Parsons protects Panesar
Monty Panesar has been backed to overcome his first really tough assignment in Test cricket during a spell of recuperation in India.
Left-arm spinner Panesar would have been packing his bags for New Zealand had things gone to plan but his slip from prominence in the one-day team and a disappointing return of eight Sri Lanka wickets at 50 apiece in December’s Test series altered his destination.
Instead he spent a first net session with the England Lions squad in Mumbai, ahead of combat in the Duleep Trophy.
According to the ECB performance director David Parsons, formerly England’s spin-bowling coach, it is a perfect place for the 25-year-old to rediscover confidence and hone his talents.
“It’s probably the first time he has found it really tough in Test cricket,” said Parsons, of Panesar’s travails in the Sri Lankan defeat. “And I think he will come out of it a stronger cricketer.
“He would probably admit himself he wasn’t at his best.
“He was bowling in competition with arguably the best spinner of all time and against some of the best players of spin around, in their own back yard. He found it tough; as most bowlers do.”
Expectation weighs heavy on slow bowlers on the subcontinent and Panesar - no doubt glad to see the back of Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara - will have at least two Duleep Trophy matches - India’s strong regional competition - ahead of him before heading to join his Test colleagues.
“The obvious short-term gain for him being here is to be ready for a tough Test tour of New Zealand,” said Parsons.
“Rather than him training at Northampton or Loughborough, trying to get himself into the right physical and mental condition indoors, hopefully some tough, competitive cricket gets him in really good shape.
“The longer-term benefit is getting him more experience of playing in India; we are back here for a full tour this year.
“He’s still pretty young and this will be good learning for him as the leader of the attack rather than as one of many, as he is used to with the England side.”
Despite Panesar’s obvious dip in productivity with the ball, he is undoubtedly England’s best spin prospect for a couple of generations and, promisingly, his overall return is almost identical to that of world record-holder Murali when comparing their first 23 Tests.
Both men claimed 81 wickets in that period and Panesar’s average of 32.76 is superior by one.
“He’s had a fantastic start to his international career,” added Parsons. “Monty has got terrific skill and that skill has got him to where he is today.
“The next thing he has to develop is to craft that skill. So far he has had to try to do that in the heat of the battle, in Test matches.
“This (trip) gives him the chance to come out and learn his craft away from the glare of the Test match arena.”
England Lions, who face Mumbai in a three-day practice match from next Tuesday, include half-a-dozen full internationals among their 14-man squad as they bid to better their performance in their inaugural Duleep Trophy adventure four years ago when they lost both games.
Second-string sides from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have since been seen off by India’s premier zonal teams.
“It’s going to be a really competitive trip,” said Parsons. “History suggests it will be tough to achieve what we want to, as no overseas team has won the competition since England first took part in 2003-04. Changing that will be a challenge.”
But the assignment also offers personal targets to players like Liam Plunkett and Ed Joyce, who were both in England's one-day team a year ago.
"Their primary focus is to do well in the competition but you can't get away from the fact they also have a chance to advance their cases as individuals," Parsons said of his first group since being named as head of the academy.
"It is such a great opportunity for these guys because it doesn't get much tougher than playing in Indian conditions.
"It is a chance to make a statement about themselves and English cricket.
"For every player in the squad it is a chance to come out of the pack and impress. It is a step up for them, a standard slightly above our first-class cricket, and it is a chance for them to say to the selectors that they should very much be in the frame in the future.
"We have an interesting mix: young players who are definitely on their way up, some who are on a bit of a second coming, having played international cricket previously, and the more mature cricketers who are trying to make the most of their opportunity."
Michael Yardy’s side face Central Zone and West Zone in their bid to qualify for the final, which takes place at the Wankhede Stadium between February 19-23.