It is November 2012, India have just won the first of the four-match Test series against England at Ahmedabad and are oozing with confidence before the second game at the Wankhede.
India opt to bat again, and why would not they? When it is a lineup that features Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar at the top.
James Anderson removes Gambhir first. But then a man with a beard and a black turban steals the show for England. First, the left-arm spinner cleans up Sehwag with a faster one and then castles the great Tendulkar with a peach which lands on middle and leg and hits the top of off-stump.
Monty Panesar did not stop there. He also accounted for the talismanic Virat Kohli, who back then was taking baby steps into international cricket and MS Dhoni, the captain who managed to lob one to gully.
Panesar also picked up Ravichandran Ashwin to finish with 5/129. India managed 327 but England bettered it by a margin as they notched up 413. In the second innings, the show from Panesar continued as he once again ran through the rival batting line-up.
This time, he registered figures of 6/81 to help bowl India out for 142. England knocked off the 58 runs required with ease to draw level in the series.
He was quite brilliant in Eden Gardens too, in the next game where he grabbed match figures of 5/165 to help his side go one up in the series and eventually win it.
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Jump-cut to December, 2016, England are presently 3-0 down in the five-Test match series with just one game to go. How they needed a Panesar in the side! But where is the champion now?
Panesar never came close to getting a call-up for this Test series in India. The spinner who bowled England to victory four years back has played only six first-class games over the past two seasons, picking 12 wickets.
Since 2013, the England ‘turbanator’ has moved on from two county outfits, dishonoured. The sides have reportedly complained of his erratic behaviour, something which Panesar has accepted. Earlier this year he had revealed he was suffering from paranoia for which he was consulting a psychiatrist. He has now moved to his first ever club side, Northamptonshire, without a contract.
“The people who were helping me did see a change. They said to me it would it take three to six months to get back to where I need to be,” Panesar told BBC in May.
“You have got to take one step at a time and be patient with the whole process and eventually have the faith that things will get better.”
It all started to fall apart for Panesar in 2013
But it all started to go awry for Panesar three years back as his marriage was coming to an end. He was axed by Sussex for his on the field attitude and then was told he would not play in the third Ashes Test.
Dejected, he decided to go on a night out with his county team-mates. He had kept himself away from alcohol as far as he could but that night he got heavily drunk. He was asked to leave the nightclub and an angry Panesar urinated on a few bouncers.
He was arrested after a brief police chase at a takeaway joint. He apologised and got away with a 90 pound fine but that could not save his Sussex deal.
“I was very settled,” Panesar was quoted by New Statesman. “I was four years there and I thought, ‘I probably wanna spend the rest of my career here now.”
Panesar was signed by Essex, but he could not quite recover from his stress. “When my confidence was low, I was paranoid and I’d start thinking that my team-mates are not with me. It’s as if everyone’s against you.”
He made it to the England team for the 2013-2014 return Ashes series which Australia won 5-0. Now the infamous whitewash had a lasting effect on him.
“From the minute he came back, there was something not quite right with him, both cricket-wise and mentally,” Paul Grayson, the then Essex coach said.
By the beginning of the 2014 season, Panesar had lost all form and was seemingly unaware of his mental health problems. “I was in denial for a long time. I didn’t really share it with anyone. If you’re vulnerable then it can be quite a lonely place,” he said.
He was sacked by Essex in September 2015
Essex’s patience with the left-arm tweaker finally ran out in September 2015, as they decided to drop him. During his stint, he had taken 67 wickets in 24 games (all in Division 2).
He then underwent a shoulder surgery last November and since then he has just played three games for Northamptonshire.
Besides cricket, Panesar, who has taken 167 wickets at an average of 34.71 in 50 Tests is trying to work as a mental health ambassador for the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA).
Two months back he was plying his trade in Australia for Campbelltown-Camden Ghosts in the New South Wales’ Premier Cricket competition.
The 34-year-old speaking to Fox Sports said he was still optimistic of an England call-back.
“That’s (playing for England) very much one of my central focuses,” he said.
Panesar is still hopeful of an England callback
“I’m very serious about my cricket, very serious about getting my fitness back on track and getting my shoulder back to full strength in Campbelltown. I want to go back fit and play for a county and hopefully represent my country again.”
Speaking about his mental problems, Panesar said,” “I’m in a much better place right now, I feel a lot more confident within myself. So everything is in good order, and hopefully, I can start building and start moving forward, and onwards and upwards.”
“I feel a lot better now and a lot more within myself and a lot more confident. A lot of people have said that I seem myself again.”
– Debdoot Das