On the one hand there is the perception and on the other comes the reality.
Back in early March, only days before Monty Panesar left for Sri Lanka with the England team, he conducted a spin bowling clinic at my boys' school as a favour to me (I've known him for a while through working with Neil Burns's London County Cricket Club mentoring organisation).
It was an intriguing experience. Even at that stage Monty, not least through his projection in the media, still created an image of lovable haplessness, a willing enthusiast and terrific bowler, but someone with no communication skills (his occasional "good areas" press conferences were things of dread on both sides). A bit of a misfit, in fact, when it came to the highly organised nature of the contemporary England team.
That clinic was a revelation. He was engaging and engaged, enthusiastic, skilful of course, articulate and interesting. In the course of the question and answer session, he showed a capacity for talking in minute detail about his art, from working on his wrist position to maximise spin, drift and bounce in various conditions (something he then demonstrated); to how he would approach bowling in Sri Lanka differently to the last time he was there. It was spellbinding. He should do more of them. What I had not realised at the time was that this was the first he had done.
A few weeks later in Sri Lanka, I suggested he should recall that Q&A when he did press conferences, and rather than conduct them in the manner he felt was required (default position: get away with saying as little as possible), he should express himself as he had done then. A measure of how much he has progressed in that regard, how his self-confidence and self-esteem has flourished, came with the delightful way in which he talked about his thought processes before bowling out Tendulkar with the delivery of his life in Mumbai. If there have been better quotes to come out of this tour, I have yet to see them, and these would not have come from the old "good areas Monty".
Watch him in action now and you witness not only a master of his craft (he was always a very fine bowler, even when he first started for England in Nagpur six years ago) but someone who finally is in control of his destiny. See the animation in him as he sets his field, and understand that it is not only his insistence that things are just so that is paramount, but that he is actually being allowed to do this for himself. It was not ever thus. His upbringing taught him respect for authority and seniors, but by his own admission this translated into deference. Essentially, whether or not he agreed with it, he did as he was told without demur.
After a previous tour of Sri Lanka, in which much had been expected of him but he had failed to deliver, his then county coach told me that Monty was unhappy with the fields he had been given. The obvious reaction is to query whether he had a tongue but this would misunderstand the dynamic. "Why," I had asked Michael Vaughan, his captain, on that same tour, "don't you let Monty set his own fields?" "Because he would set 'university' fields," was the reply. It was not meant as a compliment. I found it both patronising and, directed from a batsman towards a spin bowler of proven international pedigree, rather insulting. It was not Panesar who was setting "university fields" on that trip. Before that he had Duncan Fletcher with whom to contend.
Fletcher's admiration for Ashley Giles was understandable given the balance of the teams he wished to field, but in one conversation in which he justified this, he reinforced his argument by reeling off a list of things that Panesar could not do, without mentioning any qualities. At Northampton, he was the unknowing butt of derision from uncouth overseas players not in the same league as cricketers. He has always had to fight his corner.
Panesar's transformation has come largely from his work with Burns's organisation. It is more than four years since the autumn of 2008 when, through the association of Luton Town & Indians – the club that first saw him in its colts section – and London County Cricket Club, he first linked up with Burns, who, following a week spent with him at a retreat in South Africa's Drakensberg mountains, realised that he could help. It has been a lengthy but fruitful process since, based on mutual trust. His move from Northampton was an inevitable starting point, and in Sussex he found a club that valued him as a player and person. He spent time with Highveld Lions in South Africa, and Randwick Petersham in Sydney, all the while gaining the confidence to express himself through cricket. The developmental journey he has undertaken has been immense. He is not only a personality now, but a dominant one.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Steve Hodgson