Of stars and size-12 sneakers
The toss on this day was important but it was crucial for only one team: if India were to win it, they might have put the match beyond England by lunch tomorrow; on the other hand, if they were to lose it, it would still be not much more than just toss lost. England thus needed to make the most of the bit of luck that finally went their way this morning. They didn't, but that was half the story.
India under Rahul Dravid are becoming a professional enough outfit to finish their ninetieth over on the stroke of the sixth hour even despite two extra drinks intervals having been scheduled in. While some of the early work was ragged, silent efficiency pretty much did the trick today. On a pitch described by the impressive debutant Alastair Cook as "slow, just slow", Irfan Pathan prised out three wickets and Sreesanth two. On a turgid, singularly unremarkable day of cricket, they had done a job.
Kenia Jayantilal, coach of Vidarbha, had told Cricinfo yesterday that reverse swing this season has been available at the ground sometimes even inside the twentieth over. He was right. Sreesanth began his second spell in the 15th over. It was, by his own estimation, about the time the ball began going reverse. "Dry wickets, SG ball, it happens in India," he said later.
With the first ball of the second over of that spell Sreesanth had Andrew Strauss foolishly flashing: first Test wicket. The reaction was eager and dorky and it failed to rouse the sparse morning audience. It did, though, split what was always going to be the most important partnership of the England innings.
Soon Sreesanth was getting it to go reverse. He had upped his pace too, from an average of about 81 in his opening spell to 85 or so. From an honest new-ball Test-match debutant an hour before this was now an incisive mid-day interrupter. Unable to pick the swing - "we couldn't work out whether it was conventional or reverse," said Cook - Ian Bell, a nervous starter anyway, was given a minor working-over.
Sreesanth returned for the third of his four-over bursts as Cook attempted to rebuild with Kevin Pietersen (if KP does rebuilding). A superb over to one he termed as "one of my favourite batsmen in modern cricket" included an edge dropped at second slip, a couple of late, reversing dives into the batsman's toes, and a pull shot under-edged on to the leg stump.
The quirks make Sreesanth. Sorry to bring it up for the second day running, but the lad has been an award-winning breakdancer. Breakdance! If you look hard enough, you can see it in his action: all jerks and pops and crackles. And he's now introduced brown tints to his hair, so that if he adds a beard he could indeed pass off as Prabhudeva. At the top of his run he performs a routine that appears to be, perhaps uniquely, a simultaneous calm-down and a pump-up, a fact confirmed when he revealed that he is "basically telling myself things like `relax' and `c'mon you're the best.'" One of his feet is sized 11, the other 12.
There's more. A rumour once went that he skipped a handful of Ranji games at the advice of an astrologer who deemed it a particularly inauspicious period. It has since been denied. A story from last week alleged that he is officially to be known as Sreesunth - numerologist this time - which too he denies. "That was just wrong information."
In which case, he is not formerly Sreesanth, as was written yesterday. He will hope, though, he is Sreesanth, the future.
Rahul Bhattacharya is contributing editor of Cricinfo Magazine and author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04