Monty Panesar Exclusive Interview with OLBG on the Ashes, Cricket WC and more

Updated: 40 Cricket

This Monty Panesar interview is an exclusive and engaging discussion on the current dynamics of The Ashes and cricket's inclusivity. It also previews England's ODI World Cup plans, and caps with some Premier League excitement

Monty Panesar Exclusive Interview with OLBG on the Ashes, Cricket WC and more

Flickr (User:mugley), CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Steve Madgwick Editor-In-Chief

Editor-In-Chief with 20 years experience covering the betting angles to breaking news stories. Daily slots player, Portsmouth fan and League Snooker Player

Welcome to our in-depth discussion with Monty Panesar, one of cricket's renowned voices. We will be analysing the ongoing Ashes series from its most significant events and performances to the elements that have bolstered Australia's current lead. 

Our conversation will explore the standout players who have excelled within the atmosphere of this intense competition and what England's prospects are in upcoming matches. 

We'll delve into the potential impact of Nathan Lyon's injury on the Australian team and question the aftermath of the Bairstow incident, focusing on the justified responses of the English team. 

Additionally, issues regarding inclusivity within cricket, illuminated particularly within the England women's team, will be discussed as we consider ways to make the sport accessible to all demographics. 

We'll also preview England's preparation for the ODI World Cup in India, estimating their competitive standing. 

Finally, we'll be indulging in a bit of football talks, diving into the excitement surrounding Luton Town's entry into the Premier League. We hope you get a multifaceted perspective on these timely topics.

What have you made of the Ashes series as a whole so far?

I think it's been a brilliant series so far. You look at the overs, the runs, and everything put together, and you can see both teams are evenly matched. It feels as if it's the first half of a football match and I know Australia are 2-1 up, but it feels like it's 1-1 at this stage.

The thing is with England, they could have been ahead at this point in the series if they were a little bit smarter with some of their decision-making. That declaration at Edgbaston, if they just thought to themselves that Joe Root is 180, not out, let's see if we can get up to 450, maybe even 500, then I think England go on to win that test match and we'd be sat here with England 2-1 up going into Old Trafford.

I think they overdid it with the Bazball style of cricket, but I think now they're starting to get better grips of it and not get too carried away. Australia are the first team who have said to England 'you throw the first punches at us'. They've reacted to what England are doing and set fields accordingly.

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Australia have put aside their egos, this aggressive, bullish nature of cricket we've seen in the past, they've thought “no” and let England throw the punches, put our pride aside and set our fields based on what England are trying to do. I think that's helped Australia to work out the tempo and the pace that each test match has gone at. They've reacted to England's aggression and countered it well during the series so far.

What are the key factors that have contributed to Australia's lead in this Ashes so far?

I would say it's been Pat Cummins' captaincy because he hasn't been afraid to change the field. He's led from the front, whether it's been with the bowl or the bat, and he has stood up and delivered for his team. He did it at Edgbaston with the bat alongside Nathan Lyon and it's given the rest of the team belief. Cummins has said to his team, “I'm standing up as captain and I need the rest of you to follow me in these moments.”

By Ben Sutherland - https://www.flickr.com/photos/bensutherland/48630969781/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112360088

Australia can't be afraid of this aggressive brand of cricket that England are bringing towards them. There will always be moments where Australia will get on top, but reacting to what England are trying to do has been the main factor so far. Australia haven't let the game get away from them in these moments. The one concern would be their bowlers are going for about six runs an over, which they won't be used to.

That's an area where Australia will want to find some control, discover which bowlers can control from one end and which bowlers can be aggressive.

Who has been your stand out player in the Ashes so far?

For me, it's Ben Stokes and there's no questions about it. The way he has stood up, that 155 at Lords in the fourth innings, there's not many players in world cricket who could do that.

Ben Sutherland, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, England fell short, but the way he stood up single handily showed the rest of the guys that they were getting carried away with Bazball. They need to be smart with the approach and he's standing up again as the captain of this team.

He's showing the rest of the team how to do it. You have to pick the right moments to show aggression to this Australian bowling attack. Some of the other players need to get better at doing that, but Ben Stokes has been really good with his captaincy so far.

