When Monty Panesar gets a wicket he leaps in the air. He does it every time. Usually he seems to reach about eighteen inches off the ground, but at particularly key moments he’s definitely clearing two feet. The leap is always accompanied by an immense smile and, increasingly, a double high-five with whichever of his team-mates is, as it were, to hand. The whole brief explosion is an irresistible combination of athleticism and glee.
Sportsmen and women being brands these days, the trademark celebration is a familiar sight, ranging from the showing-off-but-fun (Frankie Dettori jumping off his horse) through the OK-if-you-must-but-a-bit stupid-really (the Adebayor/Henry little dance) to the downright nauseating (that two-handed wave of Kournikova’s which used to make my slapping hand itch). No doubt aspiring athletes devise their own celebration, just as all actors have their Oscar acceptance speech rehearsed and ready. Yet the Panesar bounce, even though we’ve seen it often now, still seems spontaneous and genuine.
It’s part of the package: there’s just something about the guy out on a cricket pitch that gladdens the heart. He loves his cricket, and you feel he always will. Of course he’ll have bad times, losses of form, personal problems, injuries (God forbid), but you know that the day Monty Panesar gets cynical the game will be in serious trouble.
But don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting Panesar is merely some kind of simple, lovable, boyish enthusiast - obviously he’s a whole lot more than that. He’s known to take his religion seriously; I understand that in Sikhism self-respect, hard work and personal honour are highly valued while turning the other cheek doesn’t come into it much at all. This is a fighting man of outstanding talent who badly wants to win. It’ll be interesting in coming years to see how he combines with Flintoff, another alpha male with a deliberately unpretentious manner - symbiosis or rivalry?Glenn McGrath owns the turf because he’s f**king earned it, thank you very much, but Shane Warne owns the turf because ‘the scriptwriter’ has given it to him for a playground, and no nightclub, no blonde, no naughty substance will ever, ever be as much fun. On the surface Warne and Panesar couldn’t be more different, but the crested larrikin and the leaping Sikh share that same wicked joy in destroying their opponent…. the smile on the face of the tiger.