South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 2nd day January 3, 2011

A tussle between talent and temperament

Sreesanth's spell reiterated the importance of carrying along a difficult member in the team through the bad days, since he has the talent to produce magical moments out of nowhere

Everybody likes laying into Sreesanth. Not always unjustifiably, for Sreesanth gives them opportunities. He threatens to throw the ball at the batsman every time it is hit back to him, regardless of whether it is a solid defensive shot off an ordinary delivery with the score reading 300 for 2. He is painfully poor with his over-rate, going through elaborate rituals before every delivery. Often the umpires have to wait for his bending over and worshipping the crease before they can get his sweater and hat. The opposition captain has also singled him out when it comes to aggression on the field, accusing him of making comments about his family.

Sreesanth's own captain has not backed him much, at least not in the media. MS Dhoni has said during this tour that taking six to seven minutes an over is not on, and also that it is difficult to control Sreesanth when it comes to verbal aggression. Sreesanth has also had his share of stick from the crowd: it has been so bad that spectators have been escorted out of SuperSport Park and Newlands after getting abusive with him, fielding at the boundary.

That being the state of affairs, Sreesanth has mostly been a lonely man on this tour. However, apart from being good at inviting trouble, Sreesanth can also do something else. He can produce mad, wicket-taking deliveries, both out of nowhere and during honest, hard-working spells. He got AB de Villiers with a beauty against the run of play in Durban, but the Jacques Kallis snorter in the second innings there was part of a spell where you could see he was running in harder, and not merely putting the ball in. Just when you thought Sreesanth had finally hit some rhythm - and he was rewarded for it when the new ball was given back to him on the first morning in Cape Town - he started off-colour again. Lazy, as he himself put it.

For the best parts of three spells in this Test, though, his captain and even the crowd was won over. It helps that most of the times, even when the line is wrong and pace low, the seam is upright, giving him the best chance of mischief from the pitch and in the air. Outswing comes naturally to him, and he has been bragging about the inswinger in the nets, of late. A day before the match, he told his co-bowlers - in the midst of a spell of outswingers - that the next delivery would be an inswinger, and would beat Cheteshwar Pujara. Seconds later, inside edge onto the pad. In becoming the first Indian bowler to take a five-for on this trip, Sreesanth extended that form to the middle. Those inswingers didn't get him any wicket here, but he came close on a few occasions last evening.

The ball to get Ashwell Prince, almost a legcutter after having drawn him into a drive, was special because he was a set batsman, and 27 had come in the nine overs on the second morning without much bother. "Probably the best ball I have ever bowled to a left-hander," was Sreesanth's description of the delivery. "I wish I could produce that more often."

That was the inspiration India needed, and smoothly, as if he had been doing it all his life, Sreesanth followed it up with a perfect outswinger to Mark Boucher, facing his first ball.

Towards the end of his spell, after having completed the five-wicket haul, which he celebrated with folded hands and a look towards the sky, Sreesanth went back to trying for wickets with every ball, conceding easy boundaries and no-balls. It did play a role in two crucial lower-order partnerships. That, he said, was the case in Centurion too. "When I came here, I was expected to perform," he said. "Because, in 2006 I did really well in South Africa. Including myself, there were a lot of expectations, that I am going to get five-for, five-for, five-for. I had a put a lot of pressure on myself. I didn't get a single wicket in centurion, but I was fortunate that Dhoni bhai had faith in me, and the team management gave me an opportunity and I could deliver. The big difference is, I started enjoying the game rather than putting pressure on myself."

It is a delicate state of balance with Sreesanth, which he can lose easily. From bowling unplayable deliveries to real gifts is just a blur. While those spells with perfect deliveries give a reason to carry him on bad days, such unpredictable bowling - and behaviour, which seems to be a big concern for Dhoni - makes it difficult for the captain to back him. With Sreesanth, there is no guarantee of a minimum level of control. More than anybody else, then, he needed this spell. To reiterate the importance of taking difficult characters along in a team game. More than anybody else, he needs these spells regularly, for his rope will always be the shortest.

In terms of natural talent, he is the likeliest member of the Indian attack to produce these special moments. His temperament, though, often prevents him from doing so. Between talent and temperament, it is a fascinating tussle, and we haven't seen the last of it.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2011, 17:18 GMT

    As predicted post tea session saw Dale Steyn claiming two wickets completing 5 in the innings.South Africa lost two wickets for 52 runs and both the wickets claimed by Harbhajan Singh.Before the beginning of the Match I had predicted that Harbhajan,Dhoni and Dravid may do well.Amongst these till 3rd day Harbhajan has proved my words.Regarding Sachin it was predicted that today 4th Day is good for him and he can score good number of runs which he did.Rest Gambhir also contributed 93 runs and zaheer in the end hit 2 sixes in his score of 22 runs. Tomorrow 4th Day of the Match.At the beginning of the match I had predicted that this match will be different from the first two matches and should be close contest. Till the stumps of the third day it is proving to be correct.Although this is proving to be a match between Sachin and Harbhajan vs Kallis and Steyn.

