India v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Kanpur, 3rd day November 26, 2009

Sree lets the ball do the talking

Cricinfo staff
On the third day in Kanpur, Sreesanth didn't need the verbals; the ball did the talking for him
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Sreesanth covered his face as soon as the ball flashed from Mahela Jayawardene's outside edge and past the narrow alley between MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar at first slip. It was probably the ball of the day: it was the first ball Jayawardene was facing and, perhaps sensing his vulnerability, Sreesanth pitched it fuller and shaped it away just enough to prompt Jayawardene to play at it. Where once Sreesanth might have walked up to the batsman and indulged in a bit of verbal, today he walked back quietly with a faint smile.

Today, Sreesanth didn't need the verbals; the ball did the talking for him. Such was his allure that each time he ran in Green Park buzzed with expectation. And when he had finished his job and led his team off the pitch, it was incredible to think he was coming into this Test without any international cricket for the past 19 months and without much match experience of any sort.

Yet, as he later said, he was "hungry to take the "new ball". The aim was not to go full throttle straightaway, though he did hit Tharanga Paranavitana's helmet with an accurate bouncer. On a docile pitch Sreesanth understood that trying to hit express pace would be futile; the focus was on hitting that length from where he could make the batsmen play and vary pace.

"This was a wicket where the faster you bowl the easier it is to bat. It was important to make him (batsman) play early and make him play late and it was a mixture of lots [of deliveries]," Sreesanth said while explaining his strategy.

He then started shaping the ball both ways, sowing the seeds of doubt in the Lankan minds. The first over was a maiden to Paranavitana, who was clearly edgy and eventually nicked an outswinger to Dhoni. Then came Mahela who, though lucky to escape off that first delivery, found Sreesanth pounding in relentlessly, banging the ball unerringly on the same spot.

Against Sangakkara, Sreesanth used the crease to produce his angle. He came round the wicket and bowled a slower ball that the Lankan captain picked smartly but had him next ball. It was a straighter one, fuller and wide on off stump and, though apparently harmless, Sangakkara dragged it on to his stumps. Thilan Samaraweera fell in the same fashion after being pegged down by Sreesanth's movement early on.

Sreesanth returned halfway into the second session when the two Jayawardenes - Mahela and Prasanna - were attempting to retrieve the situation. The ball was old and with his pace Sreesanth had the advantage of extracting reverse swing. Continuing to attack the off stump Sreesanth speared a toe crusher into Prasanna. The Lankan got his bat down in the nick of time but the crowd roared as the Indians appealed anyway. The next ball, though, Sreesanth pitched on the seam, cut the ball out and the batsman went fishing. This time contact with the bat was debatable but the decision went the bowler's way.

Fast-bowling greats like Allan Donald have always cited Sreesanth's example to youngsters, particularly pointing to his erect wrist position at the point of release as exemplary. The energy, the ability to swing at 140-plus speeds, and that priceless quality of pitching ball after ball on the same spot make Sreesanth a terrific package.

He would soon bend Ranganna Herath's off stump with another straightening delivery to bag his second five-for - roughly three years after his first, during India's brilliant victory in Johannesburg in 2006.

Perhaps that performance became Sreesanth's albatross, increasing public expectations and, indeed, those in his own mind. He was 24, relatively green, and wanting to get a wicket every ball. The next three years were up and down, with lots of plateau thrown in, and a 19-month spell on the sidelines.

He now seems to have turned full circle. Sreesanth's fast bowling skills have never been in question: fast-bowling greats like Allan Donald have always cited his example to youngsters, particularly pointing to his erect wrist position at the point of release as exemplary. The energy, the ability to swing at 140-plus speeds, and that priceless quality of pitching ball after ball on the same spot make Sreesanth a terrific package.

The doubts that have persisted have always been about his temperament. He was always vulnerable to adrenalin and bravado, a heady mix that has frustrated and irritated the team management, co-players and selectors.

Though he spent a month at Warwickshire and then the season-opening Irani Cup, no one, perhaps not even the man himself, knew whether he was ready for the return. He was fined during the Irani Cup game for abusing an opponent and received a stiff warning from the BCCI against breaching the code of conduct. And it's fair to say his selection for the first two Tests did not evoke universal approval.

Remarkably amidst such chaos Sreesanth maintained his calm. All through the last two weeks he has been restrained, doing his job, head down in a silent manner. In training session teammates have consciously left him alone, while praising him silently as he bowled at good speeds, beating the bat consistently.

He's been quiet since his comeback. And today, he let the ball do the talking.