Monty Panesar puts positive spin on Test woe
Monty Panesar has an obvious opportunity to re-establish himself as England's number one spinner following Graeme Swann's retirement, but he knows he will need to improve to do so.
Panesar was the man in possession before Swann's late flowering over the past five years, and the slow left-armer has since had to play second fiddle to the canny off-spinner.
Deployed only in Swann's absence, or as a second spinner in conducive conditions abroad, Panesar has rarely outshone his spin twin – but did so when he took 11 of their 19 wickets as England fought back in Mumbai on the way to series victory in India a year ago.
This time, if spin is required in Melbourne and he is preferred as expected to uncapped leg-spinner Scott Borthwick – added to the squad along with James Tredwell, a like-for-like Swann replacement – Panesar will have a lone role in his 50th Test at the MCG.
At 31, he already has 166 Test wickets to his name, but is under no illusion that he has much to prove – as do England, in this Ashes series already lost with two matches to play – if he is to merit mention eventually in the same breath as Swann.
"He has set the standard for spin bowling around world cricket," Panesar said of Swann, who announced his retirement mid-series on Sunday having failed to do himself justice with just seven wickets at 80 runs each this time down under.
"If I can reach half of what he's done, I'll be ecstatic."
Panesar is confident, despite his own mediocre performance as second spinner in the second-Test defeat in Adelaide, that he can raise his game on the big stage.
"I definitely feel ready coming into this Test," he said. "I'm really excited.
"The Boxing Day Test in Australia is a huge occasion and excites all of us."
Panesar, who left the England squad temporarily at the weekend to bowl in a grade match in Sydney, is eager to play his part as England seek to prove they are capable of better than they have shown so far this winter.
"Opportunities that come my way, I've got to grab them," he said.
"I know my strengths as a bowler and try and make the most of the opportunity and be ready for it.
"There are improvements I need to make in my game.
"As part of that, I've made a decision to play grade cricket after the Ashes... because I want to improve."
Panesar takes issue with the observation in some quarters that England's tour, comprising three successive landslide defeats to date and beset by a variety of off-the-field setbacks too, has become a 'joke'.
He said: "We're all disappointed with the way the results have been.
"Credit has to go to the Australians, how hard they've come at us and how ruthless they've been.
"We've got two Tests where we want to show some fight, some character and hope... to show a bit more resilience.
"I don't think it's become a joke at all. We've still got two Tests to show our hunger and determination, the cricket we want to play... we're a very determined dressing room, to make the most of these next two Tests."