The spinner on bowling in the dark, Gangnam Style warm-ups and fancying himself as the next Mike Tyson
If proof were needed that being a top level sportsman requires as much mental strength as it does physical, take note of Monty Panesar. During three years of test exile, the 30-year-old spin bowler sought help from top sports psychologists to improve his confidence and, finding himself back in the England fold with an upcoming test series against New Zealand, ShortList finds it’s paid off.
When did you first undergo mental coaching?
Around two years ago when I didn’t feel my head was in the right place. I’ve been working with sports psychologist Dr Ken Jennings and [former cricketer] Neil Burns, who helped me lift the mental side of my game. The sessions have given me a strong identity, and I’ve learned what I bring to a cricket team. It’s a never-ending process.
Did you not seek help from within the team?
When I started my international career I was young and quite shy, and when things didn’t go well I was too afraid to approach people. A few years later, when I was more confident in talking to the captain or coach, I realised I didn’t want to. The guys I work with are outside the bubble; they focus on me.
What drills do you do with them?
We spend up to two hours going over basic techniques, reproducing and filming the bowling movement and looking at the data. I also keep a diary and write down my thoughts about how practice sessions have gone.
What unusual training methods have you undertaken?
I’m a bit of a training maverick. I get bored of cricket sessions, so sometimes I spend a day training with other sports. I recently spent the day with the Sydney Waratahs. That was intense. They had me pulling a 45kg weight on a sledge device. I didn’t take part in the contact stuff, though.
Have you attempted other sports?
I was invited to train with boxer Dillian Whyte. He had a fight to prepare for, so we couldn’t spar, but we hit pads together and I took on one of his protégés. I have surprisingly good hand-speed and reflexes. I’m still learning how to take a punch, but you never know, I could be the next Mike Tyson [laughs]. I already know my boxing name – Monty Cobra.
What’s the best training tip for a budding bowler?
Sometimes I dim the lights in a training room, so I’m bowling in near-darkness. It tests your perception, makes you trust your senses and helps hone your technique. Don’t worry if you don’t train indoors – try playing at dusk.
How important is a healthy dressing room?
Hugely. A lot was made of dressing room fractions when KP [Kevin Pietersen] left the squad last year, but now he’s back I think the lads have never been more together. Gangnam Style has helped – a few of us have danced around to that.
Do you have any mentors?
Shane Warne. We talk all the time. As a legendary spin bowler he can read the game really well, and he’ll be the first to tell me if there’s a part of my game that needs addressing.
Finally, do you keep a good diet?
Eating well is crucial to being a modern cricketer, especially if you want a prolonged career. At 30, I’m now stronger, quicker and more toned than I was at 20. I’ve even seen signs of a six pack of late. I just need to lay off the Häagen-Dazs.