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Panesar recalls Cook’s steel 12 years on from debut

Monty Panesar made his England bow alongside the retiring opener at Nagpur in 2006.

Monty Panesar has fond memories of sharing a Test debut with Alastair Cook and remains in awe of the discipline and temperament that kept his former team-mate in England colours for the past 12 years.

Cook will retire after his 161st appearance, which gets under way at the Oval on Friday, ending an record-breaking stint at the top which will see him bow out as the most capped player and most
productive English batsman of all.

His story started as the Vidarbha Cricket Ground in Nagpur in March 2006, when he travelled from the Caribbean to answer a late SOS and join a take his place as one of three debutants.

All-rounder Ian Blackwell scored four runs, took no wickets and did not win another cap, but the selectors struck instant gold with Cook, who announced himself in style with 60 and 104 not out, while
Panesar picked up the dream scalps of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.

“Everybody knew there was something special about Cookie, he’d already scored a double hundred against Australia and achieved amazing things very early in his career,” Panesar told Press Association Sport.

“He came straight into the Test match, no time to prepare, and embraced the challenge. Duncan Fletcher (England coach) liked him a lot and the way he went about the game.

“Everyone was really pleased for us and loved that we just went after it. We enjoyed competing and trying to get the best out of ourselves. It was quite evident in that dressing that we were two young
debutants who enjoyed international cricket, enjoyed the environment and embraced it.”

Although on the same path, Panesar and Cook were vastly different characters. One was the first Sikh to play cricket for England, the other a childhood chorister who sang at St Paul’s Cathedral. One a cult figure and terrace favourite, the other seemingly pre-ordained for his future as England captain.

While Cook went on to break every batting mark in the book and became a fixture, then leader, in the team for a dozen unbroken years, Panesar’s career burned brightly, but ended in 2013 after 50 Tests.

The 36-year-old puts Cook’s endurance down to a unique mental strength.

“He’s just got another gear in him. When you’re gone he can always go further. He’s mentally stronger than anyone else in the team and that’s played a huge role in his career,” said Panesar.

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Monty Panesar (r) and Alastair Cook appeal during a Test match at Lord’s (Gareth Copley/PA).

“To achieve that longevity you have to be emotionally balanced. He always had it in him, he was so level-headed and never got overwhelmed.

“I got overwhelmed by players and by situations, but I don’t think he ever got fazed by a cricketer in his career.

“He worked out a method for every bowler. He would play his three shots and stick to them. That was part of his grind, his stubbornness. He could do it all day without leaving his zone.

“He would always say to me, ‘Hang in, the rewards will come’. He was a big believer in that and it served him well.”

While Cook aims for a fitting final act this week, Panesar will also be hitting TV screens as part of
Celebrity Masterchef.

Cook is known in the dressing room as ‘Chef’, but seems an unlikely candidate to follow Panesar’s route to the kitchen when his playing days are done, with the family farm a likelier stopping point than the reality circuit.

“Cookie didn’t do much cooking himself, but if watches me in action maybe he’ll invite me over to come and do him a curry,” added Panesar.

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