In an exclusive interview with Safe Betting Sites, Monty Panesar reveals his prediction for the upcoming Ashes & talks through some of his career highlights playing for England.
The two-time Ashes winner and former England international believes Ollie Robinson is a more threatening bowler than Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc, Monty also thinks Mark Wood will be England’s X-factor in the test series.
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Interview highlights include:
- Ollie Robinson more threatening than Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc
- Mark Wood is England’s X-factor, David Warner knows he will be a handful
- This Ashes has got 2005 feel to it, England will win & millions will go to Trafalgar Square
- Jonny Bairstow should be England’s first choice wicket keeper and is more of a threat than Ben Foakes
Q: Are we in a golden era of English cricket at the moment?
Monty Panesar: “Absolutely. I think we’re being very spoiled. Let’s be honest. We are the double world champions. No other team has ever achieved that. We are the team that is leading worldwide cricket in T20, ODI and Test cricket as well. So I would say in all 3 formats, we are the leaders in world cricket. I remember even James Anderson saying that it’s funny how it’s taken so long to play cricket like this at Test level, but it’s very much due to the brave decisions that Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have made – in particular, the Pakistan first Test match. That was an interesting decision to enforce a game where most captains probably would have drawn the first Test of a series and then try and get a win in the second or the third to win the series. But they were like, “no, we’re going to win. We’re going to risk losing to win”. Not many captains before would have done that and I don’t think there’s many captains in world cricket who would do that. I think England, 100% at the moment, are leading in Test cricket, T20 and ODI.”
Q: Glen McGrath has once again predicted a 5-0 Ashes whitewash for Australia. He was almost right last time but surely he’s on a wind up this time around?
MP: “I think Glenn McGrath is always going to say that because he was a superior bowler and the way he played Test cricket, he eyed 5-0 and winning every game. But I think now the tables have turned – that’s what Australia used to be like. Now, England are like that so maybe he’s saying England 5-0!? I think we’ve misunderstood him there!”
Q: The bookies make England winning 3-2 the most likely outcome. What’s your prediction?
MP: “I think with the way England are playing, they will force a result in every Test match and it’s got that 2005 feel to it. I think if this time around England win the Ashes, they will win it in a way which will be exciting, people will want to watch cricket. I’ve got friends coming over from Australia paying a £1,000 a ticket, corporate tickets, or, more than that. They’re flying out and they want to watch the Ashes in England because they think it’s going to be one of the biggest sporting events this year between England and Australia. I just feel that it’s got that vibe about it. If England win the Ashes this time around I think it’s going to be an open top celebration as well. They’ll go to Trafalgar Square and there will be millions of people. It’s just got that feel and vibe to it this year.”
Q: Ollie Robinson claims England can ‘really stick one on Australia and win the series comfortably’. Is it dangerous to be overconfident?
MP: “England thrive when they feel very confident and I think if the fast bowlers of Australia aren’t as threatening as we have seen them in the past, because they haven’t been exposed to this style of cricket that England are playing at the moment, it could be very much England winning most of the games and they win the series. I think Australia are quite smart as well, they’ll work out ways to stop England’s style of cricket, possibly bowl a bit slower instead of quicker like they do in Australian conditions where the pitches are bouncier. You have to bowl 140km/h to get some wickets. But here, it’s more about seam movements, swing in the air and bowlers like Ollie Robinson are possibly more threatening than Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc. The Australian seamers may just think they need to just slow down in place to get more movement because then they’re not fearing our pace. It’ll be fascinating to see how the strategy develops but England are in the front seat. Australia have not been exposed to this style of cricket, they’ve been absolutely dominated in India with the spin bowling. You kind of sense that batters with any sort of seam or swing movement, England have a good chance of putting the top order under pressure.”
Q: Mark Wood took 5-14 for Lucknow Super Giants this weekend – the best-ever figures for an Englishman in the IPL. How crucial will he be to England’s Ashes chances?
MP: “He’s unbelievable. He’s like the X-factor in the England side. Every time you have a guy that can bowl 150km/h, you just feel like you’ve got to go after the other bowlers because you’ve got Mark Wood coming up. It was really good to see how he got Mitchell Marsh out first ball, completely done him for pace and Mitchell Marsh is a good striker of a cricket ball but the pace was too much for him. Also, David Warner got a feel for Mark Wood during the IPL and he knows this guy’s going to be a handful. I just think England have got so much strength in the bowling and batting department. They just look like a much stronger team at the moment compared to Australia with the X-factor team. Jofra Archer may hopefully be back as well playing, adding extra pace. I just feel like England are just really strong at the moment.”
Q: How impressed have you been by 18 y/o spinner Rehan Ahmed? Will he be involved in the Ashes?
