In April of last year, following the end of an Indian Premier League match between King's XI Punjab and Mumbai India, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth was reduced to tears after being on the receiving end of a resounding slap from Harbhajan Singh. The off-spinner, who possess one of the shortest fuses in the game, was still seething about a catch Sreesanth had dropped off his bowling against South Africa. The blue-touch paper was then lit when Harbhajan took exception to the tone of Sreesanth's commiseration after King's XI trounced Mumbai. It was an unsavoury incident. Yesterday, however, the turnaround could not have been more stark. Slaps in the face were replaced by pats on the back and the tears turned to broad smiles as Sreesanth, 26, marked his return from 19 months in the international wilderness with a potential match-winning performance on day two of the third Test against Sri Lanka in Kanpur.
Sreesanth has a bit of form himself. He was in hot water for bowling beamers to Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood, and allegedly mocking Andrew Symonds. His discipline and conduct has also been called into question on more than one occasion by the Indian cricket board. But yesterday he showed why the selectors have retained faith in his ability and picked him ahead of Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel. Bowling with aggression and skill on an unhelpful pitch, Sreesanth's patience and discipline were rewarded with six wickets in the day, including five in the first innings, to leave Sri Lanka in the mire at 57 for four in their second innings, still 356 runs behind their hosts. Filleting the top and middle order with a combination of reverse swing and seam movement, Sreesanth would have taken a huge source of satisfaction at clean bowling Kumar Sangakkara, the classy left-hander, but the delivery of the day was the one which cut away from the middle-stump line to take out the off stump of Rangana Herath. It was fitting way to seal his second five-wicket haul in Test cricket.
The off-spinner Prgayan Ojha, also had a day to remember, picking up the Sri Lanka batting kingpin Mahela Jayawardene as his first Test wicket. He added the scalp of Muttiah Muralitharan and conceded fewer than two runs an over from the 23 he bowled. Harbhajan also claimed two wickets as Sri Lanka were all out for 229. The time the visitors had spent in the field at the end of the previous Test and the start of this one appeared to have taken its toll on their levels of energy and concentration. Trailing by 413 runs, Sri Lanka were asked to follow on and their obvious fatigue manifested itself in a series of injudicious shots and dubious running between the wickets as India went for the jugular. Sreesanth, who else, started the ball rolling, catching the outside edge of Tillekeratne Dilshan's bat with a fine delivery that seamed and bounced.
Dilshan managed to avoid the ignominy of recording a king pair but 11 runs was way below what was required in this backs-to-the-wall effort. Fellow opener Tharanga Paranavitana survived the early burst from the seamers only to switch off against the part-time spin of Virender Sehwag, trapped in front having made just 20. If Sri Lanka were to somehow save this match then much was going to hinge on Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, but they were dismissed within the space of four balls. Not much has gone right for Sangakkara during this match and he compounded a miserable few days by running out his partner with a kamikaze single. The incident clearly unsettled the usually mentally strong left-hander who chopped on a delivery from Harbhajan in the next over. That meant 13 Sri Lanka wickets had fallen in the day and it was nearly 14 when Angelo Mathews misjudged one from Harbhajan and was rapped on the pads. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sri Lanka (first innings, overnight 66-1): T Dilshan c Ojha b Khan 0 T Paranavitana c Dhoni b Sreesanth 38 K Sangakkara b Sreesanth 44 M Jayawardene not out 26 T Samaraweera b Sreesanth 2 A Mathews b Harbhajan 13 P Jayawardene c Dhoni b Sreesanth 39 R Herath b Sreesanth 11 M Muralitharan lbw b Ojha 6 C Welegedara lbw b Harbhajan 7 A Mendis not out 6 Extras: (9b, 2lb, 5nb) 16 Total: (all out; 84 overs) 229 Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-82, 3-101, 4-111, 5-134, 6-194, 7-204, 8-216, 9-219 Bowling: Zaheer 17-5-51-1 (nb-3), Sreesanth 22-4-75-5 (nb-1), Harbhajan 21-5-54-2, Ojha 23-12-37-2 (nb-1), Yuvraj 1-0-1-0 Sri Lanka (second innings): T Paranavitana lbw b Sehwag 20 T Dilshan c Dhoni b Sreesanth 11 K Sangakkara b Harbhajan 11 M Jayawardene run out 10 T Samaraweera not out 1 A Mathews not out 2 Extras: (1lb, 1nb) 2 Total: (four wickets; 23 overs) 57 Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-37, 3-54, 4-54 Bowling: Zaheer 5-0-23-0 (nb-1), Sreesanth 3-1-10-1, Harbhajan 8-2-14-1, Sehwag 3-0-4-1, Ojha 4-2-5-0.