As Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, born on February 6, 1983, celebrates his 30th birthday tomorrow, Prakash Govindasreenivasan tracks the highs and lows of his career so far.
Shantakumaran Sreesanth is a character that Indian cricket needs. Apart from clocking 140 mph at will, he is a chirpy lad from Kerala who you are most likely to find in the opponent’s face.
Between dance classes, Sreesanth spent his childhood trying to master the art of leg spin, much like his hero Anil Kumble did. But the uncanny knack of bowling too many yorkers led him to consider fast bowling. A young Sreesanth made it to the famous MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai in 2000. Two years later, he had a tremendous start to his domestic career for Kerala, picking up 22 wickets in seven matches and earning a spot in the South Zone for the Duleep Trophy. He was one of the very few players who were picked for the Duleep Trophy in their very first domestic season.
He was a hard-working bowler and it showed in his immense growth early on in his domestic career, but hamstring injuries kept him out at regular intervals. In 2004, Sreesanth became the first bowler from Kerala to take a hat-trick in the Ranji Trophy against Himachal Pradesh.
Almost a year later, he got a chance to play for India B in the Challenger Trophy – a series which the Indian team selectors have a keen eye on. Sreesanth grabbed the opportunity with both hands and picked up seven wickets to be adjudged the man of the series. A couple of months later, his dream to play for India came true as he was picked for the ODI series against Sri Lanka.
Despite being selected he didn’t quite seem cut out for this format of the game. He was a wicket-taking bowler but often leaked way too many runs. His poor economy rate pushed him down the pecking order and the likes of RP Singh got an opportunity ahead of him. To his credit, he has been a part of World Cup winning squad in 2011. He would have been immensely delighted with the team’s efforts, but, personally, it was a tour worth erasing from his memory.
His true calling was Test cricket. It has always been a sight to watch Indian fast bowlers in action, putting the opposition batsmen on the backfoot and dominating the battle completely. Sreesanth had that in him. He could generate a lot of pace. The biggest plus point was the fact that Sreesanth proved effective even on placid Indian conditions.
The unmistakable seam position
There could be a list of things that go against this man when it comes to his on-field presence, but if there is something that one simply cannot take away from this pacer is the lovely seam position. For an Indian fast bowler, Sreesanth manages a wonderful seam position which makes him a potent threat in favourable conditions. He is the kind of bowler who would revel in the pacer friendly conditions of places likes New Zealand and Australia.
The character and the mindless aggression
Above all, Sreesanth was a character – a colourful one. He was not simply in his opponent’s face. He was the man who went on to thump the pitch with his hands after picking up a crucial wicket in the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup, the man who hit Andre Nel for a six and danced to celebrate the achievement, the man whose aggression went out of control at the drop of a hat.
Sreesanth had the fire in his belly that every aspiring fast bowler requires. He also came across as an emotional individual that has only gone against him.
His inability to control his anger and showing dissent at the smallest of the incidents proved fatal for his international career. He has even been warned for disciplinary issues while representing Kerala in the domestic season.
The clear lack of temperament and a cool head made him look like an average bowler with extraordinary talent. One could even liken his antics to those of the young Italian footballer Mario Balotelli, whose unnecessary antics have often overpowered his immense talent. Sreesanth, with a cool and calm head, could have been where Zaheer Khan was till the England series, leading the Indian bowling attack and helping the team do well in overseas conditions.
His inclusion in the 2011 World Cup was a shocker and came at the back of injury to Praveen Kumar. He failed to impress during the tournament and was out with injury ever since. He returned to full swing in the last three matches for Kerala in the domestic season, picking up a lot of wickets.
India’s four-match Test series against Australia may be too soon for him, but despite MS Dhoni not showing enough patience and support for the pacer, the BCCI would love the prospect of taking him to South Africa again later this year.
With Zaheer almost out of the reckoning and youngsters being given an extended run of games, this would be an ideal time for Sreesanth to make his case and force his way back into the side as the experienced player and lead the attack for as many years as he can. But, if the lack of temperament comes in his way yet again, he will go down in history as one of the most talented fast bowlers whose attitude failed him big time.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)