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March 19, 2006
Both bowlers are playing only their second Test, but together they have already offered enough hints to suggest that they might be the future of Indian fast bowling. Munaf Patel took seven wickets in his debut Test in conditions that weren't exactly seamer friendly, while Sreesanth took four on his debut, and another four here to hasten the end of England's innings. It's too early to pronounce judgments yet - and Indian cricket is littered with examples of fast bowlers who briefly look the part before fading away - but both Sreesanth and Munaf have shown the skills and the attitude that should excite a nation which has traditionally had a severe dearth of quality fast bowlers.
Not very long ago, India relied on Zaheer Khan to strike with the new ball, while Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar were fairly regularly part of the mix. Today, both Nehra and Agarkar have been pushed down in the reserves chart by the likes of RP Singh, while Zaheer will have to pull up both on fitness and performance counts to be considered part of the plan again.
India's bowling stats from the current series are telling: of the 43 wickets taken in the series so far, 24 have gone to the fast bowlers, with Sreesanth and Munaf's combined figures reading 17 for 379. Irfan Pathan, easily the most experienced fast bowler in the mix, has been a distant third with 7 for 291. It's clearly a case of he rookies outdoing the star, and by quite some distance too.
The numbers for Sreesanth and Munaf are impressive enough, but they only tell half the story. Both have been dogged by bad luck in their short international careers, with catches going abegging and edges flying between fielders far too often. Munaf ended with just two wickets in England's first innings here, but with a smidgen of luck could easily have had five. Sreesanth had suffered similar misfortune in the one-dayers in Pakistan.
"It's part of the game and you must take it in the right spirit," Sreesanth replies when asked about the missed chances. "If one catch is dropped then I'm sure the bowler is capable of producing another one [delivery which produces an edge]. That's what the bowler should think when he is walking back - if he can produce it once why not twice."
The attitude is openly aggressive - both bowlers had verbal duels with Owais Shah today, showing they relish a contest of any kind - and the learning curve expectedly steep. Sreesanth explained that already his mindset in his second game was different to the first: "Being my first Test I wanted to bowl much faster, but here I just tried to get the basics right, to try and bowl the deliveries which leave the batsmen. It's a great experience so I just want to keep learning."
Crucially for India, both are fast bowlers with different strengths: Sreesanth swings it away with the new ball at a brisk pace, while Munaf fires them fast, gets disconcerting bounce, and bowls excellent yorkers. With a tour to South Africa coming up later this year, both will have plenty more opportunities to experience new conditions and learn more tricks. The start has been outstanding; now the momentum needs to be sustained.