Ex-England spinner tells Huw Turbervill he is keen to put reality TV on hold
Monty Panesar has batted away offers of ski jumps and witchetty grubs as he is desperate for a final crack at cricket.
Channel 4’s The Jump wanted the spin bowler to try his hand at winter sports, and there has been talk of a spell on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
Panesar has been wintering down under instead, however, playing grade cricket and coaching Australia’s spinners, helping Steve O’Keefe to success in India.
After surgery on his left shoulder, he admits that last summer’s comeback with Northamptonshire came too quickly. He struggled in two Championship games, at home to Essex and Worcestershire.
It was a far cry from his Test glory days, including 23 wickets in four Tests against West Indies in 2007, and 11 for 210 against India at Mumbai in November 2012. The 34-year-old has insisted he can recapture his old form, however, which saw him take 167 wickets in 50 Tests at 34.71 apiece.
He has been playing for Campbelltown-Camden District CC in Sydney, and says the ball has been coming out well. He took a four-for in one of his last matches before he returned to England in the middle of March; he also opened the bowling in T20s, and was economical in 50-over matches. He wants to play for a county in all three forms of the game.
Asked about the shoulder injury, he told The Cricketer: “My bowling is pretty much there. Throwing, I can do 40 to 50 metres, but that is taking me a bit longer. I am looking to do pre-season with Northants. I will have to see how I perform, and how I fit into their plans. The injury has improved massively since those two games. I bowled far too early. I was not ready at all in May. I should have waited until June. That set me back massively.
“If Northants cannot offer me anything, hopefully I can trial with some counties. I will be really proactive. I will play for any county. I am happy to return to one I have already played for [Sussex and Essex]. If I can get it right this year I can go on for a few more years. I’m hungry for it.”
Beyond that there is the possibility of a coaching career. Panesar spent a couple of days in Brisbane at Australia’s centre of excellence, working with O’Keefe, Nathan Lyon and Matt Renshaw.
Fellow slow left-armer O’Keefe seemed to be inspired, taking 6 for 35 in both innings of the first-Test win at Pune.
“I told Steve to be adaptable in India,” said Panesar. “Don’t wait until lunch or tea to see how you are bowling on the laptop. Ask the coach to relay info to you via the 12th man. Steve is good at taking the initiative. I advised him to go slightly wider of the crease to right-handers, but technically he is very good. He braces over his front leg and has quick arm speed; that allows him to get good revs and drift and has helped him get all those lbws and slip catches. I knew he was reliable, but in India he has become a Mercedes!”
So why did O’Keefe and Lyon fare better than Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid in India before Christmas? “People forget how experienced Lyon is. He has more front-line exposure than Moeen. Lyon has been allowed to concentrate more on the red-ball game. In England we switch from the longer game to 50-over and T20 more. Rashid is learning and needs time.”
Panesar has also been coaching Campbelltown-Camden’s under-16s and 21s, and organising first-grade nets. “When I did my Level 3 coaching I learnt it’s all about getting to know the player. One 17-year-old I coached bowled well one week then not so well the next. We had a 30-minute chat and I found out he was nervous about his driving test! It’s all about getting to know the player, even the elite ones. This is the rugby league capital of Australia, so I find out which team they support. I’ll even ask them what their favourite ice cream is.”
He seems at ease with past mental-health issues. He did not make a fortune from cricket, enjoying a central contract for only two years. He has been commentating on Fox, and has appeared on a breakfast radio show. Reality TV could be lucrative, but for now must wait. “I guess they think I’m quite a funny person if they are asking me,” he said. “I could eat witchetty grubs – just close your eyes and swallow!”