Monty’s a jolly fellow!

It strikes Diary that Monty Panesar, for all his popularity, was perhaps a misfit in the England team.

“I wish I never got Tendulkar as my first Test wicket,” says Monty Panesar.   -  Getty Images

Diary spots a familiar face in the Chairman’s Lounge at Edgbaston. It’s dear old Monty Panesar, once the finest of spinners in England. These days, Monty is playing club cricket and looking for a county to take him on. He has been through a rough time personally, struggling with mental health issues and losing his way. He’s now happy again, he says, doing yoga and living healthy. Monty is a jolly fellow, breaking into a wide grin when reminded of his first Test wicket. “I wish I never got Tendulkar as my first Test wicket,” he says. “Because every time I go to the Indian embassy, they don’t give me a visa! 1.2 billion people don’t like me because I got Tendulkar as my first wicket.” He loved touring India, he says, although India’s batsmen didn’t seem to enjoy his visit as much in 2012. “I spoke Punjabi and Hindi with the Indian players. All of them were absolutely brilliant. I started to follow Bollywood a bit more.” Monty last watched the film Sanju. “I loved it. I thought it was brilliant. Maybe I can have a career in Bollywood next,” he laughs. A week later in London, Diary notices Monty chatting warmly with Harbhajan Singh in Punjabi. Graeme Swann, his former spin-bowling partner, merely nods and walks on. It strikes the Diary that Monty, for all his popularity, was perhaps a misfit in the England team.

The ground is like an old friend to him

Mick Hunt, the genial head groundsman at Lord’s, is a relieved man. He has spent 49 years at the ground and the India Test is his last. He has not been in the best of health recently, he tells Diary. He battled cancer many years ago and, when Diary meets him, Hunt says he has just returned from a kidney scan. “Hence the water,” he says, as he sips from a glass. Hunt talks about the ground like it’s an old friend. The heatwave was so bad, he says, that he was at the ground at 5am to roll the pitch. “It was just me and the old fox and the pigeons,” he laughs. Hunt is chatting with Diary when the skies open up. He sprints off mid-sentence, belying his age of 66, to cover the square. On the first day of the Test, Hunt goes through four pairs of clothes, getting soaked in the rain as he tries to get rid of any water standing on the covers.

On the second evening, Diary bumps into him at the Ordnance Arms, a cozy, little establishment patronised by the residents of Saint John’s Wood. Hunt is there with his wife, enjoying a cold beverage or two. “A shame about the rain,” Diary says to him, expressing sympathy that his last match should be heading for a draw. But Hunt is in no mood for negativity. “Don’t worry,” he says. “There’s always the Indian batting.”

Wrong choice to front the press

England is ahead by 250 runs at the end of the third day’s play at Lord’s and on its way to victory. The Indian team’s representative at the end-of-day press conference, at the England and Wales Cricket Board offices, is Hardik Pandya. He does not so much walk into the conference room as swagger into it. Pandya is chewing gum, has his headphones on and is humming and smiling and nodding to some irresistible beat.

The Baroda all-rounder is a young man, still early into his international career and is perhaps the wrong choice to front the press on a day like this. But he is still here and there are questions to be asked. Why two spinners, Hardik? “They had some thought behind that,” he says. “We did enough, we bowled properly. Today’s wicket was the wicket which we expected. I think it was a proper call. Had this been a five-day game, spinners would have come into play. Because of the rain and everything, it shortened and there were not many footmarks. Had this been a five-day game, it would have been different.” But, Diary wants to interject, you KNEW this was not a five-day game. Because the first day was washed out. By the rain. Which is sort of the point. But alas, not too many questions are allowed. And Hardik is on his merry way again, the hood of his sweatshirt up, music on, smile on his face, six bodyguards around. This Indian team does not want for confidence.

Ducking away

Diary is in love with Birmingham’s canals. There are estimated to be 35 miles of them — more than Venice. Cyclists and runners enjoy the banks while narrowboats abound on the water, owners puffing on a cigarette, drinking a beer, lost to the world. The canals — many of them built in the 1700s — were busy waterways once and goods were ferried through them. They fell into disrepair at some stage, but in the last couple of decades they have been given a new lease of life. Diary enjoys going for a run along the canals, a few quiet miles out and a few quiet miles back. It is all blissful until Diary runs into a flock of ducks one evening. Diary is not perturbed. What match is a piffling bird or two when Diary has conquered S. L. Loney and Thomas & Finney! So onward Diary marches. Or wants to. Until one duck hisses and charges angrily forward. A gentle “shoo” does not appear to have forced the bird into the water. So Diary takes a step back. The duck hisses menacingly again.

Diary takes a second step back. Another gentle “shoo” has been ignored. Diary is mopping its brow: the sweat from all the up-tempo running, you see. A third hiss. The duck seems to have taken a dislike to Diary’s face. Or outfit. Or general demeanour. At which point Diary realises it is rather late after all. And time for dinner. So Diary heads back home. Which was the plan all along, of course. Diary is not a violent man, readers. Else, it would have Ben Stokes-ed that little pest without a moment’s hesitation.