When you think of cricketer Monty Panesar you think of locations like Lords, Edgebaston and Headingley.
However it was in Upper Ballinderry in Co Antrim that the News Letter had the chance to catch up with the iconic spin bowler, who is intent on making a comeback.
The Northern Ireland visit for Monty coincides with the birth of his sister’s second child. The 37-year-old flew over earlier this week with his family to visit his sister Charanjit who set up home in Upper Ballinderry around a year and a half ago due to a business opportunity for her husband.
Monty, who played for England from 2006 to 2013, said he was keen to return to county cricket but didn’t rule out a spell with a team in Ireland some time in the future.
He said: “I did my level three (coaching qualification) here. Niall O’Brien and Ed Joyce (Irish cricketers) are good mates of mine. I played a lot of cricket with Ed at Sussex. I’d love to do something with Irish cricket. If there was a potential of playing for a team here and I had some sort of affiliation with Cricket Ireland it would be nice to fit it in. It’s a long way to come for a just a cricket match every week.”
Monty did something similar when he took on a coaching role in Australia and played for a club side in Sydney.
The Luton-born Sikh whose family came to England from Punjab in India said: “It was a very proud moment for me and people of my faith to see people in the crowd wearing patkas (Sikh headwear) when I was playing for England. If me playing for England helped the next generation of South Asian communities to integrate with English people, it makes me feel happy.”
The cricketer details the highs and lows of his career in his new book – The Full Monty.
His onfield achievements have been well documented – twice taking 10 wickets in a test match and starring with the bat in Cardiff as England turned in the tide in the 2009 Ashes series – as have his off-field misdemeanours – being released by his county side Sussex after a drunken incident in a nightclub in 2013.
Monty said: “I’d become isolated, I’d lost my faith. I was using alcohol to lift my mood rather than using it to enjoy.
“I think I’m in a much better place now. I’ve taken a holistic approach to finding my way out of the dark tunnel.
“The starting point was when I took an anti-depressant tablet. I remember taking it for the first time and my mind was so quiet.
“I used that anti-depressant as my reference point to look for what else that gives me that same feeling – comedy movies, spending time with friends, yoga.
“Everything I did that replaced the feeling of the anti-depressant I added to my list.
“I reconnected with my faith, my heart felt warmer.
“I haven’t taken anti-depressants for about three years. I’ve stopped drinking alcohol as well. I just found that I was able to go to the gym a lot more and be more productive with my thought patterns.
“I think I’m fitter now than I ever have been. I’ve started doing boxing. I wish I’d done more boxing when I was in the England team. It’s nice to get punched and to punch people back, it blows away the cobwebs, your mind gets sharper.”
He added: “You’ve got to find your own way. I found my way. If someone is feeling in a bit of a hole maybe some part of my story can inspire them.”
“The fans deserve honesty in my journey to becoming a successful cricketer because that’s what people associate with me – I’m just a normal, honest guy.”
Of his bid to return to first class cricket he said: “I played for (Essex team) Shenfield last year. This winter I’m going to try and train with a county team, last winter I didn’t. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to show them how I can fit in with the team.
“The day I decide to stay in my nice warm bed instead of getting in the gym early then I know I don’t have the desire and determination any more. I still want to put in the work.”
Outside of cricket Monty works alongside Belfast businessman Kevin O’Malley with Genistar, a financial education company which aims to help people become debt free. He also has his own general election channel – GE2019UK – and has his own show on Panjab Radio.
“My long term ambition to become a great broadcaster,” he said.
Discussing spin bowling he said: “The art is putting the variations together on different wickets to work out how to get the batsman out. I didn’t use to study the batsman’s stats, I had a unique talent of bowling it at pace and turning it quickly and getting wickets, but eventually they work it out. I had to think more tactically. I became a better all-round cricketer.
“If I could get back playing professionally even for another year or two years I believe I can bring that experience to the table of getting wickets on different surfaces.”