Born in Bedfordshire to Indian Punjabi parents, he is the first Sikh to represent a nation other than India in Test cricket. Panesar sports a trademark black patka (a smaller version of the full Sikh turban) while playing and in cricket training. He is a crowd favourite in England, and many fans have worn patkas and fake beards while watching Panesar play.
Despite his embryonic international career Panesar often receives loud cheers whenever he comes on to bat or bowl and when he fields the ball, the latter due to Panesar's history of less than skilful fielding. When first selected for England he was widely said to be a particularly inept batsman and fielder, which may have contributed to this reception; the TMS commentator Henry Blofeld once accidentally referred to him as Monty Python, a mistake possibly encouraged by his comic reputation. However in more recent matches he has lived down these claims, and gained further popularity with his characteristic wicket-taking celebration, which consists of him gambolling down the pitch and high fiving his team-mates.
Panesar, a devout Sikh, has a large supportive family both in England and Punjab, his parents having migrated to England from India in the late 1970s. His father, Paramjeet Singh Panesar, who moved to England in 1979, is a builder. His mother is Gursharan Kaur. Panesar has a younger brother, Isher Singh Panesar, and sister, Charanjit Kaur Panesar. His family lives in Luton. Panesar is a devoted Luton Town fan and is often seen at matches.
Panesar has been quoted as saying, “I follow Sikhism, and maybe I’ve channelled the discipline that religion creates into my cricket. There’s discipline with any religion, and you can take it into a game or into anything else." (The Sunday Times, August 06, 2006). Away from cricket, Panesar went to Stopsley High School, Luton. For Sixth Form, he studied at Bedford Modern School. He also has a degree in computer science from Loughborough University. Panesar has uncut hair and a full length beard, which is a fundamental part of the Sikh identity and way of life. He won the 2006 Beard of the Year competition run by the Beard Liberation Front.
Nicknames for Panesar include "The Montster", "The Python" (a reference to Monty Python), The "Sikh of Tweak" (probably a humorous reference to Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne's (though mispronounced) sobriquet, 'The Sheik of Tweak)', "Montastic", "Parmesan Tony" (an anagram), "The Beard to be Feared", or most popular "The Turbanator" (though this can also refer to Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh).
Despite his continuing ineptness in the field and with the bat, Panesar's ability with the ball has enabled him to retain the role of England's number-one spin-bowler in recent test series. He was singled out for praise earlier in his career came from former England head coach Duncan Fletcher, who, although initially reluctant to single out Panesar, described him as "the best finger spinner in the world and was selected as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in the 2007 edition.
Panesar has certain physical attributes that help with his spin bowling. Firstly he has an unusually large hand, measuring , and can also rotate his hand at his wrist through 360 degrees.
Panesar's current bowling average, which hovers at 28.40, compares reasonably favourably with the more established finger-spinners such as Harbhajan Singh and Daniel Vettori. Panesar demonstrated his ability to take Test wickets in his first match in Nagpur, India, where his first Test wicket was that of the highly respected Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar. He also bowled batsmen Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Kaif. In the 2006 Test Series against Sri Lanka, Panesar claimed his first five-wicket haul for 78 runs, in the third Test at Trent Bridge. Monty went on to take 5 for 92 and 3 for 145 in the 3rd test match in Australia, in December 2006, despite England losing the match.
I am working on my version of the doosra — a ball which turns the other way — but we will just have to see what happens with it. As I gradually add things, it is one of my ambitions to be the best. It would be nice one day to be recognised as that.
On 11 June 2007, Panesar became the first English spinner to take 10 wickets in a match since Phil Tufnell when he returned match figures of 10/187. This was achieved against the West Indies in the Third Test at Old Trafford. He took his 100th test wicket on 25 May 2008, against New Zealand, also at Old Trafford.
Concerns over his fielding were shown in the third test match against India when a ball was hit towards him at long-off. He seemed to lose the ball in the background and the ball landed five yards away from him, when it should have been an easy catch. He did however make up for that error when he caught one a few minutes later at long-off. In the season of 2006 (after the first test at Lord's against Pakistan) it was discovered that Panesar required a different type of contact lenses to the ones that he had been wearing previously, it is unknown whether these helped his fielding, despite his remarkable improvement.
Panesar took three wickets in the first innings of the Test against Pakistan at Old Trafford, Manchester, on 27 June 2006. His wicket-taking was overshadowed by Steve Harmison who took a six wicket haul to get Pakistan all out for 119 in the 1st innings. However, Panesar took 5-72 in the second innings, and Harmison 5-57. The pair took 19 of the 20 Pakistani wickets in the match (the other being a run out) in an innings-and-120-run victory. This was the first time two bowlers had taken all bowling wickets since Jim Laker's record match figures of 19 for 90 again at Old Trafford. In the second innings Panesar took the wickets of five of the six specialist batsmen, including Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf.
In the first innings at Headingley, Panesar picked up three wickets including that of Inzamam-ul-Haq, who overbalanced and dislodged the bails with his stomach. In the second innings Panesar had figures of 3 for 39. Panesar was given some credit for responding to criticism from England coach Duncan Fletcher. Despite his performances in the Test arena against Pakistan in the summer of 2006, Panesar was overlooked for the 30 man ODI squad for the 2006 ICC Champion's Trophy in India.