There's always the concern that he can't bowl many overs, so it’s a question of how England are going to manage their bowling load. When they have the five bowlers at full fitness, Ben Stokes can come in and bowl a few overs to give the rest of the guys a rest and so they can make a bigger impact.

Headingley was the perfect game for him as captain because of the extra pace of Mark Wood. It's also how strong his mind is, that mindset of a leader in a team.

I think he gets immense satisfaction from getting the best out of other players and as a leader he really thrives and enjoys that aspect. You can see how he's interacting with players like Mark Wood because he's missed a lot of test matches.

Seeing him come in and bowl as well as he did and bowling the quickest spell we've seen in a long time is great to see. But you could see the appreciation from Ben Stokes for the job Mark Wood did over that test match. 

How do you see the remaining test matches playing out?

Well, it depends on the Old Trafford pitch really because if there's pace in the wicket over the next week or so, then they may go with Josh Tongue. But if there's any sort of green grass then Ben Stokes may want James Anderson to play because England will already have the pace of Mark Wood. England may need a bowler who can get extra seam movement and if there's grass on the wicket, we may see James Anderson there. Personally, my record at Old Trafford is pretty good, the last three test matches I played there I picked up five-for’s.

The ball does turn there and you can get extra bounce from the pitch. So, for someone like Moeen Ali, it could be an ideal test match for him. We've seen him pick up some crucial wickets and he just seems to be able to keep chipping away at batsmen. But we may see a bigger performance from him because he is a fantastic cricketer and sometimes, I think he can be underrated.

His achievements in the game are unbelievable and I think Old Trafford could be a big game for Moeen Ali.

www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

What are England's chances of winning the Ashes?

I think it'll come down to Old Trafford and Mark Wood again. If he bowls like he did at Headingley, then I think England have a great chance of winning this next test match as well.

Moeen Ali will be more involved in the game because of the way the Old Trafford pitch takes on the turn and the bounce. It's generally a slightly bouncier pitch with a bit more pace in it for spinners. In particular though, I think Mark Wood is key because he's really rattled the Australians.

The extra pace, bowling at 96mph and getting swing through the air is something very special.

If you can keep Mark Wood fit, then I think England will go on to win the Ashes.

As a spinner, do you think England have missed having a regular, front line spin bowler?

Yeah, I think they have missed that front line spinner. Jack Leach has done really well under the leadership of Ben Stokes, and he's grown as a cricketer with this aggressive and positive style, he's made him grow as a spinner. But there aren’t many options out there who are specialist spinners because of the T20 game.

By Dave Morton - https://www.flickr.com/photos/forwarddefensive/51445193463/, PDM-owner, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112381047

Moeen Ali is kind of the last remaining spinner, Rehan Ahmed is another one, but when you're playing all forms of the game, then it becomes difficult to craft your skill. That's where I believe the ECB need to develop a spin programme to make sure the development of spinners is still there, and captains are encouraged to give spinners a go in four-day cricket. Rather than play that medium pace seamer who might take wickets, give the ball to a spinner to give them more of a chance.

England need more spinners coming through, otherwise what will happen is you won't pick specialist spinners. Players who bowl spin well in T20 cricket and can bat a bit will be selected over the specialists. That's how this Bazball team selection is at the moment, especially with the way they play such aggressive cricket. 

Rehan Ahmed was called up for the second test due to Moeen Ali’s injury, what’s the message to him when Joe Root is chosen as the frontline spinner in that scenario?

If you look at the top 20 players in country cricket, the only two bowling the most overs who are spinners are Jack Leach and Simon Harmer. I think the message is, if you're a young English specialist spinner then it's a great opportunity for you right now. If you can craft your skill and become a good spinner, then English cricket is crying out for a specialist spinner to come into the game.

If there are any good spinners out there, then I'd encourage them to get in touch with the counties and get yourself involved.

For the ones currently in the set up, then their thoughts will be that they have to play all formats of the game if they want to get into this England side. The four-day wickets or performances will not be enough to get you in the England side, you have to show you can do it in other formats as well. That's the type of player that England are looking for right now, they aren't looking at the specialist spinners or County Championship cricketers, they're looking for those who play in all formats of the game.

