Monty and Moeen – A Conundrum

With the India test series rapidly approaching it’s strange to think, in fact it’s outright bizarre, that  we beat them in 2011 with spin. Swann and Monty were excellent. If anything, the Monster actually had the edge.

As a result we all simply assumed that when Swann’s elbow finally gave up the ghost, Monty would step up to replace him. The spin cupboard was stacked. These days it’s as bare as Kim Barnett’s head. What on earth happened?

In the absence of any specialist spinner worth his salt on the county circuit, many people are pining for a Monty recall. Indeed, we received this email the other day from Steve Rackett:

Whilst there has been a lot of fuss over recent months concerning the sacking of KP, I am going to suggest that Monty has been cast adrift in an equally incompetent way.  Indeed his treatment has been the most callous piece of man management that I can ever remember in British sport.

If Steve Finn’s bowling was broken by the coaches on the Ashes tour, I’d argue that Monty’s mind and spirit was managed in the same way.  Yes, Monty might be a fragile character.  But he is also a talented sportsman.    The word from the ECB is that Monty is not going to be picked in 2014 because he has “problems”.  It might just worth asking what – or more to the point who – has caused these problems.  They just don’t want to talk about Monty.

Yes he’s had a couple of games at Essex where he has gone off the boil, and he was dropped for a game for missing a team meeting. But despite all he has had to deal with, he has still managed to be the county’s leading wicket taker in the 4 day format in 2014.    He also managed a credible 2-27 off 4 overs in a match reduced to 21 overs – when he was on the winning side. Against, yes – Sri Lanka. 

When Swann quit the Ashes tour it should have become apparent to the English management that Monty could be their man.  Yes, he’s no Graham Swann.  But he still has a great record as a test bowler.  But he was treated appallingly in Australia and has been ditched and publicly humiliated in the months since coming back from down under.   A good and caring management team would have moved heaven and earth to get a player like this back in the side, especially given the lack of alternatives.   What a waste of a great asset.”

We can see exactly where Steve is coming from. The problem is, nobody quite knows what’s up with Monty. All we’ve heard publically is that he was recently dropped by Essex for poor time keeping, and that he’s not in the selectors’ thoughts due to off field issues. Many mainstream journalists have therefore dubbed him ‘unselectable’.

When situations like this arise – in other words, non-specific reasons are presented for a player’s omission – I usually assume the cricketer in question has personal problems of a sensitive nature: perhaps there’s illness in his family, he’s suffering mental health issues or legal problems, or his relationship with his other half is proving problematic.

I wouldn’t like to speculate which of these (if any) is relevant in Monty’s case, but it must be quite serious for the media to keep it under wraps. If it was purely disciplinary, then I assume more examples of bad behavior would have been leaked?

Having said that, there is still time for Monty to turn his career around. He’s 32 years old, so he could have a few good years left. However, in the meantime I believe England should stick with Moeen Ali.

I find it incredibly annoying that experts like Bob Willis and Mark Butcher keep referring to The Beard to be Feared as a part-time bowler. Just because he bats well doesn’t mean his bowling isn’t good enough. It is, after all, possible for a cricketer to be a genuine allrounder, rather than a batsman who bowls or a bowler who bats. Did people say Imran Khan was a part-time bowler?

I know this is stretching the point a little, but Moeen is a frontline bowler for Worcestershire. Fact. What’s more, he’s taken the third most wickets of any English spinner in the county championship over the last two years – that’s 91 wickets at 32 runs a piece (most of which were taken at seamer-friendly New Road).

When people like Willis keep referring to Moeen’s poor first class average (which is about 40) they are simply showing their ignorance. Moeen only started bowling seriously two years ago. His career stats are therefore misleading – almost in the same way that Jimmy Anderson’ test stats are warped by the terrible tours he endured early in his career.

What’s more, Willis explained away Ali’s successes against Sangakkara by claiming he is a much better bowler at left handers than rights handers. This argument is totally disingenuous. Most off spinners are more effective against lefties unless they’ve got a doosra up their sleeve (which, incidentally, Moeen is developing faster than any of his rivals).

What’s more, Graeme Swann was also a much better bowler at left handers. His test average against righties was in the mid-30s, whereas it was in the mid-20s for lefties. Grumpy Bob, much as I love him, is suffering from selective amnesia.

