Monty Panesar finished with 5 for 129

Monty Panesar: shape-shifter


The top 20

The balls of the century, No. 20: Monty Panesar to Sachin Tendulkar

Pitch leg, hit off, silence a city

Karthik Krishnaswamy  |  

We polled ESPNcricinfo's staff to find the top 20 deliveries in Test cricket in the 21st century. Here are the results, in reverse order

India v England, Mumbai, 2012

This story culminated at the Wankhede Stadium on November 23, 2012, but it began weeks before that, at Lord's, where Monty Panesar worked with Neil Burns of the London County Cricket Club to prepare for this India tour. Burns made Panesar bowl beyond the point of exhaustion, challenging him to maintain his action, his accuracy, and his bite off the pitch for as long as he could.

"When I bowled that ball to [Sachin] Tendulkar," Panesar says to ESPNcricinfo, "I could remember the training I did. When I bowled [in the Tests] I was like, gosh, I feel so fit, I feel strong, my action feels great, I felt like I could really flight the ball and spin it.

"I remember saying to myself, right, I want to hit the top of off stump. That was it."

The pitch, not yet the square turner it would become by the end of the match, had that gift that all Wankhede pitches give the spinner, bounce. It can be a two-edged sword, though, and the ball can beat the bat and go over the stumps. On that day, Panesar's rhythm allowed him to find that perfect, top-of-off length more easily than on others.

"Sometimes it's the visualisation, isn't it?" Panesar says. "I remember when I listened to Glenn McGrath's videos, he said it's the feel. Sometimes I looked at the spot [on the pitch], sometimes it's the feel. I didn't think I was going to get the batsman out like that. I just thought, let me get this ball to hit the top of off stump. Sachin paaji tried to play it towards mid-on, and it kind of pitched and hit off stump."

Pitch leg, hit off. Most left-arm spinners can bowl a ball that does those two things, but when there's a batsman in between, and that batsman is Sachin paaji, you need something extra to get past him. Right through this series, Panesar had that extra something.

Watch the ball again. Just as a wild-eyed Panesar runs into his team-mates' disjointed embrace, the speed of the delivery pops up on-screen: 95.4kph, 59.3mph. Talk of that pace - significantly quicker than the Indian spinners Panesar and Graeme Swann outbowled - dominated that series. When the ball is turning, batsmen are in even more trouble if there's no time to adjust.

But it wasn't just pace. At his best, Panesar could bowl with pace and a deceptive trajectory. He says he did that when he arrived in Test cricket, then "kind of lost that curve", and rediscovered it on that India tour.

"When you put a lot of revs on the ball, the flight of the ball goes up, down, and as it approaches the batsman, it curves in," Panesar says. "Halfway through the pitch it starts curving in, and has an arc. I got it on that delivery. When I watch it, it curves at the last minute, and then bites really quick because of my spin on it. My seam position is perfect."

The shape is everything. The inward curve draws Tendulkar into thinking leg side, and the dip beats him for length. All this happens at pace, and before he knows it, he hears the hollow sound of falling timber and the hoarse cries of the fielders around his bat. And then that sudden, poignant absence of noise.

"You look at that delivery," Panesar says. "His balance was perfect, but he completely misjudged the length, the curve on the ball, and he honestly thought it was just a ball that is going to skid on, with the pace that I bowled, towards leg stump. But it didn't.

"It was a great ball. It was something that I would say was probably a better ball than Shane Warne [to Mike Gatting]."

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo