|Monty (top) and Sajid
London, Aug. 8: Monty Panesar was being hotly tipped today as a serious contender for the BBC’s “sports personality of the year award” after he helped England crush Pakistan in the third Test at Headingley.
It’s early days yet but the fact that Panesar is being spoken of at all as a likely candidate for the much coveted award that was given to all-rounder Andrew Flintoff last year shows how quickly the 24-year-old Sikh has become a British hero.
“He is a treasure,” enthused Christopher Martin-Jenkins, one of the Test Match Special commentary team that provides ball-by-ball commentary on BBC Radio 4.
Comparing him with Ashley Giles, the England spinner who is recovering from injury and who would normally expect to take over when he is fit again, Graham Gooch, the former England captain, today gave higher marks to Panesar.
Gooch, who is an expert commentator on Radio 4, described Panesar as “an offensive bowler”, capable of winning matches, in marked contrast to Giles, who is seen by most as a fine bowler capable of keeping down the runs.
How Panesar performs in Australia during the Ashes series later this winter remains to be seen but if he does well, he would stand a very good chance of being named the BBC’s sports personality of the year for 2006.
In the Headingley Test, which England won today by 167 runs, Panesar took three wickets for 39 runs in the second innings, giving him match figures of 6 for 166.
Panesar, who began his career by capturing the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in his debut Test in India earlier this year, is turning out to be something of a giant killer.
In the 17th over of the Pakistan innings today, he had Taufeeq Umar caught by Alastair Cook for 11.
The commentators were agreed that Panesar’s next wicket came off arguably the finest ball of the match: Younis Khan, who was on 41, played correctly forward in the 35th over to a well-flighted delivery which spun away and clipped the top of his off bail.
“He didn’t do anything wrong - the ball was just too good,” observed Gooch.
The last wicket to fall in the 47th over was that of the Pakistan captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was on 37 when he charged down the pitch to Panesar, missed the ball completely and was stumped.
Inzy’s humiliating dismissal in the first innings for 26 had caused near universal hilarity and the BBC’s “champagne moment” -- he had tried to pull Panesar but had over-balanced and had then come crashing down like an elephant on his own wicket.
Normally, there is a large Pakistani contingent in the crowd at Headingley because Leeds has a sizeable Pakistani population. In the past, the battle lines were clear: the Pakistanis cheered Pakistan, jeered England and ran on to the pitch when Pakistanis did well.
This is not the kind of behaviour which the Tory politician Norman Tebbit had in mind when he advocated the “cricket test” - he wanted Indian and Pakistani immigrants to show loyalty to their country of adoption by cheering for England.
Tebbit had fumed: “A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for' It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are'”
Today, not only did Panesar bowl devastatingly for England but 24-year-old Sajid Mahmood, the fast bowler who had 2 for 108 in the first innings, took four for 22 in the second.
None of this was in the original script.
It all becomes very difficult to know exactly whom to cheer for when a British Indian and a British Pakistani, born in Luton and Bolton respectively, combine to beat the Pakistanis from Pakistan. Probably the best thing to do is clap politely, have a few kebabs, wave the green flag a few times and catch the bus back home.
England stand-in captain Andrew Strauss accepted Mahmood into family fold by using his nickname: “We always knew what Saj is capable of.”