Reformation of Sreesanth

K. R. DEEPAK

He was one of the ‘bad boys’ of Indian cricket, a player whose temperament was suspect. But in his comeback Test, against Sri Lanka in Kanpur, S. Sreesanth was focussed on the process rather than the result. The fast bowler’s new-found behaviour is reassuring. By S. Dinakar.

In the cauldron, he was a picture of serenity. Santhakumaran Sreesanth seemed to be at peace with himself and the world. His celebrations after taking a wicket were muted. He would quietly walk back to his run-up in a very old fashioned way and prepare to bowl the next delivery.

After every wicket, he thanked his team-mates and the crowd with folded hands. It appeared Sreesanth was focussed on the process rather than the result in his comeback Test. This paceman was returning from a turbulent past. He was among the ‘bad boys’ of Indian cricket, a player whose temperament was suspect.

The challenge before Sreesanth after his match-winning comeback in the second Test against Sri Lanka in Kanpur would be to sustain his new-found behaviour. So far so good.

The 26-year-old paceman’s five for 75 in the first innings on a sluggish Green Park surface was due to an outstanding piece of swing bowling; both conventional and reverse. He bowled with heart and passion, allowing his natural gifts as a bowler to blossom on the big stage. In the past, he had allowed his emotions to get the better of him.

“Sreesanth was aggressive but he controlled his emotions. As long as he does not cross the line, it is good for us all, the players, the captain, the umpires and the match-referee,” said skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni after India’s thumping win by an innings and 144 runs in the second Test.

While his ability was never in question, there were whispers that the team management was not too keen on playing Sreesanth because of his constant run-ins on the field of play. It was felt that plenty of time was being wasted in the match referee’s chambers, attending hearings involving Sreesanth.

Indeed, Sreesanth Mark-I had been a volatile cricketer. His exaggerated celebrations after dismissing Andrew Symonds in an ODI in Kochi, the incident involving him and Harbhajan Singh in IPL Season-1 and his problems with his home association in Kerala have been well documented.

Sreesanth had been warned more than once by the BCCI to rein in his temper. The man recovering from fitness concerns was making news for all the wrong reasons.

It was against this background that the Indian selection panel, headed by Krishnamachari Srikkanth, offered him a lifeline. Sreesanth, to the surprise of many, was in the Indian squad for the first two Tests against Sri Lanka. He did not make the playing XI in Ahmedabad but impressed the Indian camp at the nets. He was hitting the bat and the gloves hard. It was only a matter of time before he would receive a look-in.

Ishant Sharma’s form continued to disappoint and Sreesanth was included in the XI for the second Test. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Sreesanth’s bowling at Green Park was all about rhythm, swing and thrust. He got his natural out-swinger going and operated to a telling off-stump line. He also used the crease and swung the ball in or thundered into the southpaws from round-the-wicket. He mixed his pace well — a useful tactic in sub-continental conditions — and employed the short ball effectively. Invariably, the batsmen were forced to play the ball.

Essentially, Sreesanth cramped the batsmen for room, choked them of runs and gradually dragged them wider for either the inside-edge or the outside nick. He generated a lively pace and bowled with controlled aggression, particularly on the third morning.

Sreesanth’s wrist and seam position make him a compelling swing bowler. Swing bowling is a difficult art and bowlers of his ilk come rare. As the ball got older, he harried the batsmen with reverse swing.

Dhoni paid compliments to both Sreesanth and Zaheer when he said, “It’s not easy keeping to these two bowlers. The ball wobbles all the way. You are poised to gather the ball and then it veers away from you.”

Perhaps no dismissal underlined Sreesanth’s incisiveness than the mean away-going delivery that pitched on the off-stump and lifted to find the edge of Tillekeratne Dilshan’s bat in the second innings.

After the mountain of runs conceded at Motera, Sreesanth provided the spark to the Indian attack with his intensity and intent. It augurs well for the Indian team.

Indeed, he can swing matches. Sreesanth’s five for 40 in the first innings that ambushed the South Africans at the Wanderers in 2006 was a wonderful example of high-quality swing bowling. He probed the batsmen relentlessly in the corridor; the paceman’s wrist and seam position were ideal. That spell saw Sreesanth at his very best. He ran in hard but with rhythm and cocked his straight wrist to achieve telling swing from an ideal line. The paceman shone as India registered a historic first Test win on South African soil.

Sreesanth’s Test record of 56 wickets in 15 matches at 30.26 is a creditable one. He has nine wickets in three Tests in England at 37.35, 19 wickets in six Tests in India at 37.55, 18 wickets in three Tests in South Africa at 21.94 and 10 wickets in three Tests in the West Indies.

Sreesanth honed his skills at the MRF Pace Foundation under the eyes of the legendary fast bowler, Dennis Lillee of Australia. And the great South African fast bowler Allan Donald had a major role to play in Sreesanth’s comeback. “He told me the value of sacrifices when you play for your country.

"He taught me the virtues of being professional and disciplined when I went to Warwickshire for a stint in the English county this season. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions that I had made,” acknowledged Sreesanth.

He is back humming and his mind and body seem to be in harmony. So far so good.