England v India, 2nd npower Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day July 29, 2011

Sreesanth shuts out his former self

Sreesanth made up for the absence of Zaheer Khan with plenty of skill and measured aggression, showing no signs of the volatility he's been known for

For the better part of the first day at Trent Bridge, Zaheer Khan went from being the most valuable member of the Indian team to a blip on the horizon. The thick, constant cloud that loomed over Trent Bridge as heavily as the news about his hamstring injury had all week, gave India's bowling attack the necessary cover it needed to make its presence felt. What is more, like in the British film noir classic, The Third Man turned up at Nottingham and suddenly India found their place in the series.

After the miserable defeat at Lords, India genuinely believed that the balance had tipped towards England, only because they did not have a third fully-fit member of their pace attack. Old scorebooks can't ever be rewritten but Friday's play featured a live demonstration of that argument - in India's incisive, switched-on Third Man, the indefatigable Sreesanth.

On a day meant for mealy, contained medium-pace swing and seam, given an extra blessing by the skies above and a track below that would make Britain's senior citizens lace up their boots and line up to bowl, India didn't get much wrong. There is much that Sreesanth can and has got wrong in his corkscrew of an international career so far. When he gets it right though, he swings it on par with the best bowlers of his generation.

Sreesanth wasn't the lone performer among India's bowlers today. England's wickets were shared three each by the medium pacers, Praveen Kumar being sharp and parsimonious and the newly-shorn Ishant Sharma spiky and probing. Yet it was the smoothness and the simplicity of Sreesanth's return after a gap of seven months that gave India's bowling the sharp teeth it needs. At the start of the 11th over, Sreesanth stood at the top of his run and from there would have seen what lay before him. The assistance of the kind rarely found by Indian bowlers during their careers and team-mates who had spent an hour making the ball whistle past and catcall the batsmen. It was all on his side. If Sreesanth had an opponent to be beaten down from there, it was the petulant, shoulder-barging showboater that turned up in Trent Bridge four years ago.

Sreesanth locked that door of that memory, threw away the key and chose to find control over line and shape. Off the fourth ball of his first over, Jonathan Trott, England's most in-form batsman, nicked one of his patented outswingers and Sreesanth was on his way. Trent Bridge, whose cheery, boisterous crowd had booed him as he fielded, saw a man who had pared his cricket down to just his skill. The reasons as to why that happened will always be a mystery; maybe it was out of respect for the bowler whose place Sreesanth had taken or just the awareness that opportunities of this kind are rare and precious. So, Sreesanth bowled with menace but not offence, he was aggressive, but measured in his use of this aggression.

Just after the World Cup, India's bowling coach Eric Simons had spoken at length to ESPNcricinfo, about the Indian bowling and said of Sreesanth, "If Sreesanth had grown up in England, he would be unbelieveable in terms of his ability to swing the ball." A popular theory about him is that had he regularly played under Sourav Ganguly, he would have had a far more uninterrupted career and at least 50 more Test wickets.

The day before the game Dhoni, who brought him on as first change as an insurance policy against a cataclysmic opening spell, said yesterday it "seemed" Sreesanth had changed. "The more he has played the better he has become." The wicket of Kevin Pietersen came at the end of an eye-to-eye tussle over three overs in which Sreesanth took punishment, soaked in two imperious boundaries off short balls and finally pocketed him with a juicy one leaving off stump. He signed off his second spell by dislodging Matt Prior, who was first drawn out and then opened up nicking the ball to Dravid at first slip.

"He's the sort of bowler who would like to bowl at Trent Bridge every week," Stuart Broad said later, indicating that England's bowlers would try to emulate the tightness of Sreesanth and the India's medium-pacers. Ideally, Sreesanth himself said at the media conference, he would like to take Trent Bridge track wherever he goes. He was both courteous and cheeky, saying, "Normally we only see batsmen-friendly wickets and this was a bowler's wicket, why not?" He then was generous in his approval of the ninth-wicket partnership of 73 between Broad and Graeme Swann, saying it had made the game competitive.

Coaching Sreesanth, Simons had said, was about balance. "You have got to be careful to not curb the fire... if I was a football coach and I took the fire out of Wayne Rooney's belly, would I make him a worse footballer? You've got to keep the uniqueness of the person, but help him with how to practice better and understand himself better." In recent months, Sreesanth believes that the key to his bowling has been him understanding his art after a brief stint with Allan Donald at Warwickshire (and no doubt time spent in frequent wilderness). "Where to bowl, how to bowl, what to bowl, the stance of the batsman... I just learned little things. When you are fit and raring to go, all you think is run in and bowl fast."

He ran in today but rather than shatter the speed gun, he bowled fiercely. Before he wandered out of the squash court where reporters had tried to get him to explain just why and how he had managed to be so quiet over the last six months, he couldn't resist a Sreesanth-ism. He frowned, looked into the distance for a second, sifted through his memory and found a new aphorism he could well stick into his Twitter account. He said, "Silence is the speech of the spiritual seeker." England must think they would rather have the loony brat back. India have their fingers crossed.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 30, 2011, 15:00 GMT

    Agree 100% with Swarzi, play 4 pacemen, time to show harbhajan the door!!