That's one of the reasons Jonny Bairstow is playing and not Ben Foakes because Jonny Bairstow fits the mould of being a good T20/ODI batsman as well as his red ball credentials. It's the same thing that is happening with the spinners right now.

How significant do you think the injury to Nathan Lyon could be for Australia having seen the first match without him?

By Ben Sutherland - https://www.flickr.com/photos/bensutherland/48631121387/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112360105

I think for Australia, it's just simple a huge task to fill the shoes of someone like Nathan Lyon. Nathan Lyon is brilliant, and we all thought he'd take his 500th wicket at Lords before the injury, which was unfortunate for him. But Todd Murphy is equally a good bowler, England should not underestimate him as a spinner. He has a good stock delivery and can turn the ball really well.

The Old Trafford pitch may actually suit him, especially with the left handers that England have and if Moeen Ali is promoted to 3 in the order, we might see him bowl early. Ben Stokes if he's in early, we know he’s quite circumstance-based against the spinners.

This pitch may just suit Todd Murphy, England can't afford to be complacent and think ‘well Nathan Lyon isn't playing so there isn't a threat of spin’. Todd Murphy is equally a good bowler and he performed well in India.

Obviously, he doesn't have the record of Nathan Lyon in this moment, but that could be the area where England may give the advantage back to Australia.

What do you think about Australia's use of spin bowling in the Ashes so far?

I think Australia didn't have enough runs on the board to get the most out of Todd Murphy. If you're going to get a spinner involved in a short run chase, then you've got to get them on very early.

When Mitchell Starc got Moeen Ali out, it encouraged Pat Cummins to keep going with the seamers. But at some point, you've got to bring the spinner in and say to Todd Murphy ‘I have the confidence in you to do the job.’

This is a key passage of the game, and I will back you as my spinner, Pat Cummins has to do that at Old Trafford. If you're only going to give him two or three overs in a run chase of 250 then, to me, he shows that he doesn't have the faith in him or believe in his ability.That can have a knock-on effect, it could harm his confidence later down the line when he is given the ball and asked to perform.

You need to feel a part of the game and know that your captain can rely on you in passages of the game where you have to make an impact.

Pat Cummins can't just rely on his seamers and short pitched bowling. He has to turn to Todd Murphy at some point.

What was your take on the Bairstow incident and were England justified in kicking up a fuss?

I think the incident was completely unethical. Yes, it's in the rules of the game but Australia can win a game of cricket by getting Jonny Bairstow out with a normal dismissal.

They could have got him out bowled, caught behind, LBW or other formats, but to do it this way just showed how desperate Australia are to win. They won the test match and they're ahead 2-1, but you kind of feel like was it necessary for Pat Cummins to go through with the appeal.

I think Pat Cummins should have called him back and said we'll call you back, get you out in the normal way and still win the test match. I think that would have gained a lot of respect for the Australian team. From an Australian point of view, they'll say there's an element of hypocrisy after what Stuart Broad did in a previous Ashes series.

He edged it and should have walked but he stood there, so an Australian fan will believe Stuart Broad did a similar thing at Trent Bridge where England went on to win the test match. They will feel entitled to follow through with that appeal, which is in the laws of the game, but it does look like poor gamesmanship. From an Australian point of view, they feel they've done nothing wrong.  

Were you surprised by the Aussies' behaviour and their response to the saga, given the team's history of underhandedness?

Well, we've seen the Prime Ministers of both countries have a bit of banter between one another when they recently met. Rishi Sunak gave a nice reply when he said he forgot to bring some sandpaper. At the end of the day, England vs Australia has a great rivalry on the pitch and sometimes things happen that people might not fully agree with.

Whether it's the sledging, the moments we see at Lords with Bairstow; this only happens because of the rivalry.

Off the field they're great friends, I don't think the two teams will be bothered about having a beer together in this moment but maybe afterwards. They're just both enjoying the fact that this is such a close Ashes series which we don't often see in test match cricket.

