Cricket: Cook promises to look after Panesar

LONDON (AFP) - Alastair Cook insisted England would "look after" Monty Panesar during what promises to be an especially challenging Ashes tour of Australia for the controversial spinner.

The England cricket captain, speaking at Heathrow Airport before the team flew out to Perth on Wednesday, said he had not been aware fully of the personal problems that saw Panesar sacked by south coast county Sussex in August after urinating over bouncers in an incident that saw him ejected from a Brighton nightclub.

"Clearly he's had a tough year or so and a lot of us didn't quite know what he was going through off the pitch," Cook said.

"It all came to light with a couple of incidents this summer but I think he's back on the right path now," the opening batsman added.

Panesar rebuilt his career on loan at Essex, Cook's county, towards the end of last season although this stint was not without incident too - the 31-year-old received a suspended England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) ban for an on-field altercation with Worcestershire's Ross Whiteley.

But the woeful Test debut of rival left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan in the drawn final match of the recent Ashes series - which England won 3-0 - at The Oval in August, strengthened Panesar's case for a Test recall.

With 164 wickets at an average of under 34 apiece in 48 Tests, Panesar has certainly proved his worth at international level and last November his match haul of 11 for 210 helped England to a 10-wicket win in the second Test against India in Mumbai.

But in Australia where pitches, with the exception of Sydney, are not renowned for aiding slow bowling, England are likely to stick with their usual policy of fielding just one specialist spinner.

And in that case, Panesar will have to play second fiddle to his old Northamptonshire team-mate Graeme Swann, whose 248 Test wickets have come at an average of under 29, with the off-break bowler's dangerous lower-order batting and excellent slip catching making him one of the mainstays of the England side.

Cook acknowledged that keeping Panesar on the straight and narrow on a tour where the bowler might be spending a lot of time on the sidelines could prove challenging.

"He will always have to work at it and the first thing was recognising he had a problem," the skipper said.

"He says he's ready to go again and we will have to work well with him on tour. The bottom line is he's a fantastic bowler with a great Test record.

"We've just got to make sure we look after him off the field. Sometimes when you're a second spinner you're not going to play games and it can be difficult carrying the drinks," acknowledged Cook.

"We've got to get him in the right frame of mind so that if he's called upon he'll be ready to play. Sometimes he struggles on tour and one of our responsibilities as a leadership group is to be aware of that."

England, bidding for a fourth successive Ashes series win - something they last achieved in the 19th century - begin their tour with a three-day game against Western Australia in Perth starting on Oct 31.

The first of a five-Test series against Australia is scheduled to take place at the Gabba ground in Brisbane from Nov 21-25.

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