For these bowlers, the style may vary but not the mission
They lend an old world charm to spin bowling. Not quite the kind where a bowler would flight the ball, get slammed and applaud the batsman. These guys will not glare at you, instead they will come at you differently. For Graeme Swann and Monty Paneser, the style may vary but not the mission. They are very effective in their own manner.
Swann and Panesar are attacking and match-winning spinners. They believe in their craft without having to rely on the pitch. That itself is an art, to bowl in all conditions, in times when spinners have come to accept their role as secondary to fast bowlers.
Swann and Panesar, in plotting India’s downfall in the second Test at Mumbai, have grown in reputation and stature. “Panesar’s style is suited for Indian pitches. He is not a big turner of the ball but immensely accurate. He doesn’t innovate but makes up with his pace and nagging line and length,” says former India spinner Maninder Singh.
What is striking about them? The fact that they find themselves snaring batsmen expected to dominate on spinner-friendly pitches or their ability to win a match with their attacking instincts. The pair is a captain’s delight. You give them the field and follow the action. Alastair Cook has a trusted pair in Swann and Panesar, both capable of justifying their selection on any pitch.
Swann (206 wickets in 48 Tests) is the traditional off-spinner who has the guile to fox reputed opponents. Erapalli Prasanna rates him, “The best in the world!” The Indian great has reasons to back the English off-spinner. “He has subtle variations, totally different from the rest. He is not afraid to flight the ball and that is something rare in today’s cricket. He doesn’t boast of a doosra or a carrom ball, whatever it is, but his traditional style is enough to fetch him wickets.”
It is also rare to see a bowler set the field. And also bowl to it. Prasanna emphasises, “You can do that when you know how to bowl in all conditions. Swann proved it the other day. Panesar was good too (at Mumbai). With their craft they raise the captain’s hope and confidence of running through the opposition. They won’t concede runs, literally dry them up, and leave you frustrated. If you don’t have the patience, you fall into that trap.”
The Indian spinners lack the confidence to set their own field. The captain does it for them. So different from past captains, all successful, such as Tiger Pataudi, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin. They backed the bowlers by giving them the field they wanted.
“The captain setting the field and then tossing the ball to the bowler is like you driving and the pillion dictating. Can you drive if dictated by the person sitting behind?” says Prasanna.
There is an old and proven saying among bowlers. Length is mandatory and line optional. Panesar follows it to the hilt. His bowling strength comes from his strong mind. He can take punishment. “A spinner must learn to accept punishment as part of the job,” says Bishan Singh Bedi.
As far as Panesar is concerned, nothing perturbs him as he goes about his job with enviable nonchalance. Observe his reaction on taking a wicket. His eyes light up, backed by instinctive clapping; no jumping around, letting out expletives.
His job is to dismiss the batsman and get on with the job. Even if the batsman happens to be a certain Sachin Tendulkar, who was his first victim in Tests six years ago!
Very few bowlers enjoy their trade as Panesar (153 wickets in 43 Tests). His height and long fingers make him a different bowler because he loves to hit the ball, use the crease intelligently and put the batsman under constant pressure. It adds to the depth that he brings to his bowling. His pace can be discomforting, as Tendulkar discovered to his distress at Mumbai, falling to the left-arm spinner in both innings.