We've had three games so far that have gone to the wire, whereas we usually see the home team dominate. England don't have an advantage in this series like Australia had in the last one, it's just a closely contested affair. Because of that entertaining factor and not knowing which team is going to win, then it's making the series even more special.

Test cricket in this country is unbelievable and we're seeing two teams so closely matched that it makes every ball entertaining to watch. You can predict the conditions and use the momentum you build, but you just never know.

I personally believe England have the advantage because of Mark Wood, I just feel this Australian batting line up are uncomfortable with his pace. That's why Steve Smith played that strange shot against Moeen Ali, because Mark Wood was bowling that quickly from the other end, so he wanted to score his runs off Moeen Ali.

I think that will help Moeen to pick up more wickets in this series, having that fear of Mark Wood's pace at the other end.

What do you think about England's Bazball approach and the implications of its results for the future of Test cricket?

I think when they come up against weaker opposition, so when they play Bazball against Sri Lanka and West Indies then I think England will completely dominate those sides. It'll be interesting to see how it works in India against a spinning ball, that will be another interesting series to watch.

Will England completely fold or can they play Bazball against a turning ball; or does it only work in English conditions with bouncy and seaming pitches. I do think they've been found out a little bit by Australia as they've held back. Andrew McDonald has been very clever with strategising their teams’ performances. They've used the short-pitched delivery really well and their field setting has been very good. They've a had short-leg in, square-leg on the catch and two men deep to provide some doubt into the English batsmen's heads.

If England take it on and get it slightly wrong, then there's men in catching positions ready to pounce. Both teams have accommodated this brand of cricket, whenever England or Australia face short-pitched bowling, they aren't afraid to take it on.

We've seen a lot of batsmen get hit, but they don't seem to mind that because both teams are taking each other on to see who's the better side.

Do you think England have made correct decisions when it comes to team selection this series? E.g- question marks over why Ben Foakes has not played yet

I think they have; Ben Foakes is a great wicketkeeper, but he averages 40 against spin and 28 against seam. He's been out twice in the space of 15 deliveries against the West Indies when the ball is above 87mph. So, he isn't actually that well equipped against the quicker bowling, but when you look at Jonny Bairstow famously at Old Trafford against South Africa last year, he took them on.

They were 50-5 and he scored a magnificent 100 in that game.

It comes down to being able to produce aggression in the right moments with Bazball and Ben Foakes hasn't got the game for it. He's a good wicketkeeper, but this England side have got the selection spot on with Jonny Bairstow because he is more likely to score runs. And if Ben Stokes isn't bowling, there's more pressure on the bowling and the batting line ups.

This is essentially a T20 side with a couple of specialist test match players. That's the team they're selecting, if there was another specialist batsman then they might go with Ben Foakes.

I just think they need the five seamers playing with the option of Ben Stokes bowling.

It's just difficult for Ben Foakes to get into the side currently, but if England lose the Ashes and Bairstow isn't in form going into a series in India, then I can see Ben Foakes coming back in. Wicketkeeping skills are a turning point in that part of the world, but in England it's the dynamic players who make a difference and players who take on the quick bowlers. England want players who put pressure back on the bowlers, they don't want players who play in a traditional manner.

When the balls coming at you at 90mph and you're able to pull it out of the ground, then that's the type of player England are looking at.

There’s been reports around the inclusivity in cricket in recent weeks which has been highlighted in the England’s women’s team especially, how does cricket become a sport for everyone?

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Well, the problem is funding really, I think especially in the women's game with there being no Lord's test match isn't fair and something needs to be done about it. It was a brilliant test match at Trent Bridge, and we need to have a Lord's one. The coaches coming through as well, with the women's coaching it's about understanding how they approach things in the women's game. Helping them to understand how to coach in men's, women and young boys or girls’ cricket will be important in the development of the game.

You want to see more women coaches coming into the men's game as well and vice versa to understand the dynamics. But the biggest thing for me is the funding in state schools, they need about £5 million pounds to fund it at state schools and to ensure more cricketers are coming through the system. We've got over 80% in the England men's national football team who come from state schools.

