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English multiculturalism prevails

July 13, 2009

It was an education for the Aussies. That is, if they choose to learn from this. The English were against the wall in the just concluded Cardiff Test match. Few would have bet against an Australian win, especially after the fall of Freddie Flintoff and later Paul Collingwood’s wicket. Paul Collingwood played especially well and most of those who were watching the match across the world believed that if Collingwood were to carry the bat through, England’s chances of drawing the Test were good. There were still eleven over’s left when Collingwood’s wicket fell. The English captain, Strauss hung his head in despair and cheered his star batsman back to the pavilion. I guess at that stage Strauss was preparing to walk down and shake hands with the victorious Australian side. He could well be preparing his speech and as is usually the case, point out a few reasons for the loss. But there was this brown Englishman from Luton who had other ideas.

Madhusudan Singh Panesar, better known as Monty Panesar, an outstanding left arm orthodox leg spinner was the last English batsman to take the crease. On the other side was the marvelously gifted medium pacer, James Anderson who had till then played like a regular batsman. Monty nodded to his partner as soon as he came on the wickets. It was as if the young Sardar from Luton was saying, ‘don’t worry, I am there’. What followed was a treat to watch. Both Monty and James played the innings of their life. Monty especially played a very brave innings. He was so elaborate in his shots. He was coming right behind the ball and would push it down so that there was no chance of lobbing a catch to the ring of Australians who were breathing down his neck. He was all concentration and played like his life depended on it. At one point when James was eager to take a run so that he could shield Monty, the Sardar nodded in assurance and then gave a thumbs’ up. It was almost comical the way the Aussies were frustrated for all of eleven overs and four balls. Later both Anderson and Panesar hit a boundary each to cross the Aussie total. It was not the fact that the English managed to draw the Test that mattered – it was the way they went about it that was so exciting. The twelfth man who came in twice with a towel and gloves was a bearded Muslim. He was scampering around with the paraphernalia that was really a ruse to make sure the players were comfortable and perhaps more importantly, that precious minutes could pass so that the batsmen do not have to play more than the allotted eleven over’s. One could argue that it was poor gamesmanship, but then the Aussies are no saints. One can imagine what they would have done in a similar situation. The English fans went crazy cheering every ball that was blocked away from the stump by this most unlikely of batsmen. Both Panesar and Anderson had been picked as specialist bowlers, but they stood tall for their side and earned a well deserved draw for their team.

Monty Panesar is quite popular in Britain, for the way he plays his cricket and his attitude towards the game. Yesterday he also showed that he has a big heart and can stand up and be counted by his side. I must add here that both these cricketers are my favorite English players (apart from Andrew Flintoff who is just so gifted) and I believe that while Jimmy Anderson has a classical bowling action that gives him a natural out swing, Monty Panesar is one of the best orthodox leg spinners in the world today. The only thing perhaps that he needs to remember whenever he is bowling is to flight the ball a bit more. The limited over format has ruined the natural flow of many a spinners and Monty is not the only one with this problem.

Apart from the nitty-gritty of the game of cricket, yesterday’s match was also a reminder that the world is shrinking rapidly. Who would have imagined a few decades ago that there would be a patka wearing devout Sikh playing for England and would play for his country such that he would snatch a draw from what most pundits reckoned was a sure defeat? Later, the lanky Sardar quipped that he ‘did not play as well as Yuvraj, but he sure did the job’, referring to the Indian left handed batsman who is one of the best in the game today. Monty was all concentration and batted very carefully. He was very clear that he needed to come right behind the ball and when the spinners were on, he smothered the spin decisively. I reckon, it was his will power more than his technique that saw him and his side through. It was a brown Englishman that saved the day for the Queen’s eleven. It was an extraordinary performance by any standards and one that was cheered by a full house ball by ball. It was a reassurance from Panesar that his honor is intrinsically linked with that of his country, the thumbs up he gave Anderson was his way of saying that all was not lost. Being of South Asian origin, he was that much more focused and wanted to prove a point. The Aussies were taken by surprise by the resolve of this young man. Monty and Jimmy successfully negotiated the last over and the much frustrated Aussie captain had no option but to shake hands with the last pair standing. The stadium erupted and all who were present there were standing, applauding the heroics of this last unlikely pair that saw England through. Were they cheering? You bet they were! The lanky Sardar, who is all arms and legs while fielding or bowling, walked tall. Anderson offered a shake of hands but the lad from Luton embraced in a typical South Asian gesture. The cameras were following them right till the dressing room.

The difference between the two teams was that while the Aussies were all white, the English had a third of the team that was not ethnically English. This multiculturalism was what made the difference and this gave the English added strength. The Aussies played better cricket for most of the five days, but could not make the final surge that would have given them the victory. A side that is diverse has its own character, which it derives from the amalgamation of different cultures. The English team has this diversity that makes them tenacious. They have become harder to beat ever since some of the players of South Asian origin have found place in the side. There is a lesson for us all. It is good to be varied and as they say ‘variety is the spice of life’. In today’s shrinking world, we will see more such teams with players from mixed backgrounds. I would love to see a player of Australian or English or West Indian origin playing for India. I can’t help but wonder: what if Andrew Symonds was in the Aussie team, would they have still settled for a draw?

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