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Easy enough to sneer at Monty – but the wrong thing to do!

by Jon Berry

What’s a poor cricket blogger to do? No sooner had I put the last full stop to the original of the draft below than Monty saw the error of his ways. And for that too, we should resist the urge to sneer.


In August 2020, Azeem Rafiq revealed the extent of the racist abuse he had endured as a professional cricketer. For the first time since the delirious aftermath of the 2005 Ashes victory (seen by millions on free-to-air TV) cricket hit the front pages. For a sport that was gradually fading from public view, Rafiq’s comments made for a miserable episode. 

Cricket has to fight for any sort of media coverage. It is hidden behind paywalls with few of England’s top players enjoying any sort of public recognition. The start of the county championship – slate grey and sodden and with barely a positive result in sight – inhabits dusty corners, even in those few broadsheets that consider it worth their inclusion. But when former England spinner, Monty Panesar announced that he was to embark on a political career, cricket was, for better or worse, in the news again.

It is fair to say that Monty has never been shy about expressing an opinion. In the past he’s given some pretty robust views on everything from LGBTQ+ to abortion to immigration. From a cricketing point of view, in an interview for The Guardian in 2021 he showed little fellow feeling for Rafiq, proffering the view that the Yorkshireman had been too willing to cast himself as victim and should have exhibited greater resilience during his travails. His outspokenness, however, isn’t always as consistent as it might be.

In that interview, he talked of the need for young cricketers of Asian heritage to ‘focus on your cricket …and that takes you away from conversations about ‘diversity’ and ‘fitting in’.  A few weeks later, however, his stance was somewhat different. Children from minority ethnic backgrounds, he suggested, did not feel that a career in the professional game was open to them.’  This floppiness of thought was to be exposed even more starkly as he threw in his lot with George Galloway’s Workers Party.

If you’ve looked at From Azeem to Ashes (and I sort of apologize for such a crude plug) you’ll know the left-leaning nature of my politics and so, just for clarity, I think it fair to disclose that I think Galloway is smart, eloquent and charismatic – as well as being a mendacious, manipulative charlatan. That Monty fell for his charms is as understandable as it is regrettable. His calamitous and incoherent responses on Times Radio made for uncomfortable listening. Captain Galloway had sent out a number 11, at short notice and helmetless, to face the fired-up quicks: he should be ashamed of himself – if he even understood such a notion. I cheered when Monty came back as unscathed and proud as he did on that famous afternoon in Cardiff in 2009.

Monty might have trouble sorting his NATO from his ULEZ but there’s no doubting his obvious sincerity. He’ll have developed a pretty thick skin over the years as well. As ever in sport, but with cricket in particular, the delicate line between affectionate joshing and barbed sneering blurs very easily. Sometimes in his glowing career – England’s sixth best ever spinner with 167 Test wickets – it hasn’t taken much digging to detect nasty derision and mockery that goes with the fielding blunders and flat bowling spells. But then he’s done his bit on the boundary at Perth and Sydney, so he’s not going to be over worried by the jibes of a smart-alec radio hack.

And maybe – and I’ll readily admit that I might be stretching a point here – Monty’s shot at a different sphere of public life might just open up a worthwhile conversation. For all his flimsy grasp of detail about Galloway’s hotch-potch manifesto, his obvious and avowed purpose was to make a difference – to act for good. His frail grasp of detail may firm up, his political antennae become more attuned – and it looks as though it already has. The cricket world has, entirely properly, applauded Moeen’s commitment to becoming a role-model despite his initial reluctance to do so.  Monty might yet be the next cab off the rank.

His choice of political home may have been an odd one and, in political terms, he looks to have had a good eye for a wrong choice. In the meantime, we have a recognisable English cricketer of South Asian heritage sending a message that he wishes to use the profile that his sporting success has granted him to try and bring about a better society. That looks to me like there’s plenty there to be quietly pleased about.


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