MP: “He’s unbelievable. I think if the wicket does turn they may look to play him as a second spinner and he seems like a bright prospect. He can bat, bowl, play the T20 format, I think he’s playing a few T10 leagues and ODI as well with the World Cup coming up. He’s got a very exciting future ahead of him and it’s really good to see the depth that England has. Normally in the past with 18 or 19-year-olds coming through the ranks, you’d say give him a couple of years and see what he’s like but under the new management of Robert Key and Brendon McCullum, if they feel like they’ve seen enough of a youngster they get them in the team because they’re ready. I think that’s the difference now to what it was 10 or 15 years ago, making much braver calls and pushing the development of young cricket coming through. Rehan Ahmed is a very exciting talent.”
Q: Do you want to see Johnny Bairstow keeping wicket against Australia if he’s fully fit?
MP: “If Jonny Bairstow does get back in form and scores a few domestic runs then yeah, I think they’ll probably bring him back. He just offers a lot more with a bat and even with his presence in the team, I think Australia would prefer Ben Foakes as the ‘keeper but I think Jonny Bairstow offers a bit more and is more of a threat. He’ll take on Australia’s fast bowlers, give it back to them like we saw against South Africa last summer. I think Jonny Bairstow will probably be England’s first choice wicket keeper.”
Q: Jofra Archer is unlikely to play any red-ball cricket before the Ashes. Will he be undercooked?
MP: “There’s every chance. It depends on how he does in the IPL, he’s obviously been taken down by Virat Kohli in the last game and I think of his 17 deliveries, he took him down for 28 runs. I think Jofra Archer needs to be honest with himself a little bit and work out how his body is. But, how good would that be? Archer and Mark Wood being fit with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, there’s so much to choose from. The Australians know how lethal he is from Lords when he bowled that vicious bounce to Steve Smith, it was quick, fast and ferocious. England want him to be fully fit and if he’s ready to play Test cricket and his body can take it, he’s 100% in the squad.”
Q: Ben Stokes had a cortisone injection in his left knee before he departed for the IPL last week. Should England fans be worried about his fitness and workload?
MP: At the moment, he’s like the modern-day Mike Brearley if you ask me. I think his batting and bowling is a bonus but his development as a captain has gone through the roof. He’s unbelievable how he’s taken England to the next level. I think his batting will be much more crucial but the bowling department is covered so if he isn’t fit to bowl I don’t think he should. The past memories of an Ashes series always plays a part, Australia will know what Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes can do if they get going. They can win a game single handedly in a session. I think his batting is more important but his captaincy is a real asset and he will be very attacking and creative. Having four slips, no mid-on and possibly bringing in silly mid-off and encouraging the Australians, playing with their egos that they have. It will be a lot of fun, I cannot wait to see how Ben Stokes captains during the Ashes.”
Q: What do you like most about Ben Stokes’ captaincy style so far?
MP: “I think Ben Stokes has done really well, no one expected him to be a captain of this kind but he’s put his own style on the captaincy and added things as he goes along. It’s great to see because you want him to keep developing, it’s like a car – you have air-con, after you add air bags, gadgets and that’s what he’s doing. He’s been so inventive in the way he’s being ultra-positive, telling Jack Leach to keep sticking to this really aggressive field, he keeps bowling to it and you see him get a wicket. It’s the same with the batting, there will be times where they’re like 50/5 and they’ll say, “guys, it’s time for Bazball. Go there and take on the bowlers, that’s what you’re here to do”. I think a lot of people’s selections on the domestic cricket in the county championship is going to be based upon not the amount of runs or wickets you take but how you get them, how you take your wickets, how aggressive you are, how positive you are, because that’s the style they’re playing. You’ve got to adapt to that style and I think Ben Stokes has taken it to another level. No one really expected that’s how cricket will be played and that’s why I say England are the leading runners when it comes to taking the game to the next level – all formats and Ben Stokes is leading the way for it.”
Q: What influence has Brendon McCullum had on England since he took charge last year?
MP: “I think what he’s brought is a lot of fun and let people relax, be themselves. He also encourages them to go out and attack, play positive cricket and there’s no consequences. If first of all you dance down the wicket, top edge it and you’re out, it’s like, OK, I want you to play positive cricket. In the past, it was a little bit like there’s a consequence if the ball seams a little bit and you edge it, you’re not helping the team or if as a bowler you’re trying to bowl it too straight and the wicket is really flat for an LBW, you’re like that’s not disciplined bowling but now it’s like, no, I’d rather you be positive and aggressive and take it to the team. He’s taken the fear out of it, there’s no anxiety and also off the field he’s said touring is about having fun and it’s not about training all the time. There’s optional training sessions; some guys don’t even turn up for training because they go and play golf to help them mentally relax and be fresh. When they come into the Test match, they’re ready to go and play positive, aggressive cricket. I think Brendon McCullum himself is very positive and ultra-aggressive, he knows it takes a lot of energy to beat that type of cricketer, so you need to switch off and relax, so when you’re on the cricket field you’re entertaining the fans. Certainly, they’re playing entertaining cricket, the English fans are loving it, the Barmy Army are loving it and I’m sure the ECB are absolutely loving this new style of cricket.”
