Montymania at Old Trafford

Monty Panesar's turn, his ability to make the ball rear round a batsman's wrists, his changes of pace, his aggression and his control dominated the third Test which was played on just the sort of pitch groundsmen promise and rarely deliver, writes Ted Corbett.

Monty Panesar is stacking up four wickets a Test, the crowds cannot get enough of him and he is a joy to his team-mates.

So give him a blank contract, tell him he is the greatest spinner in the world — he has taken more wickets than any other bowler of his type in his 16 Tests — and thank him very sincerely for his efforts.

Or send him back to Northampton to learn his trade and tell him it is time he understood that he cannot go on treating umpires as if they were lackeys.

Why would you do that?

Because sometime England have to face the fact that he cannot field for toffee and that if he continues questioning umpiring decisions he will find himself in hot water. Seriously.

So far in his brief career — starting against India in Nagpur, being left out at the start of the Ashes and now with his first 10-wicket haul against West Indies at Old Trafford — the Sikh warrior has collected 59 wickets at 29.93, at a strike rate of 61.57.

But, by the end of that third Test he had also collected two warnings from Aleem Dar for overzealous appealing and all the pundits — including Phil Tufnell, a lad who knows a thing or two about shouting for lbws — said it was time he was told to cool it. I wonder if that will happen. Shane Warne, Brett Lee and any number of other bowlers have developed the habit of asking the umpires why a decision has been turned down. It is time it was stopped (a) because it is irritating and (b) because it is unnecessary and (c) because it is against the Law.

The umpire decides; leave it be. Forget it. No umpire in history has gone, "Oh, sorry, I see your point, of course he was out," and raised an index finger. I hope no umpire will ever do so just as I hope that until the technology becomes perfect and likely to do a better job they will be left to make the decisions.

I thought Mr. Dar and the world's greatest fidget Billy Bowden — who walks further than the players as he wanders off into the legside after every ball — were brilliant; cool, able to ignore the pressure and do their own work to the satisfaction of absolutely every independent judge.

I liked Dar's refusal to be harried into giving Dwayne Bravo out to a borderline chance in the gully and, frankly, I do not care whether he gave the right decision.

Neutral umpires have been a huge success — thank you, Imran Khan — and they have stood strong under enormous pressure. ICC must be prepared to back them against all the pressure mounted by players, by captains in particular and by home boards. Men like Simon Taufel, Steve Bucknor, Dar, Bowden and the rest are a credit to the game and players like Panesar must be made to understand it is not in the interests of either the game or his own side to question their judgement.

As for Panesar's fielding — and particularly his catching — I doubt if the England selectors will do anything drastic. They will hope he improves, they will make new efforts to find a fielding coach who can at least get him to stay calm as the ball heads through the air towards him and they may even resort to crossing their fingers. Because one fact stands out above all others. He is the most stylish, most cunning, most accurate bowler of slow left-arm spin and England need him to complement their fast bowlers, a superb pack of predators once they are all fit.

Panesar's turn, his ability to make the ball rear round a batsman's wrists, his changes of pace, his aggression and his control dominated the Old Trafford Test which was played on just the sort of pitch groundsmen promise and rarely deliver. In the early stages it was quick but reliable; by the end it rewarded a bowler with the skill to exploit the foot holes.

Thanks to Ian Bell, who is, I guess, better thought of in the dressing room than he is on the terraces, England reached 370. Bell made 97 after going in to bat at the unpromising score of 132 for four; where would they be without this gallant rescuer?

It is what you do at No. 6. You go to the crease thinking, "this is a nasty hole we are in," and you spend hours trying to dig your way out.

At one time it looked as if West Indies, led by Shivnarine Chanderpaul at his shuffling best but still troubled by the knee injury that kept him out of the second Test, might go close to a lead but the two southpaws Panesar and Ryan Sidebottom flushed out the last six wickets for 13 runs so that England could impose their will on the rest of the Test.

Alistair Cook, 22, and with more centuries age for age than anyone save Bradman, Tendulkar and Javed Miandad, guaranteed, a big lead. Eventually West Indies needed 455 to win and, believe me, for a while it looked as if they would break their own world record and pull off a sensational victory.

I hope we saw the seeds of change in this innings of 394. It is strange that Brian Lara was never a beacon for success; I don't care why such a great batsman could not rally support for his scores except on the rarest occasions.

"Tiger" Chanderpaul might, late in a career already fully developed, be the standard bearer the younger players can follow.

There is a quality in Bravo, in the wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin, Darren Sammy, the all-rounder who grabbed eight wickets on his debut, and in the electric pace of Fidel Edwards that speaks of a resistance fighter. There will be plenty of misery along the way but their selectors must be encouraged to give these lads space to develop. They were beaten by a team rediscovering its ruthlessness even though there is still a way to go.

