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Sreesanth, The Red Cherry, Seams And All

This guy is quite a cat. He Calls a press conference and sends in his mother to bowl the over. He now sports a new look for the Caribbean tour. The fiery baldness will further accentuate this six-footer's aggressive style: his glare, the pumping of his fists and his body language. And that's the best thing about Santhakumaran Sreesanth, one of Team India's most exciting pace bowlers. He has no qualms about displaying his idiosyncrasies or plain freaking out on the field. Some say he's weird, some say he's cool. Be it the different coloured sneakers for his test debut at Nagpur (black stripes on one shoe and red band on the other) or the jig he does when he gets a wicket; this feisty psychology student knows what it takes to get the striker's goat. And he will go to any lengths to intimidate the batsman.

Religion is cool
The 23 year old bowler from Kerala is paradoxical to say the least. This religious youngster begins his day with the gayatri mantra and ends it with hip-hop music, like wise it is a prayerful Sreesanth who turns aggressive. He even interrupts the flow of questions put forward by me to endearingly request,''Please do pray for me. With your blessings I can play better.'' Yes, there is the softer side to him- he is also an artist and a poet. He loves to pen poetry and sketch too. But when it comes to cricket, the softness disappears and it is the tough cookie act.

How green is the Cherry?

From a state where there are no proper cricket grounds, Sreesanth, who spent his early years in the small towns of Kerala, used to clamour for balls. ''If he did not get it, he would play with guavas and small coconuts. He was very naughty then and he has broken countless windowpanes and roof tiles. But being the youngest of my four children, he would somehow escape punishment,'' says Sreesanth's mother Savithridevi who works at the treasury in Ernakulam. His father Santhakumaran recalls how at the age of eight or nine years, Sree bought a book called History of Cricket to read on the train.''He read it over and over again.''

Boost is the secret of my energy.

And his mother remembers his love for Boost in his desire to emulate Sachin Tendulkar.''Yes,'' Sreesanth agrees,''I used to drink two to three bottles of the health drink per month because if I won the lucky coupon offered by the company, I would get to meet my hero. If cricket is my religion, Sachin is my God. To play with him is a dream come true. It was a great feeling to get him out for the Challenger Trophy. I was made the Man of the Series.'' He says gleefully and yet with awe for Sachin. ''

Oh My God!
Just imagine playing with God and getting him out. Some guys have all the luck.

Too much Cricket? Whatzzat?!!

In just eight months Sreesanth has got 22 wickets in 14 ODIs and 9 wickets in two
International test matches.''Is it too much cricket?'' Sreesanth downright disagrees,''No, I am raring to go. The breaks in between make me bored. I can play cricket all the time.''
'' Will he make it to the World Cup in 2007?'' ''Yes, I hope so.''He replies.

I can be a little hurricane

And in the run up to the World Cup, he is making the right noises too. Sreesanth whose bowling speed varies from 138 to 143 kms/hr is reportedly contemplating 150 kms/hr. How the dickens is he going to achieve that all of a sudden? One may dismiss this statement as incredulous or as just another mind game. But with S Sreesanth, one can never be sure. He is so full of surprises.

Howzzat!!!!

Childhood friends, who laughed at his dreams about playing for Team India a decade ago, are now eating the proverbial humble pie. Says a friend and neighbour Pinku Thomas, ''When we were in the ninth standard, he said he would play for the Indian team in 2007. I just laughed at him. But now look where he is.'' Quips another friend Nikhil Vedan, ''He was aggressive even at a very young age. We used to gather every evening to play cricket with a tennis ball and he would declare that he would get the batsman out with the next ball. And Sree would do just that. We just hated it but I have to admit even then he was damn good.''

Hey this is a gentleMAN’s game!!!

Sreesanth's aggro style was often misunderstood in his home state Kerala. It is said to be the reason that kept him out of one Ranji Trophy game. He was dropped from the Kerala team for a
match against Jammu and Kashmir purportedly because of his aggression.

Now the Mental Man’s game
But his guru and mentor P.Sivakumar, Chairman of the Ernakulam Cricket Club who was responsible for him going to Chennai for training, says,''During those crucial years from thirteen to nineteen he showed tremendous passion for the game. If you talked about anything else he totally keyed off. He is a gifted player and from the beginning he played all the major tournaments against seniors. And when he got someone out, he showed that same aggression. It was often misinterpreted. But as a coach the one thing I perhaps did that proved to be correct was not to discourage his aggression. And I am sure that during his training in Australia he must have been encouraged to display it.''

Cricket, cricket and more cricket. Boost ain’t enough.

T A Shekhar, the chief coach at the MRF Pace Foundation who has been Sreesanth's coach for the past few years, too encourages the style,''Fast bowlers need to be aggressive. And I believe you can be the best of friends off the field but on it, the bowler has to hate the batsman. I don't like the bowler clapping for the batsman on the field. And Sreesanth pumps his adrenalin and betters his performance by being aggressive.'' T A Shekhar on how it has been to coach Sreesanth: ''It has been a great challenge to coach him. His attitude is right and he thinks on his feet. He bowls classic outswingers and he uses subtle variations to surprise the batsman. He is full of ideas and this helps because today cricket is as much a mind game as a physical game. Dennis Lillee and I both feel that he can go a long way if he keeps his head on his shoulder and concentrates on the game.''

A sweet ‘un

However Sivakumar is quick to point out,''He is a totally different person off the field. He is a gentle person and I have yet to come across someone who is so hardworking.''
There is another side of Sreesanth that has not been exploited enough, point out some old timers. V Narayana Kutty, a former selector for the Kerala team says,''I have seen Sreesanth batting and if he improves that, it will help the team. He also needs to brush up his fielding skills.'' A former Junior national selector, J K Mahendran opines,''I know if Sreesanth sets his mind on a goal, he will slowly work towards achieving it. I feel he should play quicker and quicker gradually without hurting himself. We have seen too many fast bowlers die out quickly. It is good that he wants to bowl at high speeds but at present he should concentrate on his line and length and build up his strength.''

How many wristbands should one wear? How many causes should one espouse?

The man who wears the blue-white and yellow Live Armstrong wristbands that is so visible when he punches the air says he does not have a girlfriend.''Not yet, I am enjoying my bachelorhood. But I have always been surrounded by girls, like my
mother and my sisters for instance.''

''And the batsman that Sreesanth earnestly wishes to dismiss in International cricket?''

''There is one person and it is impossible to get him out.'' says the confident speedster.

''Who is that?''

''Myself, of course!''

A classic googly and he sure has me stumped out there!

(By the way, Sreesanth started out as spinner)

(First published by the New Indian Express. Some changes have been made.)

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