Alastair Cook needs to trust Mooen. Had he been selected as a specialist spinner, his performances would be seen as relatively encouraging: he bowls with decent control, gets some loop on the ball, and consistently put more revs on the ball than Herath at Headingley (if Sky’s gizmo is to be believed). He certainly looked no worse than Nathan Lyon on debut.

What’s more, there is no specialist spinner available who could currently do a better job than Moeen. If we were to pick one, as the likes of Butch seem to want, we would be picking a guy with worse recent stats than Ali. What’s the point in that?

Of course, we could throw in a youngster like Adam Riley or Ravi Patel, but would you want to repeat the mistake made with Kerrigan? As soon as he bowled a couple of bad balls Cook whisked Kerrigan out of the attack and ruined his confidence.

At least Moeen can develop in the knowledge he has a rather strong second string to his bow. The same could be said of Scott Borthwick and Adil Rashid, but Moeen will score more runs and should offer far more control with the ball than these leg-spinners.

The bottom line is there’s only one spin bowler available who’s better than The Facial Hair You Must Beware. He goes by the name of Monty Panesar.

James Morgan, with thanks to Steve Rackett


  • There’s been a bit of BTL comment about Monty – it’s been observed that he was never really favoured by Flower and seems to have suffered the same vague insinuations that KP did. There’s never anything specific, always just that ‘don’t ask, we know best’ stuff which so many sports writers repeat unquestioningly. When anyone actually delves in to the facts, there doesn’t seem to be much substance behind it.

    Yes, he’s had a few off-field problems, but the disfavour he’s suffered from management seems to date back an awful lot longer than any of that. He’s another player who, for reasons unclear, is persona non grata. Odd. The autobiography of Flower’s predecessor, Fletcher, revealed him to be unbelievably, almost pathologically, thin-skinned and prone to hate/paranoia. I wonder if it’s another of the traits the two men share?

    As a side point, which I don’t really like to make because it’s a bit close to hammering a bloke when he’s down, Cook really isn’t very good at skippering spinners which, unfortunately, is a classic sign of a poor and unimaginative captain.

    A lot of spinners are broken by club captains whilst they’re still kids. I did a bit of work with a talented kid at our club last season. He can turn it off glass but he’s terrified every time he gets hit for a four and thinks (justifiably) he’ll be taken off. Most of the work I did with him was about attitude and confidence, about understanding what the role of a leg spinner is, and very little to do with actually bowling. I’m pleased to say he came on leaps and bounds till he took six wickets in two overs in the semi final. Previously he was almost too embarrassed to spin the ball or try to get someone out. It’s strange you get guys playing Test cricket who are going through basically the same thing they did when they were fifteen.

    • Everyone knows that if a seamer bowls a rank long hop and gets hit for four it was either just a great shot or bad luck. If a spinner drops one slightly short and gets hit for four, he’s a bloody liability, get him off.

      It doesn’t help that spinners are more likely to go for six either. Its only two runs more than a 4, but it seems to really panic captains.

  • Good to see Moeen in the runs for Worcs this week, he deserves his place as a batsman alone. I agree though Cook need to put some faith in him as a bowler, good spin bowling is built on illusion and mind games as much as turning it every ball, so aided with confidence and a run in the side he could develop into all genuine international allrounder. Spending a season with Ajmal won’t do his bowling much harm either…

  • James, as you are well aware, test cricketers now need to bring more to the table than one set of skills. England carry Monty, and these days the top test sides are making sure the tail wags deep and long.
    England’s batting is fragile (it shouldn’t be), so to have to carry a batsmen is expensive. In fact whilst Jimmy has demonstrated that he can hold his wicket, he is not a run scorer, therefore England will have to rely on 9 batsmen to score 400+ in the 1st knock, and then get them over the line in the 2nd – it isn’t going to happen.
    Top class batsmen will know Monty is limited with his fielding, so they will seek him out – you can’t hide Monty in the field.
    So for that, I’d stay away from Monty, more often than not, he will not bowl England into winning situations. Ali is the best bet, as he can bat but he can do with more sharpness to his fielding.

  • We should have a moratorium on mentioning his doosra until he actually bowls one in a competitive match that goes the other way.


copywriter copywriting