Strauss right behind Panesar
England captain Andrew Strauss believes left-arm spinner Monty Panesar can help England regain the Ashes this summer.
A year ago Panesar was England’s first-choice Test spinner but Graeme Swann’s rise to prominence has left Panesar waiting in the wings.
However, with England mulling over the possibility of playing a second spinner alongside Swann when the series against Australia opens in Cardiff on July 8, Panesar is in contention.
The 27-year-old, who has taken 125 wickets in 38 Tests, is in England’s team for next week’s warm-up match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
Despite Panesar's frustrating form this season, just six first-class wickets at an average of 90 runs apiece, Strauss is backing the bowler who excelled under his leadership against Pakistan in 2006.
"You look at Monty's record for England and it's exceptional. It's right up there with some of the best spinners to have played the game," he said.
"He's gone through a bit of a tough patch recently but we've all been through it - I have myself and other people have. You come out of it much better for the experience.
"Hopefully other members of the squad will give him the confidence to go out against Warwickshire, take a bagful and become an important member of the England side again.
"We all know what his capabilities are. The people who have been writing him off are unwise - he's got a hell of a lot more to offer for England coming up in the future."
Panesar has been working with Mushtaq Ahmed, England's spin-bowling coach, to focus on adding greater guile to his repertoire but Strauss has stressed the importance of remembering where his strengths lie.
"Monty has been working on variations but the reality is that he has taken 99% of his wickets bowling a very good left-arm spinner that turns and has decent pace on it," he said.
"That's his default and he shouldn't stray too far from it. It's like me trying to bat like Brian Lara - it won't work.
"It's important that he just does what he does well and if he does that he's going to be a handful.
"I spoken to Monty and he's been in contact with Mushtaq Ahmed. When you go through a bit of a rough patch you question what you are doing.
"I've got a lot of hope that he will come through and be an exceptional talent."
Key to England's chances of reclaiming the Ashes they surrendered two years ago is the fitness of Andrew Flintoff.
The Lancashire all-rounder underwent knee surgery two months ago and Strauss expects he will be ready to face Australia.
"Andrew seems very fit and is bowling at a good pace. It's obviously early in his comeback but we've got to assume he'll be fit for the five Test matches," he said.
"It's a massive plus for us if he is. He adds balance to our side and we know the Aussies don't like facing him.
"We're all hopeful that after a long period of bad luck he has the rub of the green for a while and produces a really good Ashes series. It will be fantastic to have him back."