Panesar revels in England recall
It has been a long road from the valleys to the desert, but Monty Panesar kept the faith and claimed just reward with his 40th Test cap for England today.
There was a wicket too, albeit at the second time of asking, in 33 overs of toil for the 29-year-old slow left-armer on day one of the second Test at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann did most of the damage with the ball, sharing the other six wickets between them as Pakistan laboured to 256 for seven after winning the toss and choosing to bat first on a surface which, as expected, favoured spin over seam.
But had James Anderson clung on to a sharp catch at slip off Panesar, Misbah-ul-Haq’s unbeaten 83 would have been a mere 30.
That miss was the most costly of four by England, yet they could still be content with their efforts as they seek to battle back in this second match of three after their defeat in Dubai last week.
Panesar, back in the Test fold for the first time since July 2009 - when he played such a heroic role with bat rather than ball to salvage a hugely-significant last-ditch Ashes draw in Cardiff, had particular reason to be cheerful.
He admitted he was delighted, if a little tense, after learning of his involvement just a few minutes before the toss.
“I only found out this morning. I was really excited, and the nervous energy started to build up,” he said.
“I was a little bit nervous, making my second debut after being out of the team for such a long time.”
The anticipation of impending fulfilment may have been too much, had he been told 24 hours earlier.
“I might have been awake all night, trying to practise my action in front of the mirror - so it avoided me doing that,” added Panesar, who is especially thankful to England spin-bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed for setting him on the path - via Sussex from Northamptonshire - which has resulted in his Test return.
“When you’re out of the team you can get frustrated, and ‘Mushy’ kept that self-belief going.
“There are times when self-doubt does creep in and you think, ‘Is it ever going to happen?’. You’re not human if you don’t get that when you’re out of the England team.
“You need good coaches, good people around you to help you get through that - and that’s why Sussex is a really good place for me. I just kept on going and waited for an opportunity, and today I got one.”
Panesar did not sweat too long either for that first wicket back. But he did have to keep his cool, having dropped a return chance before bowling Mohammad Hafeez with his very next delivery.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Maybe I need to do a bit more caught-and-bowled practice ...’,” he said.
“I should have taken it. But then the next ball, I think I meant to do that - where you hit the leather, and it skids on.”
Panesar has a familiar ally to bowl with, his old Northamptonshire team-mate Swann having made such a name for himself for England.
“I was delighted to bowl in tandem with my spin twin, Swanny,” he said.
“I’m enjoying that - ball spinning away, ball turning in creates quite a lot of pressure among different batsmen - and we help each other. It can be very effective. We see each other as partners.”
But what of that moment when Misbah’s edge slipped through Anderson’s grasp?
Panesar is mature enough these days to know that top players simply cannot allow such setbacks to get to them.
“These kind of things happen,” he said. “He’s obviously batted well, and you’ve just got to put these things behind you and not let it affect you.
“I’ve been there before, where catches have been dropped, and frustration comes into your game. But not this time.”