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2011, 14:00 GMT

    Luck plays a very important role in cricket.How Harbhajan has survived it was already mentioned that in this test match Harbhajan will play well.Today Sachin also had good luck as already projected yesterday.Sachin survived a life when Harris dropped him of his own bowling and VVS Laxman was run out. Luck is favoring him.If he gets support he can hit Double century after tea or tommorow in prelunch session.Provided he respects Dale Steyn's stars also.

  • Sathyanarayan on January 4, 2011, 13:23 GMT

    @East_West-Whilst Sreesanth's somewhat immature behavior on the field is self-destructive, too much is made of his antics. As Sidharth Monga has rightly pointed out, it is easy to have a go at Sreesanth. There are enough senior players in the team who will make sure that he learns to temper his on-field behavior. The team needs him. Sreesanth is maturing into a fine young fast bowler. There is a marked difference in his behavior compared to when he first emerged on the scene, a raw insouciant talent. It is easy to quote instances of talented and legendary players in several other teams(from the beginning of the game) who are not known for spotless behavior. He is young, has age on his side. Given some time, and if focus is removed from his silly antics (while definitely not excusing his transgressions) he, along with Sharma and Nehra under the wings of a wily,skilful Khan can finally aid in creating a potent pace attack in India, something lacking for decades.

  • Dheeman on January 4, 2011, 13:17 GMT

    basically i think sreesanth is a gud baller but however he lacks temperament which is basically his main problem. moreover he just show aggression with no reason and sometimes people think it is very irritating. my main advise to him is to try to a thinking baller and apply the basic tactics in order to get wickets. he should focus more on his balling rhythm and length and try to produce more gud length deliveries. hwever hw should be more aware to handle situations more sensibly so that other could not raise any fingers towards him.

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2011, 13:14 GMT

    Luck plays a very important role in cricket.How Harbhajan has survived it was already mentioned that in this test match Harbhajan will play well.Today Sachin also had good luck as already projected yesterday.Sachin survived a life when Harris dropped him of his own bowling and VVS Laxman was run out. Luck is favoring him.If he gets support he can hit Double century after tea or tommorow in prelunch session.Provided he respects Dale Steyn's stars also.

  • Denver on January 4, 2011, 12:25 GMT

    @East_West: You need to be straitjacketed.

    India needs aggression, which is lacking. All the big teams contained sledgers, and it's India's chance to give it back. Sree will do well, provided he controls his mouth.

  • Subba on January 4, 2011, 11:52 GMT

    While there's no need for extra courtesy from a fast bower, he should merely keep the language under control. His acts certainly upset the opposition and prevents them from playing their normal game. Even the Australians sufferred due to his aggression. As a strategy it should be worked upon rather than stop totally, since India is only gaining as a result.

  • Rajesh on January 4, 2011, 11:42 GMT

    Ultrasnow- You are dead right charlie.Guys like Srinath were too nice to be real fast bowlers( maybe experts will say that was becoz he was vegetarian at least in the early part of his career). Fast bowlers throughout the world are supposed to be ill mannered- maybe its becoz of the manner in which they run in hard- thats probably the one that is causing irritation to them. As long as BCCI can nuture this guy and ensure that his talent is not wasted.he will continue to do wonders for India in SA, Eng and Aus pitches.The way the current day cricket is played its not not a bad idea to have couple of bad guys in the team. They can even out teams like Aussies and Proteas who have thought that sledging is proprietary to them. Did someone see Prince trying to sledge Gambhir yesterday.?

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2011, 11:29 GMT

    i thinks the most imortant yoga or meditations when ur on field is the cricketting brain how much u can put ur talent into ur game and its a team work soo when u are into such situations all meditations will not be physical but it will in ur heart soo that u can perform with ur heart for game and for the country. its an advice to sreesanth to take some verbal meditaions before he performs his bowling on field not physical ones which make the captain think of the long periods between overs.performance always comes from heart and sreesanth has that metal im sure he will control his anger and he willl put it in her talents so that the batsmen get fear when he is on crease.good luck buddy keep up good work.

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2011, 10:52 GMT

    Luck smiles on Tendulkar as he is dropped and Laxman is gone run out.Tendulkar is obviously on his way to 51st Century

    Sachin luck smiles on him for another 25 minutes from now.i.e.till 12.55 hrs Captetown local time.After that he may loose concentration and may be he may feel little exhausted.

    It would be interesting to see how he goes from here.Post lunch session till tea is not favorable for Dhoni so in this session South African Bowlers may claim wicket .

    Match of course is taking interesting shape.

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