Q: Chennai Super Kings fans laid into Ben Stokes after he failed to fire on his IPL debut for the franchise. Will that bother him?
MP: “You know what they’re like in IPL teams, the fans are very loyal and it’s similar to how football is here so they expect a lot from their big guns and the guys who are on multi-million pound contracts. I’m sure we’ll see the best of Ben Stokes at some stage during this IPL and let’s hope it’s very soon.”
Q: Ben Duckett has been labelled England’s best player of spin bowling in a generation. How much do you rate him as a batsman?
MP: “He’s brilliant, his development has been unbelievable. I played with him at Northants and I said to him “you’re definitely going to play Test cricket at some point because you’re a brilliant batsman”. He remindeds me a lot of a Marcus Trescothick’s type of cricketer. He went to Notts, really wanted to play at a Test venue so if he gets runs he’ll get noticed. You can see his ambitions and how he’s thinking, I’m so pleased for him that he did. He took on the Pakistani bowlers with reverse sweeps and I think he will probably play the first Test match because he fits into that mould. He is quite a relaxed, laid-back cricketer off the field, but on the field is ultra-aggressive. I think that Brendon McCullum is bringing the best out of him. Don’t be surprised if you see him score 50 in the first hour of an Ashes Test match because he’s taking on the Australian fast bowlers. He’s like that, he hits the ball in unorthodox areas and it’s very difficult to set the field to him. He’s a brilliant cricketer and I really hope he has an unbelievable Ashes series this year.”
Q: Your first test wicket was that of the legend Sachin Tendulkar. Where does he rank in your personal list of greatest batsmen?
MP: “It was just unbelievable. I couldn’t believe I got his (Sachin Tendulkar) wicket as my first Test wicket. I was super excited and so happy. All the positivity was coming out, he’s one of the greats of the game, and you kinda don’t believe that you really got him out. It’s one of my favourite moments in Test cricket and my life. I was just so excited and happy about the whole moment. Even now, when you want to feel happy, you just watch him back on a YouTube video. He’s the best ever, there will be no one again like him.”
Q: You famously hit Murali for six back in 2006. Would you rank him above the other great spinners like Shane Warne and Anil Kumble?
MP: “It felt great, it came out of the screws and I don’t think he was too happy. He was giving me dirty looks! I was really enjoying myself and absolutely loving it. He’s definitely in the top five spin bowlers of all-time, I remember facing his first delivery and it’s a completely different shape of ball that a spinner would normally have with so many revs on it. It can be a distraction, sometimes you just panic when you hear it and don’t know which way it’s turning. I remember Duncan Fletcher telling me, “if you don’t know if it’s a doosra or off-spinner, just get down on one knee and sweep it, that’s the best way”. He’s definitely in the top five or top three in my opinion, one of the best ever. It was a privilege to be on the field with him.”
Q: Does hearing the Barmy Army singing away in the stands boost your energy during a long day in the field?
MP: “They’re the most loyal fans I’ve ever had. There’s been times where I wouldn’t get a wicket and they’ll start singing the songs, the Jerusalem song, the national anthem and everything like that. I’m like, “oh my gosh they’re boosting my energy”. I go out more energetic to bowl and try and get another wicket. I’ve got so many wickets from the help of the Barmy Army and I absolutely love them. They’re the best fans in the world and so much fun to be around.”
Q: How did you feel in the lead up to you Ashes debut?
MP: “Yeah, I was kind of nervous. I remember it was at Perth, we were already 2-0 down and we were bowling first. When I came out to bowl in front of the Barmy Army singing and making so much noise, it was an unbelievable feeling. I remember getting Justin Langer out before lunch and I went off celebrating. I couldn’t believe it, first wicket just before lunch and then I got a five-for on my first Ashes series. I was absolutely delighted, it is intimidating playing in Australia but you have to hold your nerve. We had great characters in the team then with Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, they were brilliant in standing up to the Australians and it lifts your spirits as well. You don’t have time to think about bowling to some of the greats of the game, you just have to go out there and get them out and that’s it. I remember getting Adam Gilchrist out second ball, hit the glove and he walked actually so that was good on him. There was Matthew Hayden, who I played a lot with at Northants and you kind of think he’s a big, intimidating figure but you see the likes of Pietersen there and you think no, I’ve got to stand up as well and take them on.”
