Sunday, July 30, 2006

Monty Panesar

At the beginning of the month I did a post celebrating unassuming achievement in sport. My achievers were Joost Posthuma, Zinedine Zidane, and Floyd Landis, all, in my view, a little less impressed with themselves and their achievements than the usual super atheletes. Each having, I felt, an ability to keep a sense of realistic perspective. As Emerson might see it, I thought they possessed a strength of character sufficient for genuine humility.

As the world knows, Zidane got red-carded in the final game of the World Cup for his violent reaction to what seems to have been particularly vicious name-calling. He deserved the red card. We may never know whether the head-butting was a dramatic self-assertion (on behalf of an exploited minority population), just a breakdown in his self-control, or a combination of the two.

Likewise who does not know that Landis tested positive for a banned substance after his most dramatic win of the Tour -- one of the most dramatic comebacks of any Tour? He says the test is wrong. Months will elapse before we can expect a conclusion to this controversy and we may never know for sure whether the authorities or the athelete are right. I'm rooting for exoneration, but I actually don't know how likely it is that the test could be wrong.

Joost hasn't been linked with any untoward events since I wrote about him. He isn't in the same league as the other two: extremely good at what he does but not dominant; so we've yet to see him tested as they obviously were.

I thinking of adding another sports figure to the group: Monty Panesar.

The British press is ecstatic about him. Together with Steve Harmison, he's responsible for humbling the Pakistan cricket team in the second Test of the current Test series between England and Pakistan in England. For example Scyld Berry, writing for the Telegraph: "After downward-spiralling in the first half of the summer, English cricket is on the way back up. In little more than 100 overs they twice dismissed Pakistan, with their daunting batting line-up, to win the second Test by an innings and 120 runs in well inside three days" {source: Deadly duo irresistible}. The writer at Cricinfo adds: "Even though Steve Harmison grabbed 11 wickets and the Man-of-the-Match award, it was Monty Panesar who grabbed the media attention."

There's an interview with him behind the paywall at The Independent which suggests why he might qualify as one of my unassuming achievers. It begins
Monty Panesar: Devoted modern pro with just a hint of the mystic; Stephen Fay talks to an unlikely cult hero. Published: 23 July 2006

No cricketer works harder, few have a better rapport with the fans, even fewer use yoga.

Climbing out of his silver VW Chelsea tractor, Monty Panesar is the image of a successful athlete. He is well built, over six foot, strong in the shoulders and thighs. The odd thing is that he looks more the part off the field than on it, where his movements can look nervous and uncoordinated.

He is a thoughtful, sympathetic 24-year-old English Sikh who has inherited a zest for yoga because it helps to create a state of mind in which his bowling action can become a model of consistency, and he can acquire the patience required of an English orthodox left-arm spinner. And no one tries harder on the field than Panesar.

{photo credit: The Independent}

The cricket press in India has more to say about him:
Panesar made his debut against India during England's last visit and has the distinction of scalping Sachin Tendulkar for his first Test wicket. But ever since, the British cricket establishment has been ambivalent about his place in the side, mainly on the ground that he needed to improve his fielding and batting skills.

But after Saturday's performance, experts were unanimous that his place in the side can no longer be in question. His focussed and hard-working approach to cricket and his exuberance every time after taking a wicket has endeared him to many, on and off the field.

The Barmy Army - as the diehard supporters of England cricket are known - has taken to him in a big way. 'Monty, Monty, give us a wave', they chanted as the unassuming Panesar went about his cricket with almost a shy smile on his bearded visage.

Every time he would return to his fielding place on the boundary after completing an over, the crowd would cheer him lustily. When he returned to his place after taking the fifth wicket in Pakistan's second innings, the crowd bowed in admiration, representing a new high in the history of cricketers of Indian origin playing for England. {Extracts from: Monty Panesar is toast of England, by Prasun Sonwalkar, Indo-Asian News Service; Sunday July 30, 09:24 AM}

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