Love him or hate him, you can't ignore mercurial fast bowler Shantakumaran Sreesanth. His onfield histrionics may have kept him initially out of the World Cup squad, though he is in it now as a replacement for injured Praveen Kumar.
Sreesanth sees his selection a "godsent opportunity" and doesn't want to "mess it up".
I know my antics are a hot topic, but I don't want to think about it now. I know I have to change my image and I am trying my best to do that. I play my game aggressively and everything I do on the field is spontaneous, not for any effect. I am what I am and I enjoy my game thoroughly. This is a godsent opportunity for me and I don't want to mess it up," Sreesanth said in an interview.
An apocryphal story doing the rounds is that an exasperated India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is believed to have asked Pakistani umpire Asad Rauf during the South Africa tour "why can't he think of imposing a one-match ban on Sreesanth so that everyone gets a respite from his high-voltage drama!"
The Kerala speedster was indeed brought to book, not for his histrionics but for for dissent in the Cape Town Test and received a fine of 10 percent of his match fee.
Hours before the selectors decided to bring in Sreesanth as Praveen's replacement, inspired stories went on air stating that the team management was opposed to his inclusion. But, the selectors chose to take his performance as the determining factor. Sreesanth has picked up 75 wickets from 51 ODI and his best of six for 55 came against England in Indore in 2006.
Sreesanth, who was a part of the 2007 World Twenty20 winning squad in South Africa, says he is only concerned about his contribution to the team, nothing else.
The young man from Kochi thanked god for the opportunity and said it has only reinforced his belief in his ability as a bowler.
"It is a great opportunity for me. I never thought I would be playing in the World Cup after I failed to make the cut. But, I always believed in in my ability to force my way into the side with sheer performance. I was disappointed when I was not included in the original squad, but I never stopped practising for even a day. I have been working out at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore to stay in shape for the domestic matches. Now that I am in the squad, it is a great moment for me and I hope to do well," said Sreesanth.
Playing in his first 50-over World Cup, that too at home, the pressure will be huge and he remains unfazed.
"I am playing for the last five years and know what pressure is all about. If there is pressure on us playing at home, then it will also be on the opposition," he said.
For all his volatile temperament, Sreesanth says reading, writing and listening to music keeps him focussed on his game.
"I am like just like any other guy. I write my diary every day, listen to music and reads books regularly. These things help me stay focussed. I try to switch off after a match and that helps me to relax. I am religious and pray every day," said Sreesanth, the second Kerala player, after Tinu Youhanan, to play for India.
For Sreesanth, Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee has been the biggest influence and he always carries the legend's biography, "Dennis the Menace."
"He has been my role model. I was lucky to work with him when I was a trainee at the MRF Pace Academy. I read his autobiography 'Dennis the Menace' and try to learn from it. In his book he wrote 'When I bowl well, I don't walk into the dressing room with my chest out as if I am the best bowler in the world. If I had a bad day I don't walk back to the dressing room with shoulders dropped as if I am the most useless player in the team'. That's my philosophy, too,' said Sreesanth.
Asked one moment he would like to relive in this World Cup, Sreesanth said: "The catch I took to dismiss Misbah-ul Haq in the final of the World Twenty20 Championship to give India victory in the final. It will always be special, if only I could do something like that in the World Cup."
Asked to pick his best on-field theatrics, Sreesanth said: "My favourite one is the horse dance in South Africa after I hit Andre Nel for a six. I actually wanted to hit him for a six and when I actually hit him straight over, I couldn't control myself."