far more likely, if less sensational, scenario is that Panesar will become the crowd favourite of the summer. And a chat with England's rookie spinner during the week only reinforced this notion, first forged over the English summer, during which he artfully spun his way though the Sri Lankan and Pakistani batting line-ups - and clumsily offered them reprieves in the field.
When Panesar talks, it's with modesty bordering on the apologetic. When he bowls, it's with the flight and aggression that inevitably makes for engrossing contests; the kind of attacking spinner Australians admire. And when he fields and bats, he does so with the earnestness-to-skill ratio that once made Eric Moussambani the toast of the Sydney Olympic pool. In other words, Panesar is a wave to the crowd away from becoming the ultimate cult hero in Australia.
What, then, to make of his traumatic stints on the leather couch, rocking back and forth in the foetal position, with Steve Bull, England's team psychologist?
"He has spoken to us generally about what happens on a tour," Panesar told the Herald. "It hasn't been anything in-depth and has been pretty light-hearted."
But isn't he losing sleep over the prospect of playing before the "Aussie hate mob", most of whom commute from Ramsay Street to cricket stadia on roo-back and leer menacingly from behind cork-dangling swagman's hats? All to the tune of Locomotion?
"In general, I look to take energy from crowds that are passionate about cricket," he continued. "When you're in front of huge crowds, it's obviously a big motivation. I hope that most people in Australian cricket support the game in the right way. No one wants to see things that aren't right in the sport. In India, the crowds were big with a lot of people very passionate about the game. I hope it will be like that."
Hmmm. Not quite the angst-ridden response Fleet Street had you primed for.
For the sensationalists, Panesar is tough work. He's too damn nice, too soft spoken. When asked his thoughts on the recent comments made by Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting, both of whom said they would target England's rookie spinner this summer, Panesar's response is disarming for its complete lack of ego.
"It's just flattering that they've heard of me," he said. "Nothing that they've said will stop me from sticking to my game plan. But they are people who have achieved so much in the game. They are world-class players, more than anything, so for them to know me is great."
Though his endearing modesty may suggest otherwise, the list of those who know Panesar doesn't begin and end with Gilchrist and Ponting. Panesar's on-field success - 27 wickets at 26.85 against a pair of teams renowned for their skill against spin - earned him household-name status last English summer and won over a once-doubting England coach, Duncan Fletcher, who went so far as to label him the best finger spinner in the world. Murali might have something to say about that, though.
But whereas his unique version of left-arm orthodox enthralled English crowds, it was Panesar's unassuming nature and often comical fielding performances that secured him cult status. And by season's end, the 24-year-old had transformed from a fringe figure to one who rivalled Andrew Flintoff for prominence, plastered across the nation's newspapers, magazines and television screens.
Suddenly, the public wanted to know more - everything, anything. About Monty the family man. About Monty the first Sikh to play cricket for England. About Monty the everyday guy who spent much of the previous pre-season working voluntarily on a Canadian farm. Monty Inc.
"It was something I really enjoyed," he said. "At every Test venue, people came in new kinds of fancy dress and wearing patkas. There was a mask of me that people could download off the web, and it was quite amazing to look up into a crowd with that looking back at you. It just goes to show that the profile of cricket is rising in this country."
Of course, with reputation comes expectation. And Panesar, with just 10 Tests to his name, now stands to play a leading role in the most anticipated Ashes series in decades. "I've been lucky in the sense that I am around players who have just won the Ashes," he said. "There is a lot you can learn from their experiences. I was in Australia with the Academy team last year. The ball bounces more than in England.
"I'll look to gain more knowledge from guys like Ashley Giles and others who have toured Australia before and are more aware of the conditions."
And the hate mobs.