Monty Panesar is ready to at last play his 40th Test if England decide they need him against Pakistan.
Panesar, who took the plaudits with figures of 5-57 against a Pakistan Cricket Board XI in England’s final warm-up match before the first of three Tests starting next week, has been surplus to requirements at the highest level since mid-summer 2009.
It was then that he marked his 39th appearance not with an outstanding bowling performance but last-ditch defiance as a tail-ender to salvage a draw in Cardiff at the start of England’s Ashes series triumph.
Since then, England have most often relied on Panesar’s former Northamptonshire team-mate Graeme Swann as the sole spinner in a four-man attack.
But the International Cricket Council’s world No 1 Test team may sense that formula needs revision to help them conquer an alien frontier against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
Panesar’s performance yesterday – five wickets to Swann’s one in the PCB XI’s 200-9 declared – served notice of his well-being, and afterwards he said: “I’ve given myself an opportunity to get used to the conditions, and given myself a good chance to be ready.
“So if they want to play two spinners, I’m ready to play.”
Panesar cites his move from Northants to Sussex two years ago, and his experience as an overseas player in South Africa and Australia, as vital staging posts in his continued development and perhaps his rehabilitation as a Test bowler.
“I’m hungry to play Test cricket – and if or when the opportunity presents itself I’ve got to be ready,” he said.
“I want to be part of this successful England team. I’ve been bowling well at Sussex and also had the responsibility of being an overseas player at Randwick Petersham in Sydney and also Highveld Lions.
“That extra responsibility develops you as a person and also helps your game as well.”
Panesar helped England to a 69-run first-innings lead on the second day of three at the GCA ground, before Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott bolstered the advantage by another 82 without loss at stumps.
The slow left-armer added: “My belief is a lot stronger now. I think going overseas, to Sydney, helps with your self-belief.
“My confidence has grown, and that definitely helps your bowling.
“I’ve always stayed hungry to play Test cricket and always worked hard. That’s why I moved to Sussex, to better my game and take on a major responsibility – leading the bowling attack.”
The 29-year-old, who was part of England’s winning squad in last winter’s Ashes but played only in the tour match against Australia A in Hobart, sees his near 30-month absence from Test cricket as an important learning curve rather than a fallow period.
“It’s been a good period for me, in that I had to come out of my comfort zone,” he said.
“Sometimes you’ve got to take a couple of steps back to go forward.
“I just said to myself: ‘I’ve got to get in there, work hard and get my hands dirty’.”
As for his reacquaintance with Swann as a spin partner, that is a prospect he relishes.
“It’s really exciting to have two spinners bowling in tandem, something Swanny and I did at Northants – and we’re very comfortable bowling with each other and helping each other out,” he added.
Even Panesar could do little about the unexpected resistance provided by teenage tail-ender Raza Hasan.
Panesar was the only successful bowler in an awkward and extended afternoon session which saw Raza complete an unbeaten 133-ball 50 at the GCA ground.
England did nothing wrong in a passage of play which was informative in terms of what they can expect, in these conditions, during the three-Test series.
Before Panesar got to work, Graham Onions struck first in the morning and Chris Tremlett was twice successful, too. Onions, playing his first match for his country in more than two years after a career-threatening back injury, was in business with the fourth ball of the day after England’s opponents had resumed on 23-0.
The Durham seam bowler pinned left-hander Nasir Jamshed lbw and soon afterwards Tremlett dismissed opener Afaq Raheem, also lbw, pushing forward.
Mohammad Ayub Dogar and Usman Salahuddin then played fluently but Tremlett, himself replaced by Panesar, returned to give Onions a rest and took his second wicket in his first over as Salahuddin edged to Matt Prior.
Panesar began his day with an unpromising full toss before having Fawad Alam looping a catch to short midwicket off bat and pad.
That was the first of four wickets to fall to spin for 19 runs up to lunch and soon after Panesar had Yasir Shah caught at slip.
But that is where England’s patience test began at the hands of ninth-wicket pair Raza and Mohammad Talha who stood defiant for 28 overs until Panesar had Talha edging more turn behind.
Raza then went on to his century before his side declared.
England did not need to see first innings century-maker Alastair Cook bat again so promoted Trott – following his two failures from three attempts – to open alongside Strauss.
Their composed stand should mean England can declare by early afternoon today.
Perth pitch gives Clarke issues over bowling for third Test
Australia were leaving it late to name their team for the third Test against India today as Michael Clarke considered using a four-man pace attack.
With Ryan Harris expected to take the place of the injured James Pattinson, left-arm quick Mitchell Starc and off-spinner Nathan Lyon were battling for the final spot in the 11.
Predictions of an extraordinarily green, pace-friendly pitch have prompted many to call for the home side to use four quicks for the third time in the past five WACA Tests.
But the hot conditions have seen the pitch lose much of its colour in the past few days and WACA curator Cameron Sutherland believes the pitch will assist spinners despite being suited to quick bowlers.
The captain said while his natural instinct was always to play a specialist spinner and to bat first if he wins the toss, he would reconsider both if the conditions warrant it.
Clarke said he would discuss the conditions with coach Mickey Arthur, who knows the ground particularly well from his time in charge of Western Australia, before choosing between Starc and Lyon.
“I’m really confident our attack, whether we go with three quicks or four, will do a good job,” said Clarke. “I’ve seen India be successful against fast bowling and spin bowling and I don’t think we’re necessarily going to pick the attack for that, it’s more going to be what the conditions are out there and what we think is best to win the Test.
“But these conditions are obviously going to suit fast bowling, especially on day one, and I think the new ball is going to be really important in this Test.”
Lyon has endured a lean series, having taken just 2-180 from Australia’s two victories in Melbourne and Sydney, but Clarke said it would be tough to leave him out.
Nevertheless, Clarke said he felt the injury-prone Harris and Starc, who has played two Tests, were both primed to perform.
“Ryan Harris ... is as good a fast bowler as I’ve played with through my whole career,” he said.
“And Mitchell is a very talented young player who has a bright future for Australia.”
Sutherland said the pace and bounce of the pitch in Perth was being over-hyped and it would likely prove similar to the Bupa Sheffield Shield pitches produced this season, which have not been as pace-friendly as their colour would have suggested.
“It’ll have a green tinge, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s certainly not the Incredible Hulk or the Green Monster any more,” he said.