7% of the population are in private schools but 60% are professional cricketers from private schools. Clearly, there is elitism in cricket but the reason being is that they have the better facilities, access to better coaches and funding in terms of having money available to them.

In state schools that level of funding isn't available to them, so it's something that will take time to change, but it comes down to funding. If there's £4-5 million pounds available to fund cricket in state schools then it will help. But if that isn't the case then I'm afraid nothing is going to change, and we'll be seeing the same thing in the upcoming years. I think more cricketers will come from private schools because they'll be better cricketers, as I've said, they've got the access.

County teams and coaches have a better relationship with private schools so there's more cricketers coming through. Unless there's a grant coming through from somewhere to help state school cricket, then I think it's going to be difficult to see change.

You played against some legendary cricketers in your time. Who was the toughest batsman and the toughest bowler you ever faced and why?

Graeme Smith is the toughest batsman ever. He's got the persona, that bullish South African personality and that strong body language. He never gets an inch in anything that he does, and he was so strong mentally. He was a tough opponent for me, very difficult to bowl against.

 In terms of bowlers who I faced, Shoaib Akhtar was scary. You would genuinely feel scared facing him because he was that quick. Brett Lee as well, he was rapid. You could watch his bowling, but he was very quick, and it became a reaction when you were batting. When it's coming at such a pace, your instinct and reactions take over and you forget about technique.

It becomes a case of how quick your reactions are and your sensory skills to how you deal with bowlers like that. 

The Ashes has been played in good spirits with the occasion sledging, were there any sledges from your playing days you copped off the Aussies?

I used to get a few; the Australians used to say, 'let's get Monty out for an early lunch'. I remember an incident at Perth when Shane Warne was bowling, he bowled a googly and I shouted 'googly' as he released it and punched it through cover for a single. Two balls later, he showed his finger as if it was going to be another googly and bowled a leg break which I picked. All the guys around the bat, I think it was Mike Hussey, Matthew Hayden and few others, they started cracking up. They all said I was giving a masterclass in spin bowling when I couldn't bowl spin myself.

I told Matthew Hayden I got him out with a short ball that day so he couldn't even put a long hop away to the boundary. I got him out in the 90s from a short, wide ball and he edged it into the slips in the second innings. I remember Adam Gilchrist asking me 'Monty are you sure you want to bowl another over, I've just hit you for four sixes and next time I'll make it six'.

Following the Ashes, England’s attention turns to preparation for the ODI World Cup in India, how do you rate England’s chances going into that tournament?

I think England are favourites to win the ICC World Cup because the English players have done really well in the IPL. The pressure won't be on England either, the attention will be there, but all of the pressure is on India.

Let's be honest, everyone expects India to win the World Cup just as they did last time it was on their home soil. For England, they'll go out and play their best cricket and show the world how good we are in these conditions.

Jos Buttler has a fantastic record in the IPL, Moeen Ali has done really well, Ben Stokes was part of a winning side with MS Dhoni.

Sam Curran has really grown with the Punjab Kings and has done really well, and there's Liam Livingstone who has acclimatised to the conditions and hits one of the biggest sixes out there. I would expect Ben Stokes to come out of retirement going into the World Cup, so I think England will be favourites. Everyone will think England can't do it again and that they can't do it on sub-continent pitches, so no one’s going to think England are favourites. But I think they are because their style is so adaptable, and a lot of the players have performed in these conditions.

England are the team to beat during this World Cup.


You're a big Luton Town fan, how excited are you to see Luton in the Premier League?

I'm very excited to see Luton in the Premier League and I'm hoping they sign Paul Pogba for £8million. I think that's an absolute bargain, but there's a lot of clubs who don't want to touch him because of his past injuries and doubts over whether he could do it in the Premier League again. Paul Pogba to Luton, if he takes a wage cut could be a great move for Luton Town and Paul Pogba to reinvent his career. If he would take a pay cut and be ambitious enough to help Luton in the Premier League, then I think it could be the best thing for Paul Pogba.

I fully believe Luton will survive next season, I think there's a few managers such as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp who don't know what Kenilworth Road is.

But when Manchester City turn up and lose 2-0, Pep Guardiola will certainly know where the Hatters is and where Luton is.

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