Monty Panesar’s England team-mates will always be happy to embrace his eccentricities – because they know he is a potential matchwinner on pitches like the one at the Adelaide Oval.
Panesar was recalled to the fold for the first time in an Ashes match since July 2009, and bowled well on day one as England began their bid to battle back from 1-0 down in the series.
Graeme Swann has known his spin twin since their formative years at Northamptonshire and, after they had shared two of the wickets in Australia’s 273 for five, he stressed how much he enjoys the partnership.
Panesar’s return to Test cricket is not without its controversy after his errant behaviour off the pitch last summer when he was arrested for urinating on nightclub bouncers in Brighton, subsequently released by Sussex and not considered for the final Ashes Test at The Oval.
When conditions are in his favour, however, he has a world-class ability – as he showed last winter when he took 11 wickets in Mumbai, sharing 19 of the 20 to fall with Swann, as England beat India.
That came after a heavy defeat in the first Test, prefacing a famous series victory, and England are surely hoping that Panesar can help to pull off the same trick again after they lost their Ashes opener in Brisbane by 381 runs.
England’s opening-day gains in Adelaide were hard-earned and compromised by three dropped catches but, after Australia won the toss, the tourists could still be pleased to have eked out half the team already.
“I thought his bowling was excellent,” Swann said of Panesar. “It’s never easy coming back into a team because obviously a lot of spotlight goes on you – a lot of expectation.
“I thought he applied himself really well.”
Panesar bowled Steve Smith from round the wicket with a ball which turned, to complete a sequence of three wickets for 19 runs just before tea.
“It was a beauty to get his wicket and he could have had two by the end, which was unfortunate,” Swann added. “He did the job we wanted him to do.
“That’s all Monty ever does. He just turns up and plays his game.”
Swann knows Panesar’s capabilities and said: “We don’t care what’s happened off the field with ‘Mont’ – he’s one of the boys, and we love him to bits.
“Monty’s Monty. He’s always been a bit left-field and a bit different to everyone else and it’s one of the reasons we love him so much. We don’t care what’s happened in the last 12 months off the field. We embrace him as ever and we love seeing him do well.”
Swann did not expect quite so much assistance for him and Panesar so early in the match and is delighted to have their pairing restored. “I love it when two spinners play. It’s how all cricket should be played, a minimum of two spinners per team and slow, low turning wickets,” he said with a smile. “I loved it. It was great. It surprised us a little bit because Adelaide’s normally an absolute featherbed for three days and then turns later on.
“This one’s shown signs of turning a little bit on day one. It’s only going to turn more, so I hope the fact we’ve got two spinners in our team gives us a big advantage.”
Seamer Stuart Broad took two wickets and was indebted to Swann for the second via an outstanding catch at square leg to see off George Bailey.
But England also put down two relatively straightforward chances, Panesar failing to hold a caught and bowled from Bailey and then Michael Carberry dropping Brad Haddin at point off the slow left-armer. Swann added: “There’s always a sense of frustration when catches go down.
“But we’re certainly not pointing fingers. No-one’s having a go at Carbs.”
Swann brought some characteristically ironic levity to bear on the topic of strained relations between the two teams after the first Test ‘sledgefest’ at the Gabba. He said: “We still hate each other’s guts!
“I told Michael Clarke I’d rip his ears off. . . but I don’t think the stump mic picked it up!”
In just a slightly more serious tone, he added: “There’s always going to be a bit of niggle between England and Australia, between certain protagonists on the field. I’m not one of them. I bowl spin. . . what’s the point of chirping?
“You get smashed back over your head next ball – you look an idiot.”