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The Monty Ball Problem May 28, 2006

Posted by ramanand in Cricket, Ramanand.

On the first day of the 2nd Test between Sri Lanka and England at Edgbaston, the Lankan batsmen found themselves making a familiar journey from and to the pavilion in rapid succession. But for me as a neutral observer, the highlight of the morning was when Monty Panesar spectacularly dropped Lasith Malinga at mid-off . The ball looped droopily as if voluntarily seeking a pair of warm palms to avoid the chill, but Panesar contrived to hold his hands such as to form an event horizon of a rather leaky black hole. The Ministry of Silly Walks would have approved.

I tried to avoid using the word "incompetent" above, but in all fairness to the epitome of the species known as the "amiable Sardar", there's no more fitting epithet. What surprises me most is how Monty made his way to this high a level of the sport without having such a problem being given a penicillin shot. The days of ambling amateurs who could do just one thing very well (as Panesar no doubt can with his left-armers) are equivalent to the Dark Ages to modern coaches who grimly drop the likes of Anil Kumble (the subject of a lament on this blog) for reasons such as suspect fielding and batting in limited overs cricket. Perhaps by 2050, we will see teams saturated with five-dimensional players, i.e. all-rounders who can field, keep and even captain, a dream that will have most coaches drool in their sleep. The irony is that the same team that has in Andrew Flintoff the closest to a full four-dimensional player in cricket, also has Panesar replacing Ashley Giles, the previous incumbent of the "soloist trial" dock. England would prefer to hide Monty in the field in the little hole-in-the-ground that holds the bat-pad helmet, but that would be little solace to the spinner who is usually left wishing for much larger chasms ever since he dropped Dhoni in the last Bombay Test match. He has a tendency to make amends though; he caught Dhoni later in the same match while dismissing Malinga off his own bowling in this instance.

In all the professional flavours of modern sports, everything is strategised, margins are carefully pared away, and support staffs strain so that the quirks of luck are not all left to chance. Which is why such sights as Monty's fielding are rare to see these days. Mistakes at the highest of levels are caused by pressure situations and overworked players, and rarely by sustained ineptitude any more, which is a bit of a pity for the casual observer. The current series between India and West Indies have seen a bunch of utility players who can all bat, and so it's going to be a while before anyone puts on a performance like Courtney Walsh in whose hands the bat could be anything you imagine, except for an instrument to score runs. So when the same Walsh battles out overs to allow Lara at the other end to score a 1-wicket victory over the Aussies, you are permitted a chuckle. Or when uncertified madmen like Réné Higuita rush out to the half-line only to turn back and see the ball dribbling into the unguarded citadel. These things don't tend to happen much these days, and remain the preserve of soppy nostalgics. The phrase "human element" gets bandied a lot these days, and is usually a euphemism for "oops, I've done it again". With the players playing the percentages, it is left to Messrs. Bucknor, Terje Hauge and even the double act of Rauf-Doctrove to be custodians of the right to goof up.

So apart from providing writers with a opportunities to earn their daily roTii while having a good laugh, where does that leave poor old Monty? For one, the prospects of dropping Ricky Ponting when Australia are 12/3 in the 1st Ashes Test in 2007, and worse, having those "friendly" men rub it in, is too bone-chilling to contemplate. That something has to be done and soon is evident to Fletcher-Vaughan-Flintoff and co., despite Freddy's brave "I hope it's not catching" banter. Although we've taken the mickey out of the poor spinner, everyone seems to think very kindly of it all as Mike Brearley writes. His progress will be watched keenly over what should be a reasonably decent career even for an English tweaker. Till then, we'll try to resist the bait of silly comedy, but not before one final word from the resident pun-dit who thinks that right now, as far as fielding goes, Monty's name is Madh.



1. Arnold D'Souza - May 28, 2006

Excellently written post! Had me laughing on more than the single occasion! I didn’t get the joke in the last statement though – “Monty’s name is Madh”?

2. ramanand - May 29, 2006

Arnold, I won’t give it away that easily, but I will say this: google for Monty Panesar’s full name 😉

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