India v England, 7th ODI, Indore April 15, 2006

Sreesanth's battles with his mind

Sreesanth's figures in international cricket do not flatter him, but he is slowly learning to marshall his mental resources better



Sreesanth: learning to marshall his mental resources © Getty Images

The fact that India went into two of the last three one-dayers with six fast bowlers raised quite a few eyebrows, and rightly so. It was not exactly as though, as one journalist put it, there was a Perth pitch secretly tucked away in Guwahati, Jamshedpur or Indore. For all practical purposes it was excessive, and the fact that there were only six specialist batsmen in the squad, two of whom were woefully out of form, only made it worse. But, with the rubber emphatically decided in India's favour as early as the fourth ODI at Kochi, there was breathing room for the selectors and the team management to carry the extra bowler. They needed to look at as many quick men as they could, not merely in the nets but out in the middle. The Guwahati rain-out did not help, but in the end, every bowler did get a go in the last two games, and one even managed a fledgling-career-best 6 for 55.

Sreesanth's figures in international cricket do not flatter him - an average of more than 30, an `economy' rate of 6.07, 20 wickets from 13 matches - save for his strike rate which is an impressive wicket every 32 balls. Even today, he was not exactly breaking doors down. He did, however, stick to his basics quite admirably on the best batting pitch of the series. Much has been written and said about Sreesanth since his debut - about his breakdancing, his superstitions, his rituals going into a game, his yearning to be in the limelight, how he begins his day with the Gayatri mantra and ends it with hip-hop and the blues.

What is not as commonly known is Sreesanth's mental make-up. Of all the members in this team he is probably the most highly strung. This is not to say he is fragile, but he does drain himself more - emotionally and mentally - in the course of a game, than most others. When he walks to his bowling mark, before every ball, he tells himself, "Relax, relax, relax. Sree, you are the best, you are the best, you are the best" he recently revealed to Cricinfo Magazine. He certainly isn't anywhere near the best, but it is obvious that with every game Sreesanth is learning to marshall his mind better.

Early in his spell at Indore he sent one wide down the leg side, overcompensated, and was called for a wide outside off. In the same over, pushing hard, trying to do too many things, he was picked off for a four on either side of the wicket by Andrew Strauss. For one moment, it looked as though Sreesanth might lose his rag then and there. To his credit, he did not, and visibly pulled things back. He worried less about bowling the big outswinger, and instead spent his energy bowling a good line and length. Once he was confident that his rhythm had returned, he began to vary his pace, and did so well enough to create doubts in the minds of batsmen, and force the false shot.

At the end figures of 6 for 55 out of a total of 288 probably flatter Sreesanth, but he'll take it, as he should, for there will be many days when he will bowl twice as well and have nothing to show for it. It's early days yet in his career, and hopefully Sreesanth will not get swept away in the hype that has surrounded his arrival. He doesn't even have 30 international wickets yet, and already a colony in his hometown bears his name. Staying in the mix, even if he only plays every other game, as a part of a pack of young fast bowlers trying to prove themselves ahead of the World Cup, has done Sreesanth a world of good. And in hindsight, the fact that the squad was only packed with quick men at the expense of a batsman after the series had been sealed meant it did India no harm either.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo