DUBAI // Kevin Pietersen, if you believe all the media reports, was a disruptive and malignant influence in the dressing room and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) could not afford to keep him in their plans as they “rebuild not only the team but also team ethic and philosophy”.
Monty Panesar knows a different Pietersen – a supremely confident individual who encouraged new comers to the team and urged them to believe in themselves.
“He helped me with my self-belief,” said the England left-arm spinner, who rolled his arm over for the Marylebone Cricket Club in the Emirates Twenty20 tournament at The Sevens on Friday.
“I remember when I first came into international cricket, I was a kind of a shy person and he used to be huge in confidence, so he used to be, ‘Believe in yourself, back yourself’. We obviously had a very good relationship together.”
Pietersen's international career was brought to an end last month when the ECB, looking to rebuild after the dismal Ashes whitewash in Australia, decided to give their star batsman a pink slip. The announcement was a shock to the cricketing world and a few teammates, such as spinner Graeme Swann, were left "baffled" by the decision.
At present, there seems to be little chance of Pietersen playing for England again, but Panesar is hoping that can change.
“We are still good friends and who knows,” he said. “I hope he plays four-day cricket for Surrey and scores a lot of runs, and then sometimes these issues can be dissolved and you never know, he could come back and play for England and things could have a different note.”
Panesar, 31, is similarly optimistic about his future in English cricket. Once the darling of the Barmy Army, he has been in and out of the team in recent times, but with Swann calling time on his career, the Sikh sees an opportunity and wants to grab it.
“For me, I am obviously very keen to get back and stay in the England team and make the most of that,” he said. “Swann’s retired and there’s an opportunity for a spinner there, and I am really determined to go back to Essex and try to have a good start, try to put in some strong performances together, and if and when the opportunity presents itself, I am ready to take it.”
Sensing that opportunity, Panesar stayed back in Australia after the Ashes, working on his fitness at Sydney University. He is also ready to put behind all the controversies, including a late-night drinking session, which led to him being fined for urinating in public last August.
“That was just, sort of, an ordinary time in my life and I have just put it behind me,” he said. “I am in a really good space right now and I am looking forward to the Essex season and just focusing more on my cricket.
“I am hungry to play a lot more Test cricket and obviously other forms of the game as well. For me, it’s making sure my mental space is in a good order, firstly, so then I am raring to go. I am excited and really looking forward to it.
“Obviously, I love my bowling. I am really passionate about that. Hopefully I have more games ahead of me than behind and my best years are still well ahead of me.”
It was disappointment for Panesar at the Sevens on Friday night, though, as defending champions Sussex beat his MCC side by 12 runs in the Emirates Twenty20 final to win the title for a third time.
He went wicketless as Sussex, led by Harry Finch’s unbeaten 62, put 150 for two on the board and then restricted MCC to 138 for five.
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