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Panesar returns to his roots

August 11, 2006 12:13 IST

England's new spin-bowling hero Monty Panesar returned to his roots on Thursday and took a wicket with his first delivery.

The 24-year-old left-arm spinner was back in his hometown of Luton, 40 kilometres outside London, where he enjoyed a game with a group of young British Asians on a patch of grass in a housing estate better known for race riots than cricket.

The wickets were painted trash bins, the ball was a tennis ball with tape and the bats were bright red and made from plastic, courtesy of the visiting Urban Cricket Roadshow.

The tall, bearded Panesar, dressed in jeans and trainers, grinned back with the same pleasure he has shown in Test matches against Younis Khan, the batsman he removed at Headingley this week with "the best ball I've bowled in test cricket."

"I always dreamt that I would one day play for England," Panesar, the first Sikh to play for England, told reporters. "But I never thought about popularity, or fame. I just didn't imagine it at all. I guess it is just destiny that it is going to be like this."

Panesar, who produced two successive match-winning performances against Pakistan in recent weeks, knows all about life in a tough place like the Marsh Farm estate.

He was brought up by his immigrant Indian father Paramjit, a local builder who specialises in fitting kitchens, in Wardown, a sprawl of suburbia rescued from anonymity by the quality of its cricket ground.

Panesar may follow a line of great names -- including Derek Underwood and Phil Edmonds -- as a classic spinner. But he is unique: a turban-wearing crowd-pleaser, who has worked to improve his fumbling fielding, a modest, almost bashful, man with whom all English cricket fans, but especially the Asian community, can identify.

"VERY SPECIAL"

As he spoke, surrounded by microphones, cameras and tape-recorders, he was prompted to recall his life 12 months ago as England were on their way to a first Ashes series success since 1987.

"Last year, I was just playing for Northamptonshire," he said. "But I was the same as everybody else about the Ashes series. I was so excited. I watched it on television and it was something that was obviously very special."

After taking 16 wickets to date in the series against Pakistan, Panesar is almost certain to be selected for England's defence of the Ashes in Australia.

"I'm not looking too far ahead," he said. "But I know, if selected, that it is going to be very good for my development."

His father arrived in Luton in the 1970's. A devout Sikh, he inspired Monty -- whose full name is Mudhsuden Singh Panesar -- to practise hard.

As a result, Monty won a sports scholarship from Stopsley High School in Luton to Bedford Modern, a fee-paying school with a sports pedigree. From Bedford, he won a place at Loughborough University where he studied computer sciences and continued playing cricket.

He began his career with Luton Indians and then progressed via Dunstable Town to play for Bedfordshire. At 19, he was given a winter place at the national cricket academy.

He moved to county cricket with Northamptonshire, but attributes his current success, in particular, to Australian Rodney Marsh who, during his academy days, taught Panesar the lessons that made him a Test cricketer.

"MAGIC BALL"

"I used to think that the way to get someone out was to bowl a 'magic ball', but he made me realise that was wrong, that you needed to keep a tight line, control things, remain patient and use your cricket sense," said Panesar.

"He taught me a lot of cricket sense."

Marsh's down-to-earth approach has also helped the easy-going Panesar. His recent rise to fame has not affected his life, his family or his friends.

"I try to stay level-headed," he said. "Things have not changed a lot. My friends are the same with me and I am still the same old Monty at home.

"It is great to be recognised and it is good for cricket. But it is not something that has bothered me."

As a sporting graduate of Luton's Asian community, he is mindful of his responsibility as a role model. "I am aware of it, but I am not the first Asian to play for England and I still look at others, like Nasser Hussain, as my role model," he said. "After all, he was captain and he played 96 Test matches. So I've got a long way to go!"

Timothy Collings
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