On S Sreesanth and Suresh Raina
A striking feature of India's cricket this season is the difference between the look of the team in one-day cricket and that in Tests. The one-day side is bursting at the seams with energy and talent, but in Test cricket the side has often appeared jaded and a little low on passion. The two areas in which the Test team has been especially woeful are in the seam bowling (Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh covered for this deficiency in the series against Sri Lanka, as they often tend to do at home), and in the ground fielding. India are not at present a very watchable Test side overall, for even some of the batsmen are beginning to look a little long in the tooth. But in the shorter game they have frequently made the pulse race.
Sreesanth's figures don't show it yet - even in the game today he took none for 52 from 10 overs - but he has the makings of a seriously good bowler. He comes in of a longer run-up than any Indian paceman I can remember, and it's not all for show - he really does hit the bat. I like the look of his grooved run-up and the pistons that appear to fire all over in his delivery stride - he looks like he means business - and crucially, he generates pace without appearing to place much strain upon himself.
He also moves the ball away from the right-hander, which is a rarer and more valuable trait than the ability to bring it in, and in his spell today he produced some excellent slower balls without an apparent change in action. That is a good base, at 23, from which to slowly develop some of the higher arts of bowling, such as cutters and reverse-swing. Indeed, he looks ready for Test cricket, and a year or two from one sees the makings of a decent seam attack, good for all conditions, made up of Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth, and perhaps one of RP Singh or Lakshmipathy Balaji (who showed just too much skill with the ball in his brief spell of uninterrupted cricket to be left by the wayside).
And the other thing that has given me much pleasure recently has been the fielding of Raina. In two games here he has not got a hit yet, and indeed he has played just one crucial innings for India so far - his 39 not out against Sri Lanka at Pune - so it is perhaps too early to judge his batting. But his fielding is wonderful to watch - here is a man who, in the tradition of all the great fielders in the game, really wants the ball to be hit his way and is on the prowl all the time, looking for the half-chance. He seems beautifully balanced at all times and, for a big fellow, has no difficulty in getting down low to field - so harmonious are all his movements that he catches the eye even when a simple ball is hit straight to him.
There was a moment at a crucial juncture in the game today, at 234 for 6 in the 44th over, when Abdul Razzaq hit the ball straight to him at mid-off, and took off for a single almost as he played the stroke. Pakistan must have garnered perhaps a hundred cheaply bought singles in the Test series from pushes straight to mid-on and mid-off, but the contrast of that with this could not have been more stark. Raina swooped down on the ball and threw down the stumps with the greatest confidence and certainty with Razzaq still short of his ground. And the taking of that half-chance exposed the tail, and made a difference of perhaps 20 or 30 runs to Pakistan's score.
Raina looks to me (with due respect to Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif) the best Indian fielder since Mohammad Azharuddin. In a couple of years the three of them might be batting at four, five and six in the Test line-up - not as formidable a set as Tendulkar, Laxman and Ganguly maybe, but perhaps they'll make up the difference in batting averages on the field.
Chandrahas Choudhury is a writer in Mumbai