England will make it if only because their captain Michael Vaughan is still at the pinnacle of his form. It may not last for long; injured, 32, and trying to deal with the effects of celebrity, the pressure from the ever-present media demands and the calls of sponsors, selectors and fans will wear him down.

He also has that streak of the dead-eyed killer in his make-up. He will not tolerate slackness, nor failure, nor any other factor which detracts from the team success.

Statistically he is already the greatest England captain, with 21 wins and, as they say in their dressing room, power to add.

He is lucky, too. England may well have been badly mauled during their Ashes defence in Australia even if he had been leading the side.

Napoleon said he preferred a lucky general. England have one in Vaughan and while he is fit and able to lead they should stick with him as Test and one-day leader.

There will be plenty of time to tinker with the captaincy when he is no longer able to marshal his men as he has done in this series proving that he is the best in the business.

The Scores

Third Test, Old Trafford, June 7-11, 2007. England won by 60 runs.

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss lbw b Taylor 6; A. Cook c Bravo b Sammy 60; M. Vaughan b Collymore 41; K. Pietersen c Bravo b Collymore 9; P. Collingwood lbw b Taylor 10; I. Bell c Ramdin b Collymore 97; M. Prior c Morton b Bravo 40; L. Plunkett b Edwards 13; S. Harmison c Ramdin b Edwards 18; R. Sidebottom b Edwards 15; M. Panesar (not out) 14; Extras (b-15, lb-8, w-6, nb-18) 47. Total: 370.

Fall of wkts: 1-13, 2-117, 3-132, 4-132, 5-166, 6-264, 7-285, 8-324, 9-338.

West Indies bowling: Taylor 20-1-67-2; Edwards 20.1-2-94-3; Collymore 25-5-60-3; Bravo 23-4-94-1; Sammy 17-7-32-1.

West Indies — 1st innings: C. Gayle c Cook b Plunkett 23; D. Ganga lbw b Harmison 5; D. Smith c Bell b Panesar 40; R. Morton c Strauss b Harmison 35; S. Chanderpaul c Pietersen b Sidebottom 50; D. Bravo c Prior b Sidebottom 24; D. Ramdin c Pietersen b Sidebottom 5; D. Sammy c Collingwood b Panesar 1; J. Taylor c Strauss b Panesar 0; C. Collymore c Collingwood b Panesar 4; F. Edwards (not out) 0; Extras (b-20, lb-10, w-9, nb-3) 42. Total: 229.

Fall of wkts: 1-17, 2-49, 3-116, 4-157, 5-216, 6-224, 7-225, 8-225, 9-225.

England bowling: Sidebottom 12-3-48-3; Harmison 11-2-53-2; Plunkett 12-0-43-1; Panesar 16.4-5-50-4; Collingwood 1-0-5-0.

England — 2nd innings: A. Strauss lbw b Edwards 0; A. Cook lbw b Gayle 106; M. Vaughan c & b Sammy 40; K. Pietersen (hit wicket) b Bravo 68; P. Collingwood c Ganga b Sammy 42; I. Bell c Ramdin b Sammy 2; M. Prior c Ramdin b Sammy 0; L. Plunkett c Bravo b Sammy 0; S. Harmison c Morton b Sammy 16; R. Sidebottom (not out) 8; M. Panesar c Gayle b Sammy 0; Extras (b-2, lb-6, w-6, nb-12, pen-5) 31. Total: 313.

Fall of wkts: 1-1, 2-99, 3-221, 4-265, 5-272, 6-272, 7-272, 8-300, 9-313.

West Indies bowling: Edwards 12-0-54-1; Taylor 10-0-42-0; Collymore 7-2-24-0; Sammy 21.3-2-66-7; Chanderpaul 11-1-43-0; Bravo 8-2-14-1; Gayle 16-0-57-1.

West Indies — 2nd innings: C. Gayle c Collingwood b Harmison 16; D. Ganga lbw b Harmison 0; D. Smith c Cook b Panesar 42; R. Morton lbw b Panesar 54; S. Chanderpaul (not out) 116; D. Bravo c Cook b Panesar 49; D. Ramdin c Collingwood b Panesar 34; D. Sammy c & b Panesar 25; J. Taylor c Cook b Harmison 11; F. Edwards c Bell b Harmison 0; C. Collymore c Bell b Panesar 0; Extras (b-14, lb-21, w-8, nb-4) 47. Total: 394.

Fall of wkts: 1-4, 2-35, 3-88, 4-161, 5-249, 6-311, 7-348, 8-385, 9-385.

England bowling: Sidebottom 27-8-53-0; Harmison 33-8-95-4; Panesar 51.5-13-137-6; Plunkett 16-2-57-0; Pietersen 5-2-17-0.