Q: What advice would you give any Ashes debutants this summer?
MP: “If there’s any debutants this summer, just go out and enjoy the occasion, that’s it and play with freedom. Don’t worry about how many runs or wickets you’re going to get. You’ve just got to enjoy it and with a positive mindset you’re going to end up doing well anyway. Don’t worry about your performances, focus on how much you’re loving it, the passion for the game, and you’ll end up actually doing better than you think you do.”
Q: Batting wasn’t your strong point but which bowler did you fear facing the most during your career?
MP: “I remember facing Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar, they are probably the two quickest I faced.
I remember one of the top order batsmen telling me, “if you don’t want to get hit, watch the ball”, and I used to watch it closely and then sway out of it, and just a simple motivation. I don’t want to get hit by it. It’s an experience, facing fast bowling at 155km/h plus. It can be scary and you have to be absolutely focused.”
Q: How does Rohit Sharma’s captaincy differ to his predecessor, Virat Kohli’s?
MP: “Virat Kohli is much more of an aggressive and in your face type of captain, he’ll intimidate the opposition, very intense with the celebrations and he will let you know he’s there. Rohit Sharma’s probably a bit cooler, calmer and he’s the complete opposite of Kohli. He takes things in his stride but is aggressive when he needs to be. You can see he has a calmer head, whilst Kohli is much more intense.”
Q: Michael Vaughan was cleared ‘on balance of probabilities’ of using racist language towards Azeem Rafiq. Did the verdict surprise you?
MP: “If you look back at it now and all the players that were involved, you think to yourself there weren’t any winners out of this scenario. Going forward we’ve seen a lot more diversity training from the PCA, they’ve really stepped that up and it’s such a delicate and complex subject that everyone’s got a more thorough understanding now. For example, the p-word, there was a debate of if it was acceptable or not and I think people now have a firm line. There are certain words that you cannot say because it’s not the right thing to say. We’ve got new management with the ECB now with Richard Thompson and Richard Gould, they’re good people and they’ll definitely move it forward. Some other great things are happening like the ACE program and Leyton Hub program and we’re seeing some positive stuff coming through the system because there’s a lot of ethnic minority cricketers out there. You want to encourage the talent to come through and play professional cricket. I think it’s a responsibility now for head coaches, CEOs, players and assistant coaches all to get that diversity training and get a firm understanding of different cultures from different backgrounds so everyone feels included. England and the ECB, alongside other organisations are doing a lot now to help with diversity training. We don’t want a repeat of this situation and people are getting better at getting educated in these areas.”
Q: If you were in charge of the ECB, how would you get more working-class kids into cricket to move away from the perception that cricket is boring and for posh people?
MP: “I think in the urban areas, I’d push for more facilities so guys can play more cricket and then they feel like, yeah, there’s facilities there to play. Also, sometimes kit can be quite expensive, so try and create some funding where it’s accessible for the working class kids and they feel encouraged that it’s not too expensive that we can play with good facilities and access to equipment. That encourages them not to move away from cricket, but actually to get involved with cricket.”
Q: As an Arsenal fan, which players have you enjoyed watching most this season?
MP: “There’s been several but Bukayo Saka is the guy who I’ve really been impressed with. I’ve really enjoyed watching him play and also Mikel Arteta’s managerial skills. He’s taken Arsenal to another level, the way he’s done it with astute signings, Arsenal are surprising everyone and no one expected them to be at the top of the table. Ben White as well, really good defender and I think he’s absolutely brilliant. Also Martin Odegaard, good player. I haven’t been to the Emirates this season but hopefully I’m there when they lift the trophy.”
Q: You’ve previously spoken out against sports washing and blood money in football. Abramovich has gone but arguably the Saudi ownership of Newcastle is even more controversial. What’s your view on that issue?
MP: “I know sportswashing is a term where people invest in sports or big premiership clubs to make their image look cleaner, but you have to look at the positives. Look how Newcastle have become a better side, the fans are enjoying it, the recruitment of more jobs with more investment. There’s obviously certain issues that people relate to with money coming from the Middle East, but I’m sure the governors of Saudi Arabia will change as well with the pressures that the premiership can put on the government. You may need to increase the wages of labour workers, those who build stadiums and buildings in that part of the world. Give better living standards, that’s the kind of stuff that puts the British government into power when more money is being invested from Saudi Arabia. I’m sure there will be a middle ground somewhere. England and the British government can have the power to change the policies of working conditions in other countries. They can use that advantage to say, if you want to invest in the Premier League then we want to see changes in certain things as well and the British government is in a very powerful position.”