The Lowdown on S Sreesanth

It takes one to tango

The Lowdown on S Sreesanth

Kanishkaa Balachandran

February 22, 2006

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With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In a new weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of India's new star, S Sreesanth



Sreesanth - A man of varied interests and talents © AFP
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When India's new-found left-arm pace attack let it all slip after a rollicking start in the third Test against Pakistan at Karachi, the fans were crying out for variety. Sreesanth, always in the reckoning for the one-dayers following an impressive start against Sri Lanka last year, broke the monotony, rolling his right arm and bagging six wickets in the series, four of which were snared in a Karachi pitch which looked as dead as the 'dead rubber' encounter. His pace, coupled with his studious demeanour may be far from frightening. Neither is his gentle delivery stride. What is rather disconcerting for the batsman, however, is his ability to swing the ball late and generate sudden movement off the pitch. The frequent dropped catches by his colleagues at Lahore notwithstanding, at Karachi Sreesanth had announced his arrival.

He represents the new breed of Indian cricketers who hail from far-flung regions, which in the past have been given the cold shoulder as far as talent-spotting is concerned. Incidentally, Kerala, his homestate, is revered for its sporting culture and has produced several Olympian athletes but has sadly had a dearth of international-quality cricketers. Sreesanth was to change all that. Early on, he took to legspin, modelling his action on Anil Kumble. However, his pace and penchant for slipping the frequent yorker compelled him to take up fast bowling, encouraged by his elder brother. When his predecessor from Kerala, Tinu Yohanan earned a selection to the National Cricket Academy in 2000, Sreesanth worked harder at his craft, making it to the MRF Pace foundation in Chennai. Success followed almost immediately, making his first-class debut in the 2002-03 domestic season, bagging 22 wickets in just seven matches and meriting a selection in the Duleep Trophy squad in the same season.

In October 2003, he had a chance to impress the selectors in a tour match against the visiting New Zealand side at Rajkot. However, he was laid low by a hamstring pull which saw him bowl just 12 overs, taking one wicket. There was speculation as to why he missed five Ranji Trophy games that season, despite travelling and training with the side. The grapevine had it that an astrologer convinced him to take a break for the sake of his longevity in the game. However, Sreesanth flatly denied this claim, stating that he was training just to regain fitness.

He entered the record books the following season, taking a hat-trick against Himachal Pradesh, the first such feat by a Kerala bowler. Back home, he was nicknamed `The Prince of hat-tricks.' National recognition didn't follow till the Challenger Trophy in 2005, when he played for India B. To start with, his name drew more attention than his skills. There was confusion whether to address him as Sreesanth or S Santh, as shown in scorecards (He later insisted on being called by his first name, ie Sreesanth). But, with an entire nation desperately wishing Sachin Tendulkar to rediscover his touch after a long layoff, here, ironically, was Sreesanth's great opportunity to become a giant-killer. The ball jagged in, trapping Tendulkar right in front, and the minute the finger went up, he had acquired his passport to national colours.

Timeline

November 2002 - Ranji Trophy debut against Goa
March 2003 - Duleep Trophy debut for South Zone
October 2003 - Plays tour match against visting New Zealand team. Bowls 12 economical overs and takes the wicket of Craig McMillan. Suffers hamstring pull.
November 2004 - Takes a hat-trick against Himachal Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy, the first by a Kerala cricketer.
October 1 2005 - Irani Trophy debut.
October 13 2005 - Wins the Man-of-the-Series award in the Challenger Trophy with 7 wickets, the joint highest wicket taker with Murali Kartik.
October 25 2005 - ODI debut against Sri Lanka at Nagpur. Takes 2 wickets
February 19 2006 - Takes best bowling figures in ODIs - 4 for 58 against Pakistan at Karachi.

What he says

"For a start, I never expected to get the new ball. I didn't think I'd even play. Then for Rahul bhai (Dravid) to ask me to open the bowling with Irfan (Pathan) was incredible. Since I've got a large percentage of my wickets with yorkers, my friends suggested I start with one. I almost got Salman Butt in the first match at Peshawar."

What they say

Javagal Srinath, after the third ODI at Multan

"What impressed me most was his attitude. For someone who was ill and down the previous day, he played the game with verve. It's an irony in cricket that often when a player is coming out of a niggling injury or a brief illness, he puts up a performance which is above expectations."

Moin Khan

"To me, the find of the series for India has undoubtedly been Sreesanth and irrespective of what happens, this lad has the ability to go a long way and serve his country with merit and distinction."

What you may not know

  • Sreesanth is an accomplished dancer and was once a national break-dance champion while in the eighth grade. His favourite entertainer is....well Michael Jackson. His folks back home wouldn't have been surprised to see him shake a leg after taking a wicket in Karachi. In an interview to reporters he said, "People recognise me. When I was on stage, I used to do all silly things to be in the limelight. I love dancing."

  • Sreesanth's talents and ability were recognised in other sports as well, namely, football, table tennis and hockey. Though hailing from the south, Sreesanth speaks Hindi with a distinct North Indian twang. Hindi aside, he also speaks Malayalam, English and Tamil. He is also a student of psychology and an avid reader.

  • Known for his guts and spontaneity, once as a student, Sreesanth couldn't resist the urge to meet Sachin Tendulkar. Stopped by a security guard, he managed to bluff his way in, saying that Tendulkar had paid for his scholarship. Little did he know that few years later, he would grab Sachin's wicket to earn national selection.

  • Kanishkaa Balachandran is editorial assistant of Cricinfo

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