Ted Corbett

LONDON: Mudsuden Singh Panesar, known in England as 'Monty' and looking as if he might be Harbhajan Singh bowling left-handed, will return to the land of his ancestors as the great turbaned hope for the Test series against India next month.

It is a huge act of faith by the England selectors whose chairman David Graveney, a left-arm spinner for Gloucestershire, has spoken warmly of the 23-year-old uncapped Panesar's potential and believes he will be the most effective bowler in Indian conditions.

But - and it is a big but - Panesar has so little experience of tough cricket that his presence could seriously weaken the side. The management has said it expects pitches that will help India's spinners but will need a large slice of luck if Panesar is to be an effective replacement for Ashley Giles, a doughty performer in a defensive role in the last six years.

Graveney and the other selectors - including the coach Duncan Fletcher who is known to be in favour of bowlers who can bat at least adequately - seem to have been impressed by Panesar's willingness to improve his game.

Taking Giles's spot

If, as seems likely, Giles is not able to make the trip because his hip is not fully recovered from an operation after the tour of Pakistan, Panesar will be thrust into the spotlight.

Ian Blackwell, a better all-round cricketer, has been placed on stand-by and I suspect that in a few days he and Panesar will be in the 16-man squad and Giles will be left at home to complete his recovery.

Blackwell has been chosen for the nine-match England 'A' tour of West Indies, under the captaincy of Vikram Solanki, another player with Indian roots, but he is more likely to see the Taj Mahal by moonlight than the beaches of Barbados in the next two months.

Impressive

I have only seen Panesar bowl a few deliveries - in the nets at Adelaide when he was helping out the practice for the second Test of Nasser Hussain's tour of Australia - and his looping deliveries from a powerful action are impressive.

However his batting is far from first class and his fielding is worse. As the cricketers have it "he bats No. 11 because there are not 12 players in the side" and averages 6.75 in 20 county games with a top score of 28.

But as Graveney says: "It is hugely to his credit that he took the initiative in approaching the selectors before Christmas to discuss how he could improve all aspects of his game and we are delighted with the progress he has made following his recent trip to the Australian Academy in Adelaide."

If Panesar has to bat below Steve Harmison in the Tests that will be a step back into the days when England sometimes fielded a tail so long that Ray Illingworth used to say: "I hate having to play three No. 11s but there is no choice."

With Giles in the side at No.8, England has formidable batting but today there was little optimism in the report of the England and Wales Cricket Board's medical officer Dr. Peter Gregory who said: "Ashley has been experiencing discomfort in his right hip over the past fortnight and saw a specialist in London on Tuesday. The experts say Ashley will need to rest to obtain maximum benefit from the surgery. It is unlikely that he will be ready for the start of the tour. We will continue to monitor his progress."

Compton Award winner

Panesar was born to Paramjit and Gursharan in Luton, a town much favoured by new arrivals from the sub-continent, on April 25 1982, and finished his education at Bedford Modern School where he gained ten GCSEs and three A-levels and Loughborough University.

His father played local cricket so it was to that game Monty gravitated after brief flings with badminton, tennis and snooker.

His teenage talent was discovered early enough for him to tour India with the Under-19s aged 18 and so into the Northampton team in 2001 where he won the Denis Compton Award as the most promising young player that year.

He says he loves to watch Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Whatever his other deficiencies he clearly has good taste.

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