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Sreesanth the free spirit

A versatile boy who switched from spin to pace, Sreesanth has never put a lid on his intensity, writes Abhijeet Kulkarni. No takers for Sreesanth's theatrics | In a nutshell

cricket Updated: Feb 17, 2011 16:11 IST
Abhijeet Kulkarni

Back in 2003, when Sreesanth was not even a regular in the Kerala Ranji squad, the speedster made an entry in his diary. That he will break into the national squad in the next two years.

He then went into self-exile - staying away from family functions and other social activities to concentrate on his goal. His parents were left wondering what was wrong with their youngest child. And the knowledge about the diary entry only added to their concerns.

But the bowler realised his ambition and made his India debut in the one-day series against Sri Lanka in October 2005. The intensity he showed in chasing his dream had worked.

Early signs
Even as an eight-year-old boy mostly doing the duties of a ball boy for his elder cousins playing cricket in the backyard of the family house in Kothamangalam, Sreesanth used to draw fielding plans in his notebook, hoping he will get to bowl one day.

For months, his mother Savithri Devi was under the impression her son was so engrossed in his studies that he spent hours completing his homework. "But one day I checked his notebooks and found out what kept him busy every evening," she recalls.

Sreesanth's elder brother, Dipusanth, was then playing cricket for his school and university as a new-ball bowler. But the fact that his sporting career was going nowhere only added to her anxiety. Whenever Sreesanth spoke about making a career in cricket, his cousins and family members would remind him that only 15 players from among a billion Indians could make it to the national team.

Favourite child
But Santhakumaran Nair had different plan for his second son. Impressed by Sreesanth's keenness, he took a transfer to Ernakulam to provide him proper coaching, and enrolled him in the Ernakulam Cricket Club's summer camp under P Sivakumar.

"The concerns about the future were definitely there. But there was never any reason to complain about his examination results. So I was happy to give him the freedom to pursue his cricket dreams," says the Life Insurance Corporation development officer.

The fact that Sreesanth was the youngest member in the family and had undergone a serious intestinal surgery when he was just six months old had made him the family's blue-eyed boy.

Santhakumaran used to drive all players in Sreesanth's school team to matches around the city in his car without informing his wife, and then stay throughout the match.

Early spin
Sreesanth then used to bowl leg spin and bat higher in the order. But Sivakumar felt the youngster, who joined his academy as a 13-year-old, had the potential to become a fast bowler. So he prodded Sreesanth to fulfil his childhood dream of bowling faster than his brother, who was 12 years older.

"He had a fantastic seam position and could swing the ball. Even while bowling leg spin, yorkers were his most effective deliveries. So I convinced him to shift to fast bowling," Sivakumar says.

Sreesanth got an opportunity to shift to Bangalore when his elder sister moved there after marriage, and his brother-in-law suggested he should move to the Garden city to further his cricket career. But there was one problem. Sreesanth had already passed eighth standard in Kerala, but no Bangalore school was willing to admit him in the ninth citing age issues. Santhakumaran recalls, "My relatives berated me for wasting a year as we decided to enrol him again in the eighth standard. But I thought we can give it a try for a year, and take it from there."

Sreesanth trained at the AV Jayaprakash academy, and used to cycle 14 km daily to attend the training. But his first real break came when he was selected to the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai three years later. "I would say that I provided him training till the 10+2 level, but he graduated at the MRF academy," says Sivakumar.

Sreesanth's selection to the MRF academy also ended the talk about an alternative career in academics. He came back a changed bowler, and became the first Kerala bowler to claim a hat-trick in a three-day game, in an U-19 match against Karnataka.

Difficult period
He was also picked for India 'A', but the honeymoon was over in no time and Sreesanth found it difficult to settle down in the Ranji squad. "There were a lot of problems, including ragging by seniors. That was the only time I saw him losing confidence. I used to talk to him a lot during that period. He came out stronger," says Sivakumar.

Sreesanth's international career has also oscillated between the brilliant and the ordinary. His devastating spell in Johannesburg in 2006 helped India win their first Test on South African soil, and it looked like he would soon cement his place. But injuries at regular intervals and controversies surrounding his on-field behaviour hampered his progress. He then signed up for English county Warwickshire. Sivakumar says the stint under Allan Donald there proved to be the turning point.

Despite apprehensions within the team management about his behaviour, Sreesanth was recalled for the home series against Sri Lanka in November 2009. He bowled his heart out on a flat Kanpur pitch and helped India win the Test. Sivakumar says Sreesanth is predominantly a Test bowler. "He is aggressive and gives off his best even if the wickets are unresponsive. That doesn't mean he cannot contribute in ODIs."

One criticism against Sreesanth is that his economy rate in ODIs is above six. Sivakumar begs to differ. "You need to see what he has in the last column. Isn't it better to take two-three wickets for 60 runs than have figures of none for 50-odd runs? And mind you, Sreesanth normally takes the wickets of top order batsmen."

The bowler would know he has got a chance at redemption. In 2007, the rookie did not get a chance to play in India's disastrous campaign. Four years later, an experienced Sreesanth will be looking to script a fairytale run, if and when he gets the ball in his hand. And billions of Indians will hope his aggression stays well and truly in control.