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September 18 2018
Panesar and his battle with inner demons
08 August 2018

The Asian community does not understand mental illness, says the spinner

Monty Panesar is looking for a county. He has not played First-Class cricket since 2016 and these days turns out for Hornchurch in the Essex League Premier Division to keep himself active.

“The ball is coming out nicely out of my hand,” he says. “The fitness is really good. I just need a county to say, ‘come and have a net with us, come and have a trial with us. Play a few games, let’s see how it goes.’ I would love that opportunity.”

Time was when Panesar was England’s premier spin bowler, his undeniable talent, his child-like enthusiasm, his comical fielding all turning him into a cult figure with the Barmy Army.

But the last of his 167 Test wickets came nearly five years ago and the time he was being serenaded with chants of ‘Monty Monty Monty Monty Panesar’ on the boundary now seems like a different life.

It’s been a rough few years for Panesar. There was the infamous nightclub incident in 2013, when he was released by Sussex after urinating on bouncers.

He joined Essex, who cut him adrift in 2015 for off-field “issues”. His love for cricket had waned, he said. There followed an emotional return to Northamptonshire — his first county — but the reunion was all too brief.

Paranoia and anxiety

Panesar revealed he had been battling mental health issues, suffering from feelings of paranoia and anxiety. He had not dealt with it well at first, he admitted, but the 36-year-old has since recovered, bit by bit.

“I did yoga, boxing, had my own personal trainer, did a lot of gym work and reading. My physio asked me not to do anything that was pulling me down and just keep doing things that would elevate me rather than go on medication. I feel like I’m back where I used to be,” he says.

Panesar did not realise for a long time how bad things were. “The Asian community doesn’t have the education or understanding (of mental illness). They understand you have a broken leg and that if you put a plaster over it, it will take six weeks to heal.

“But a broken mind, they think let’s just stay away from that (person) because they think their mind might get broken with it. The mind also takes time to heal. In the Asian community, when a person is mentally down, they don’t want to touch him.”

English cricket has seen a few notable cases of mental illness, like those of Marcus Trescothick and Jonathan Trott. The nature of the sport perhaps has something to do with it, Panesar believes.

“It’s a combination of being away from home and also the pressure of playing cricket. Sometimes it’s your own desire. You are playing for your country and you are fighting for your spot. Sometimes it gets a bit too much.”

Warning signs

Players need to look for warning signs in the dressing room, he says. “When you go out for team meals, and you see a team-mate ordering room service or not wanting to mix, you can pick up on those signs. You can spot future cases early. Human behaviour is similar.”

Back in 2006, Panesar made his Test debut in Nagpur against a strong Indian team. His first wicket was Sachin Tendulkar’s, out leg before. Six years later, Panesar starred in England’s series victory in India, notably bowling Tendulkar in Mumbai with a delivery that pitched outside leg-stump and hit the top of off.

He’s still got the turn, Panesar insists, that led Duncan Fletcher to once declare him the best finger-spinner in the world.

“I can still pitch the ball outside leg and turn it past off-stump,” he says.

“That’s still happening. In my humble opinion, the ability is still there. I just need a chance.”

 

 

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