Panesar conquers mental demons

Fall and rise

Bouncing back Former England left-arm spinner Monty Panesar still hopes of playing first-class cricket.

Monty Panesar’s international Test career began in a way that he didn’t even dream about.

A huge fan of Sachin Tendulkar, the left-arm spinner ended up grabbing the batting legend’s wicket as his very first Test scalp in the 2006 Nagpur game. Panesar also got that ball autographed by the Little Master himself.

Six years later in the 2012 series, Panesar was one of the star acts as England staged a remarkable rally to beat India 2-1 at their own bastion. Dropped from the first Test, Panesar took 17 wickets in the remaining three matches as he and Graeme Swann ran roughshod over the Indians.

The 36-year-old was at the peak of his powers. Unlike many of his English predecessors who thrived on bowling a negative line in unhelpful surfaces, Panesar relied on his attacking prowess. And even when Panesar wasn’t picking up wickets, fans loved the cheerful energy he brought on the field. Many wore his black trademark turban to the grounds with some even sporting fake black beards.

However, in a year’s time he suffered a spectacular fall from grace. His form nosedived alarmingly, he was caught urinating on nightclub bouncers in Brighton and then lost his place in the national team. All that led him to deep mental depression in 2015, a phase which he struggled to cope with initially by even refusing medication. But he managed to overcome it through yoga, boxing and gym session.

Panesar, who now works as mental health ambassador for the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA), felt during the early phases even he didn’t realise the severity of his condition. “I think you don’t know yourself. It’s like a broken leg. Everyone understands a broken leg — it takes six weeks to heal. The Asian community doesn’t have the education or understanding (of depression). They understand you have a broken leg and 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 (by thinking about) it.

“It’s not about that. It’s just that the mind takes time to heal, same thing as a broken leg. In the Asian community, they don’t understand that. They just put their hands away, we don’t want to get ourselves involved. I think the PCA were absolutely brilliant in the way they educate people on mental health and they educate signs to pick up on that.”

Panesar felt the long travels associated with cricket acts as a contributing factor in depression. “It’s a combination of being away from home and also the pressure of playing cricket. Sometimes it’s your own desire. You want to play international level continually, you want to fight for that. You are playing for your country and you are fighting for your spot. Sometimes it gets a bit too much for you.”

Having come out of it completely, Panesar says he’s working towards making an international comeback when people of his age are considering hanging up their boots.

“I still have the desire to play first-class cricket again. I’ll try speaking to all the coaches and see if I get an opportunity somewhere with the first-class counties to get a trial and get a look at my bowling. I just hope someone gives me a chance,” Panesar said.

Whether Panesar can scale this hurdle too will be known soon.

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