A senior player once had this to say about Sreesanth — that he is the best swing and seam bowler to have emerged in India in the past decade; that he has limitless potential; that he also has a head wired differently from the rest of us. ‘The trouble is, when Sree acts up, the crowd loves it and encourages him. And Sree is immature enough to be taken in by the applause — he laps it up, and thinks that is the way to get popular. So when we tell him to tone his antics down, he has no reason to listen to us.’
If only, this player wished, Sree would realize that his best way to earn applause was to do what he does best — which is, bowl in ways that can make you sit up and take notice…
I’m no fan of Sree’s antics, and if the Kerala pacer had been banned for a period of time, as the BCCI had threatened to do, I’d have shed no tears. That said, on the odd occasion when the good ‘Shantakumaran’ (appropriately enough, ‘calm boy’ when Englished from the Malayalam) makes an appearance at the bowling crease, I am among his biggest fans. It took just three deliveries on the second morning, with the new ball, to show why.
Ishant, in the only over he got with the new ball, had upped his pace considerably; his last delivery was logged at 147.something — a stat that made you wonder if turning him off and switching Sree on for the 84th over was the right move. It was, and how.
It took him three deliveries to get his radar honed — and then, he hit perfection with a ball that slanted in from wide of the crease, hit the perfect length, seemed to pause momentarily, and then darted away, forcing a hesitant prod from Ashwell Prince.
The next ball was a dream — bowled from closer to the stumps, curving away in the air, drawing the batsman forward and, as it moved further, opening up that gap between bat and pad; it landed on length, and then jagged back in to beat Prince’s hopeful drive and knock over the furniture.
What was noticeable was the post-wicket celebration — muted, momentary, before he spun around and walked to the top of his mark, muttering to himself all the time. And then, another beauty to prolong Boucher’s series-long misery: again the perfect length, but this time darting away off the seam to find the batsman’s edge to the keeper.
To bowl those three deliveries in sequence — and coming in cold, in his first over with a new ball — is not the work of a novice. Watching him do it, I was again reminded of what that player had told me: if he can keep his wits about him and concentrate on his bowling, there is no better prospect in sight.