It is important, for England and for English cricket in this Ashes summer, that Monty Panesar is given all the encouragement possible as the Tests against Australia approach.
I played against him recently, for Surrey against Northamptonshire, and although he did not take a wicket as we won that Championship game by an innings, I thought he bowled well.
During the match, too, I was able to have quite a good chat with him and it was something I wanted to do given all the comment that has surrounded Monty about his bowling and how he supposedly has to change the way he bowls if he is to kick on at Test level.
I was also interested to see how he bowled, from close up, and I didn’t see too much to be worried about. There was a lot of grass on the pitch at Northampton, and so there was not too much in it for him as we piled up a big score with Usman Afzaal putting together a brilliant double-hundred.
Everyone has seemed to be in Monty’s ear recently about bowling it too quickly, and the need to slow down and toss it up, but to me that is Panesar’s strength. He puts real energy on the ball, and his good natural pace means that it is very difficult for us batsmen to get down the pitch to him. He is good enough to pin good players to the crease, and that is a real asset for him.
Against us, he also did bowl the odd ball a bit higher and a bit slower, but for four or five balls an over he concentrated on establishing his natural rhythm and I was pleased to see it. That is his strength.
The good thing for Monty, at the moment, is that he is playing four-day Championship cricket, and bowling a decent number of overs. He is a bowler who needs to get overs under his belt.
When I chatted to him, I spoke about what John Emburey and Phil Tufnell always used to concentrate on when they bowled so many overs – usually in tandem – for Middlesex in my early years in first-class cricket.
They used to be on all the time at Paul Downton, or whoever it was keeping wicket, asking about how the ball was coming on off that particular surface. They knew that every single pitch you play on is slightly different from the next, and they also knew that as a spinner it was vital to find out as quickly as possible the right pace to bowl, and the right way to bowl for that surface.
Monty is learning more and more as he gets older about the different pitches he plays on, and the fields he needs for them and for different batsmen. He is also, now, a recognised threat to opposing teams – and so he might have to work even harder on occasions for his wickets.
Batsmen might now try to see him off, or be more defensive-minded against him in certain situations, so he has to think about that too. In some matches he plays, he might not necessarily see the reward he reckons he is due in the wickets column against his name, but that does not mean that he has not done a great job for his team.
I have a lot of time for him as a bowler, and I think English cricket is fortunate to have a slow left-arm spinner of his class, and his comparatively young age, with already far more than 100 Test wickets to his name. I was also pleasantly surprised by his batting against Surrey. In the Northants first innings, with us totally on top, he batted excellently to score 38 not out.
Monty is currently playing for Northants against Glamorgan at Cardiff, too. With the first Ashes Test being played there, this is a valuable four days for him in the context of this summer.