  • randolf on July 30, 2011, 13:02 GMT

    I think Harbhijan should be dropped for tha rest of that test series in England; and play the four pacemen. Yuvraj's legspin seems to be far more effective than Harbhijan's off spin under those conditions in that country. Pace bowlers who swing the ball are the machines that take the bulk of the wickets. I think India should just put senior player protocol aside and play their best team under the conditions, for the rest of the series.

  • Monish on July 30, 2011, 12:08 GMT

    I admire him for being the intensive care unit (ICU) for India. I deem him above all other bowlers the reason simply when ever he plays well, he makes the team win. He has never been for amending his stats. ...I remember when he made us proud on winning the first time in South Africa(5/35), again in Australia, Pakistan, West Indies, Against SriLanka in Sub-continent, 6 months before in South Africa...and Now in England...and that too when India is on the verge of losing the rank1.

  • dhanoop on July 30, 2011, 11:02 GMT

    A bowler like praveen kumar can perform in swingy wickets of lords and Trenbridge. We can't expect him to perform in dead pitches of subcontinant with his ordinary pace.What happend to Munaf Patel?..In early days of his career he used to bowl consistently at around 145km/hr where is his pace?.Mr right captain adviced him to contain his pace and changed his bowling style. Now lets talk about dhoni.Where is that hard hitting batsmen?..where is his aggression?.Play with ur heart man.We want you to be know as the most distructive batsmen in the world.You have now changed ur style and that reflects on your perfomance.So, atleast allow players like sreesanth to play with his heart, his natural aggression.Please don't have an hidden agenda against any of ur players

    We want to see you lifting many more trophy's for india and u can do that.Just change ur attitude don't go after money and ads. We want our old hard hitting dhoni to lead our team..So pls be urself...chak de india

  • dhanoop on July 30, 2011, 11:02 GMT

    And about sreesanth, he is one of the most underated bowler.How on the earth a player can perform without his captains support and back up.Just think from sreesanth's point of view.Think about mental pressure dhoni is giving him.There is no doubt that on his day he is even better than the so-called best bowlers.He is a wicket taking bowler so don't bother about his economy rate.There is no point in bowling 2-3 days in test cricket in good economy rate without taking wicket.Wickets wins the match.He is a match winner.To rule the world cricket we need wicket taking bowlers.Zaheer and sree are our only options.He just need to perform in 3-4 matches out of 10 he plays.Because on his day he can do the damage

  • dhanoop on July 30, 2011, 11:01 GMT

    Even, zaheer khan was left out of the team, that gave him time to understand his faults and rectify it the problem in his action. He played in the domestic league and county cubs that gave him confidence.Taking wickets at any level of the game gives confidence to the bowler.Bhaji is one the most lethal spinner and there is no doubt about it. Actually, dhoni is doing the wrong thing by giving him additional chances in foriegn wickets.This is only adding pressure on him.Give him a break, let him understand his mistakes and play in the domestic league. Getting wickets in the domestic league will bring back his confidence and aggression. Bhaji was known for his aggression in early days. Now, look at his body language.So dhoniji please don't destory his career.He is a born champion.But, only thing is his lack of confidence

  • dhanoop on July 30, 2011, 11:01 GMT

    Dhoni is a man with 'midas touch'.He is one of the best captain india has ever seen. But, nowadays it seems dhoni's man management skill is not good as it used to be. Never forget that great ganguly is the man who started this superb journey of Team India. Ganguly found raw talent in bhaji and yuvraj and helped them to polish their skills.He always stood by his players during the lean patches of their career. It's not about giving extra chances to out of form players, it's all about giving moral support and backing players.

  • Vijay on July 30, 2011, 10:31 GMT

    i really like watch sree bowl to right handers on any seaming pitch..to left handers he is just any ordinary bowler searching for line and length.. no one can deny his ability.. the thing is he lacks control of hi delivery at times

  • Dummy4 on July 30, 2011, 10:02 GMT

    three medium pacers...praveen apart...sreesanth & ishant are fast medium, if not quick..when will the use if the term "medium pacers" be given up by the Indian writers and commentators...some things never change..

  • biju on July 30, 2011, 9:32 GMT

    Sreesanth is always a match winner and he has not enjoyed the kind of respect he deserve in the team. When ever team needed he has delivered but no body was ready to accept that it was him. With out his snotter to Kallis in Durban test india would not have won that test. with out his yorker to Hyden in the 20-20 world cup semifinals in RSA India would not have reached the final. He is a very passionate aggressive cricketer and he most misunderstood by team and the crowd. He is right silence the speech of a spiritual seeker and let him control his emotions in a spiritual way. Good luck sree

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