On a bright, spring morning in Chelmsford, a world away from England’s Caribbean pursuit of redemption, Monty Panesar momentarily considers his own journey of recovery and a possible international recall. Catching himself, he quickly reasserts his priorities lie firmly with Essex, ahead of the County Championship commencing on Sunday.
Essex, the county he now calls home, is where Panesar must demonstrate the skills that once encouraged Duncan Fletcher to proclaim the Luton-born man as the world’s best spinner, if he is to return to national duties.
“I obviously want to put in the hard work to get back in the England team,” he tells Deep Extra Cover. “But my primary focus is with Essex. I feel that the club has got a lot to offer to me and I want to bring success to Essex.
“I feel I can do that with my drive, my ambition and motivation for the game. And also my love of the game. It is the love that keeps you going.”
And a lot of love he must have, considering at a time of major change within the England lineup, a customary glance at Panesar’s stats would have you questioning how he is not mentioned in the list of possible spin options.
Yet, even though a 50 Test match veteran, with 167 wickets at 34.71 apiece to his name, he has not featured since the 2013 Ashes Boxing Day Test. That disappointment has spurred Panesar on to show himself and the selectors that he is still capable of competing at the highest level.
“I think everyone knows where I am as a cricketer,” Panesar says.
“But I feel I need to prove myself again. I need to prove again to myself that I can play for England.”
“We’ve had a few meetings and discussions [with England]. It is just extra motivation and incentive for me to work really hard on my game and try and put some good performances in.”
In an age where players are expected to make all round contributions, Panesar is acutely aware of his limitations and has been concentrating his efforts on making improvements.
“It’s my first winter for quite a long time that I stayed here [in the UK],” he adds. “It was nice to get a break and work on a few areas of my game that need development.
“I’ve been trying to work on my fitness, my batting and fielding. The speed/agility areas I want to get better at, as well as the general tactical awareness of the game.
“Sometimes better development comes if you’re aware of batting, so from a bowler’s perspective it can help. As a lower order batsman, you must learn to hit boundaries because the game has moved that way. I’ve always had the strength and the power but learning the technique I want to develop further and hit in different trajectories.”
Panesar, who will turn 33 before the month’s out, showed signs of progress towards the end of last year, making a cavalier 38 against Worcestershire in the final fixture of the season, and believes he still has a lot to offer.
“I feel that I’ve got more cricket left in front of me. I’m really looking forward to this season and hopefully I can develop my game.”
“I don’t want to try and put too much pressure on myself, I just want to enjoy my cricket and enjoy my bowling and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.”
Enjoyment is an understandable concern for Panesar, whose youthful enthusiasm and excited high-fiving celebrations first drew the public’s attention in 2006 but now seem a distant memory following off-field events.
An altercation outside a nightclub, where he urinated on a bouncer having been ejected from the establishment, saw him depart Sussex for Essex on loan in 2013. The move was made permanent at the end of the season and Panesar played two Tests down under.
But he has not appeared since, and added further to his list of indiscretions when Essex dropped him last season for poor timekeeping.
Lessons, he insists, have been learnt. And for now, he’s determined on putting in the performances to extend his stay at Essex beyond the end of the season when his two-year contract finishes. “I very much feel at home at Essex,” he says with a smile. “I would love Essex to want me here, but I have to earn that right. I have to put in the hard work and hopefully Essex would love to have me here.”