NEW DELHI: The stage is all ready, the captains have chalked out their plans, the anticipation is high, the fans are waiting eagerly to tune in to the action on their television sets and the teams – England and the West Indies – have their eyes on the trophy.
International cricket is all set to return after the COVID-19 pandemic brought the gentlemen’s game to a standstill in March. The West Indies’ 3 Test series in England will be the first international cricket series in the post Covid world.
The Three Lions and the Caribbean Kings will lock horns in the opening Test of the three-match series at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton from July 8. The second and the third Tests will be played at the same venue – Old Trafford in Manchester. The matches will be played behind closed doors, with no fans in the stadiums and multiple health protocols in place.
“After the Premier League, cricket is back in England. That’s brilliant. I think everyone wants to see sport back and watch it on TV. England have the first opportunity to get cricket back onto TV and the West Indies as well. So, the England and West Indies series will be really important. We never imagined we would be playing sport and that too cricket behind closed doors. I’m sure other sports organisations and the other Boards around the world would be watching and discussing with ECB how to get play back in their countries,” former England spinner Monty Panesar, who took 193 international wickets told Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview.
“I watched Premier League and the TV channels had the noise of the fans. So, it looks like the fans are there. It will be a different feeling when we will see cricket without the fans. Sports become so popular when the fans are there. So, fans make a game so important. They create the environment for sports persons to perform. We have to appreciate the fans for what they do for sport,” Panesar, who last played for England in December 2013 said.
‘VIRAT KOHLI BEST BATSMAN,JAMES ANDERSON BEST BOWLER’
The three-match Test series will be played without fans and the use of saliva on the red cherry will be strictly prohibited. The use of saliva has been banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) due as per health protocols to fight COVID-19.
Panesar picked England’s all time highest Test wicket taker James Anderson (584 Test wickets so far) as the man to watch in terms of swinging the ball without using saliva.
“If I have to pick the best batsmen in the world, who will that be? That’s a very very easy answer. He is Virat Kohli. For me, Jimmy Anderson’s name comes up when we talk about bowlers. If Kohli is the best batsman, then Jimmy is the best bowler in the world. He is the most skillful bowler in world cricket. If he can’t find a way of swinging that ball without saliva, then the other bowlers will be struggling,” Panesar said.
Virat Kohli and James Anderson. (Photo credit: Visionhaus/Getty Images)
“It would be difficult for the seam bowlers to get any movement in the air and they will have to use other techniques. I suggest maybe we can introduce wax in place of saliva. That can be an alternative. We can use wax to shine the ball. I think bowlers should use some kind of substance to shine the ball during practice sessions and then see which one’s the best one. After that, report it back to the ICC. ICC can then suggest the products that can be used in place of saliva. But it will be interesting to see who is that first fast bowler who will be able to swing the ball without saliva. I will pick Anderson,” Panesar said.
“But sport has never been like that. You look at sport, any conditions, anything you presented it, it changes and people adapt, and they find ways of developing the skill for it. So, I’m sure, the bowlers become better without saliva and then when saliva is introduced, bowlers will be already skillful. Imagine that. But it will be interesting to see how fast bowlers take wickets without saliva in the coming matches,” the former England spinner said.
NO DRIFT FOR SPINNERS
Former Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq recently said shining the ball is important for spinners who rely on drift. According to Panesar, drift is as important for a spinner as swing is for a fast bowler.
Moeen Ali. (Photo credit: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
“I think drift plays a big part. I remember speaking to Mushy bhai (Mushtaq Ahmed) when he was the spin-bowling coach of the England cricket team. He said to me that drift for a spinner is like reverse swing for a fast bowler. Because when it drifts, the ball will start from outside off stump and then will drift in the air to the middle stump and the batsman’s head will go towards mid-on and then it will turn and will go outside the line of the ball. That’s what helps a spinner take a wicket using drift. I agree with Saqlain (Mushtaq),” Panesar said.
‘JOS BUTTLER SHOULD BE INTERIM ENGLAND CAPTAIN, NOT STOKES’
England’s regular Test captain Joe Root will miss the opening Test against the Jason Holder-led West Indies, since he and his wife are expecting their first child. In Root’s absence, Ben Stokes, who has served as England’s Test vice-captain since July last year, will lead the Three Lions. Stokes, England’s World Cup hero was named captain for the opening Test vs the West Indies on Tuesday.
Stokes will become England’s 81st Test captain.
But according to Panesar, Jos Buttler would have been a better option than Stokes to lead the England team.
Speaking to TimesofIndia.com before the official announcement of Stokes’ captaincy was made, Panesar said, “I don’t think (Ben) Stokes should take captaincy. I think he should just focus on his batting and bowling and just be that X Factor player in the team. I know, one day, he will say to his grandchildren that I was the captain of the England team. But I think, eventually, one day he probably will be the captain. But if he really wants to be the captain, and he’s desperate to lead the side and thinking ‘yeah, this is my chance to captain and lead the team’, that’s great. But I would make Jos Butler the captain. Because I think there’s less pressure on Buttler.”
“Apart from his keeping and batting, we want to see some leadership skills from Buttler. Because if he’s not good on the keeping side, Jonny Bairstow comes into the team. And this series is about question marks. There are certain question marks on certain players. Like the future of Buttler’s Test career. Some people are questioning – should Buttler be in the team or not? And if you give him the leadership position, you’ll get to know a bit more about Buttler. Maybe the leadership gets the best out of Jos Buttler. If Ben Stokes really wants to captain the team, then fine. He’s the man in charge. He’s the vice captain. That’s great,” Monty, who played 50 Tests, 26 ODIs and 1 T20 international for England, told TimesofIndia.com.
“What if Stokes leads England to 3-0 win? And they do it handsomely and they do really really well. And people really enjoy Ben Stokes’ captaincy. You know, there’s a fresh change. I would rather go for Jos Buttler as the captain. Ben Stokes will always be in the test team. When Root gets back, he will be leading the side. But if we give the captaincy to Buttler, we can see what his leadership skills are like. Ben Stokes wants to be in the thick of everything. Be it fielding, bowling or batting,” Panesar signed off.
In Video:Monty Panesar picks James Anderson as first fast bowler to swing ball without saliva