When jelly bean turned bitter pill
Who would have ever imagined a couple of innocuous pink jelly beans playing a part in what should end as a memorable Indian Test win? Zaheer Khan, India's lone gunman with the ball, admitted that England's prank last evening was "insulting" and acted as a spur for his swing-bowling heroics in the second innings.
"I think it's been my best spell overall so far," he said when asked to rate this effort and narrate the sequence of events since last evening, which began just after he'd walked into bat with India at 464 for 6. So much did the "incident" incense him that he walked up to Kevin Pietersen at gully and brandished his bat menacingly.
"When I was batting, there were some jelly beans on the crease, so I chucked one off the wicket," he said. "When I played the next ball there were again some jelly beans on the wicket. So obviously there was someone throwing it on the wicket, which I didn't like. So I just went up to them and said, 'Guys, what's this all about. I'm here to play cricket.' And they came at me. And I just sort of felt upset. And I just reacted."
Surprisingly Zaheer didn't go after Alastair Cook, fielding at short leg, but directed his ire at Pietersen at gully. "I didn't know where exactly it was coming from," he said. "Maybe I picked the wrong one [Pietersen] but I was just not bothered at that time. I just felt it was insulting. It was definitely from a fielder because if it was placed unknowingly, it shouldn't have come there again when I removed it."
Paul Collingwood preferred to get cheeky when asked about the incident - "I think he prefers the blue ones to the pink ones" - but Zaheer didn't think there was a comical side. It's been a series packed with such on-field action but Zaheer felt England were going one step too far. "We're here to play cricket, that's what we're looking forward to do whole series. I don't really want to go in detail. I'm here to play cricket and enjoy my cricket."
Fired up, Zaheer sparkled alone. He snaffled up wickets in the morning and swung the match India's way with the second new ball. On a day when the rest veered from the erratic to the listless, Zaheer waltzed. Was it easy controlling the swing? "I'm happy that the ball was swinging in conditions that were so good for batting," he grinned. "I don't mind controlling the swing as a bowler. If it's swinging, that's enough."
Zaheer's best day also coincided with one of Sreesanth's worst. Almost as if he was bowling in blindfolds, he lost his action, overstepped and, on one occasion, delivered from about four feet behind the crease. He was too wide, too wayward and, until late in the day, didn't look like he would get a wicket.
He changed his action almost every ball - sometimes holding the ball like Merv Hughes, sometimes trying an Imran Khan-type sidewards leap and sometimes imitating Damien Fleming. None worked. His over-done theatrics only made him look sillier and that shoulder-barge against Vaughan, which cost him half his match fee, summed up his day.
"He's always been hyper-active, that's the good thing about him," said Zaheer. "If you see the spell at the Wanderers that's what helped him. He is this way, every individual is different. So we have to respect that."
But what did he make of the beamer against Pietersen? "It happens. We're playing a game at the highest level, we play with such passion. Sometimes you just sort of lose control over it. I don't think Sreesanth has done anything wrong. As a bowler I'd back Sreesanth any day. These things happen."
England's sledging of Sreesanth last evening, terming him Harry Potter because of his glasses, might have led to some amount of mental disintegration but their jelly-bean experiment against Zaheer backfired spectacularly.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo