The Monday Mash: Lees and Monty

With England’s tour of South Africa looming, there’ll be plenty of cricket discussion on EMS over the coming weeks. But before the in-depth analysis begins (look out for our upcoming preview) I’d quickly like to cover a couple of stories in brief.

The first concerns Alex Lees, who has been appointed Yorkshire’s limited overs captain for 2016. At the age of just 22 (a wee pup on the threshold of life) he’ll be the county’s youngest ever one-day captain. He’s obviously got huge potential as both a batsman and, apparently, a leader too. He’s just the sort of cricketer that England need.

I just hope this extra responsibility doesn’t affect his batting though. I’m an enormous fan of Lees. I think he’s probably the most naturally talented young opening batsman England have produced since Mike Atherton. While England mess around with stop-gaps like Alex Hales and Nick Compton – batsmen who, in my humble opinion, will never be long-term answers at the top of the order – Lees has a real opportunity to fulfil his potential and forge a formidable partnership with Cook.

However, last year didn’t really go to plan. Lees only scored 800 championship runs at an average of 33. One wonders if his late season form was affected by a spell as Yorkshire’s interim captain? His form wasn’t exactly brilliant before he took the reins from Andrew Gale, but it probably didn’t help.

As an England supporter, I’d probably prefer Lees to focus purely on his batting at the mo. It’s a big ask for a 22 year old to breathe new life into Yorkshire’s one-day cricket. Expectations are incredibly high at Headingley, with the county’s form in T20 cricket a particular sore point, so I hope the added responsibility doesn’t lead to more setbacks.

Although Yorkshire reached the semis of the Royal London Cup last year, they’ve disappointed in limited overs for quite some time. Perhaps that’s a big reason why Jason Gillespie was overlooked for the England job? We all know that Andrew Strauss wanted England to take the short forms of the game more seriously.

The next bit of cricket news concerns good old Monty Panesar. After being released by Essex, who finally tired of his tardiness and off-field issues, I had wondered whether the Montster would retire. Well apparently not. The good news is that Monty looks set for a return to Northants – the county where he began his career.

I’m no psychologist, but one wonders whether being back in familiar surroundings might help Monty get his career back on track? He’s only 33 years old, and hasn’t played a huge amount of cricket in recent times, so he’s probably got a few good years left in the game – if he can get his head right of course.

There should be plenty of first team opportunities for Monty at Northants. Graeme White did an excellent job in one-day cricket but was largely anonymous in the championship (taking just eight wickets in three matches). Perhaps that’s why they’re apparently keen to bring Panesar home?

It also helps, of course, that the ECB might pay some of Monty’s salary. With a big tour of India coming up next winter, and England’s spin bowling resources as threadbare as Matt Prior’s scalp, the authorities obviously want to maximise every potential resource.

How times change. Back in 2009 Monty wanted to prepare for the test series in India by playing cricket in Sri Lanka – a wise move considering he hadn’t bowled much before the tour. However, even though he was England’s premier spinner at the time, the ECB refused to cough up a measly £7,500 to compensate the Sri Lankan side. Instead they offered just £500. The move therefore fell through.

Unsurprisingly Monty was rusty when he turned up in India. Graeme Swann soon became England’s first choice spinner instead. Panesar felt badly let down and his career nosedived thereafter.

At least the ECB actually seem to be thinking beyond the end of their wallets this time. Although seven grand does buy one a rather copious supply of gin.

James Morgan


  • Cricket does seem particularly tough on the psyche at the highest level.
    Even the free wheeling Jos Buttler apparently suffers from anxiety…

    The encouraging thing is that Monty has gone public about his own problems, and had a largely sympathetic and supportive response. I’m excited to see how he’ll do this season.

  • I wonder with Lees whether they should ignore county form and pick him? Vaughan’s county form was never that great, neither was Collingwood’s, but in each case there was recognition that they had the technique and/or temperament to succeed at the highest level. James Vince wasn’t selected because of his county form but his class is evident to anyone who watches him – and when they did finally pick him, he breaks the England record for runs in a T20 series.

    On Panesar, he gave his interview to The Times so it was concealed behind a paywall for most of us – but there was a decent summary in some other papers (the Mail’s was probably best – if you can bear it!). I can understand the argument about the familiarity of Northants – but it’s still disappointing that a D1 county hasn’t stepped up.

  • I’ve always thought Monty to be very special. Just excitement when he burst onto the scene that England finally had a slow bowler who could actually spin the ball. Not to mention the unbridled joy he showed whenever he got a wicket.

    I confess that I have experienced an anxiety disorder (which my fine GP sorted out) so I empathise with Monty and I know that it can get beyond control. It’s a lot to do with how Life treats you. Northants should be a good place for him. Always suspicious about what went on at Hove. The people in the area can be a very closed society and unfriendly to outsiders. I did think that the England dressing room would be an impermeable bubble that would help Monty but we all remember what Flower did to him in Oz. Two players suffering psychological problems out there is frightening.

    All my fingers are crossed for Monty. Sure he can come back. It was not long ago he got an 8-fer for Essex. If the ECB help him return, my view of their usefulness will go up a hundred fold.

  • Monty was a bit of an enigma.

    He was an obvious match winner and yet, never made himself a permenant first time pick. Presumably, his batting and fielding just wasn’t ever quite good enough and Swann was reliable and very high quality.

    I hope he can come back, because England desperately need a spinner.

  • Great to hear Monty has a new contract. You are quite right – in addition to being a spin friendly wicket, the choice of Northants is partially based on being near his family and the Sikh community in his home town of Luton.

    With the right support (which it sounds like he now has) Monty can play for England again. If he can overcome his off-field problems, he is still our best spinner by a mile.


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