Volatile Sreesanth ignores crowd's boos to win acclaim for fiery talent

 

Like all the best pantomime villains, Sree Sreesanth invited the audience to boo him before the first intermission – an invitation that was happily accepted.

But one act of mischief apart, butter barely melted in his mouth as he applied for the role of India's bowling hero.

England's batsmen would not have had a clue what to expect from the volatile Sreesanth yesterday; which is hardly surprising, because neither did his team-mates. On this occasion, though, the 28-year-old left most of the histrionics to others and concentrated on doing something he can be really rather good at: taking wickets.

To suggest that Sreesanth's career thus far has been chequered would be to invite a nomination for understatement of the year. But it was his performance on this ground four summers ago that led many people to believe he would be lucky to have a career at all.

The 2007 Trent Bridge Test between England and India is most easily remembered for the scattering of a few jelly beans – a somewhat juvenile act, carried out by a member or members of the home side, that so infuriated Zaheer Khan he went on to bowl in an almost unplayable fashion to win the match for India.

Much more serious, though, was Sreesanth's behaviour. He sent down a beamer at Kevin Pietersen but offered only a fleeting – and belated – apology, bowled a bouncer at Paul Collingwood after overstepping the crease by a distance and, just for bad measure, shoulder-barged England captain Michael Vaughan.

Match referee Ranjan Madugalle – who is in charge of matters disciplinary again this year – had to accept that the first two incidents were accidental. But he could not, and did not, let the bowler get away with bumping into Vaughan, although many believed the bowler deserved to lose more than 50 per cent of his match fee.

That Test was Sreesanth's 10th and, in the four years since, he has played only 14 more – partly, at least, because captains, coaches and selectors have never been quite sure of what they might be letting themselves in for. Unfair? Well, a couple of years ago, he was given a slap (literally) by Harbhajan Singh (no cool, calm and collected customer himself, admittedly) after annoying his team-mate during an Indian Premier League match.

People with Sreesanth's character used to be described as "highly strung". It is an expression that has largely gone out of fashion, but still seems just about right for a player who is all nervous energy and fidgety mannerisms.

He only made the cut here because India needed to replace Zaheer, their No 1 pace bowler, who pulled a hamstring before this series was barely half a day old. And, even then, captain M S Dhoni was not confident enough to throw him the new ball, preferring to see what the gentler but more reliable Praveen Kumar could do in tandem with Ishant Sharma.

Come the 11th over, though, it was time for everyone to swallow hard and see what side of the bed Sreesanth had emerged from.

Some people count to 10, or try to, when they are in danger of boiling over. Sreesanth, on the other hand, seems to do that before every ball. And, just in case he looked like getting stuck on five, Dhoni chose to put the unflappable Sachin Tendulkar alongside him at mid-on.

No one needed to have worried. Well, no one apart from England's early batsman, that is, as Sreesanth nipped out first Jonathan Trott and then Pietersen while remaining in control of both the ball and his temperament.

True, he did think about appealing for a caught and bowled against Ian Bell – and actually threw the ball in the air – but he was quickly calmed down by Dhoni, who pointed out that first- bounce catches do not count at this level.

England supporters booed for a bit when replays were shown on the big screen, but their hearts were not really in it. They knew the bowler was just striving hard for another wicket, one which he deservedly claimed when Matt Prior snicked a beauty of a ball.

Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann were to dent Sreesanth's figures late on with their rearguard action. But yesterday, at least, he took good and bad pretty much in his stride.

Trent Bridge Details

Weather

Today: Sunny morning, overcast after lunch. Max temp: 20C

Tomorrow: Overcast with sunny intervals. Max temp: 22C

Television

Today: Sky Sports 1 10:30am-7pm

Highlights: Channel Five 7-7.55pm

Tomorrow: Sky Sports 1 10:30am-7pm

Highlights: Channel Five 7-8pm

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