The likelihood of Panesar playing against Australia in the 2006-07 Ashes series led to media commentary by some Australian players, who indicated that they would take an aggressive approach towards him. Australian captain Ricky Ponting said, "We'll try to make some sort of impact on him early on, and we won't let him get on top. The way our left-handers, especially Justin Langer and Matty Hayden, play spin is to be fairly aggressive." However, he was also praised by Ponting. Ponting told the Sunday Age, "He (Panesar) didn't look like he was scared to throw the ball up a little bit and actually try and get you out. He's got good, subtle changes of pace and, watching the other night (against Pakistan), a really good arm ball as well.". The former Australian Test player Darren Lehmann said "He's probably a more attacking bowler than Giles was, and a wicket-taking option for them, more so than Giles was." Commenting on the possibility of Australian crowds targeting Panesar because of his poor fielding and batting, Lehmann stuck up for Panesar saying "He should have no worries at all... He's a beautiful lad.. It also emerged that Panesar had been seeing a sports psychologist and talking to former England left-arm spinner Phil Tufnell, another English spinner who was poor at fielding, about the ribbing he is expecting to get from the Aussie crowds on the tour, and how to prepare himself mentally for the task.
Panesar was left out of the England team for the first two tests of the series, which led to a petition being started by BBC Radio Five Live, calling out for his inclusion. Panesar was eventually selected to play in the third test at the WACA in Perth. He finished the first innings with figures of 5 for 92 off 24 overs, with Justin Langer, Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist among his wickets, becoming the first English spin bowler to take five wickets in a test match at the WACA in Perth, his other two wickets being Shane Warne and Brett Lee. He also performed respectably with the bat, finishing on 16 not out as part of England's best partnership in the innings. He remained in the team for the rest of the series, finishing with a record of 10 wickets at an average of 37.90 and collecting a total of 35 runs. He was the joint third highest wicket taker for England behind Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff, tying with Steve Harmison, having only played in three out of the five tests. During the Tests Panesar played, he quickly became a crowd favourite for both Australian and English fans, eliciting cheers from the crowd when fielding, bowling or batting.
After the Ashes series, Panesar was selected in the England squad for the Commonwealth Bank series with Australia and New Zealand. He made his ODI debut against Australia at Melbourne on 12th January 2007 and played in nine matches in the series. His attacking style, bowling economically and aggressively in equal parts, worked well, taking nine wickets and conceding 4.60 runs per over.
Panesar was not selected for the following Twenty20 matches, with both sides electing not to include full-time spinners in their sides. He played in two of the three ODI matches taking 1/57 overall at 4.07 runs an over.
| Statistics correct as of 2008-09-24.|
|Opposition||Matches||Runs||Average||High Score||100 / 50||Runs||Wickets||Average||Best (Inns)|
|Australia||3||35||7.00||16*||0 / 0||379||10||37.90||5/92|
|India||6||29||4.14||9||0 / 0||715||13||55.00||4/101|
|New Zealand||6||26||3.25||10||0 / 0||577||20||28.85||6/37|
|Pakistan||4||13||13.00||5*||0 / 0||515||17||30.29||5/72|
|South Africa||4||11||2.75||10||0 / 0||412||13||31.69||4/74|
|Sri Lanka||6||30||10.00||26||0 / 0||615||18||34.16||5/78|
|West Indies||4||21||10.50||14*||0 / 0||430||23||18.69||6/129|
|Overall||33||165||5.50||26||0 / 0||3643||114||31.95||6/37|
|7 June–11 June 2007||West Indies||Old Trafford Cricket Ground, Manchester||Bowling: 10/187|
|23 May–27 May 2008||New Zealand||Old Trafford Cricket Ground, Manchester||Bowling: 6/37|
|17 May–19 June 2007||West Indies||23 wickets at an average of 18.69 (1 ten wicket-haul, 3 five wicket-hauls); 1 catch. 4 matches|
| Statistics correct as of 2008-01-24.|
|Opposition||Matches||Runs||Average||High Score||100 / 50||Runs||Wickets||Average||Best|
|Australia||6||1||-||1*||0 / 0||236||4||59.00||2/44|
|Bangladesh||1||-||-||-||0 / 0||25||3||8.33||3/25|
|Canada||1||-||-||-||0 / 0||35||1||35.00||1/35|
|India||6||-||-||-||0 / 0||268||6||44.66||1/28|
|Ireland||1||-||-||-||0 / 0||31||2||15.50||2/31|
|Kenya||1||-||-||-||0 / 0||28||0||-||-|
|New Zealand||5||6||6.00||6||0 / 0||200||6||33.33||2/35|
|South Africa||1||2||2.00||2||0 / 0||24||0||-||-|
|Sri Lanka||2||-||-||-||0 / 0||76||1||76||1/31|
|West Indies||2||14||7.00||13||0 / 0||57||1||57.00||1/29|
|Overall||26||26||5.20||13||0 / 0||980||24||40.83||3/25|