Thursday, November 26, 2009 , Posted by D S Gurung at 4:31 PM

2nd test, Kanpur, 3rd day
Sreesanth returned to test cricket in style

Sri Lanka 229 (Mahela 47, Sangakkara 44, Sreesanth 5-75) trail India 642 (Gambhir 167, Dravid 144, Sehwag 137, Herath 5-121) by 413 runs

Indian cricket's prodigal son Sreesanth returned in style with a five-for to destroy the back of Sri Lanka's batting and give India their biggest ever lead against Sri Lanka on the third day of the second Test in Kanpur. For nine successive overs in the first session, and for seven on the trot in the second, Sreesanth ran in hard, hit the deck and found life in a slow pitch. Mahela Jayawardene and Prasanna Jayawardene offered some resistance with a 60-run partnership but both fell in the second session as India took a firm grip on the game.

Green Park was where Sreesanth played his last Test 19 months ago before he disappeared from the sports pages and became an occasional feature on Page 3. Today, he stormed back, lifting India with spells that read 9-2-28-3 in the first session and 7-2-18-2 in the second. Debutant Pragyan Ojha, who kept things tight with his classical left-arm spin, allowing MS Dhoni the luxury to attack from the other end, got the other big wicket of the post-lunch session when he beat Mahela in the flight and produced a mishit to mid-on. Ojha hastened the end of the Sri Lankan innings post tea by trapping Muttiah Muralitharan in front. Harbhajan Singh, who picked the last wicket to terminate the innings, too bowled couple of good spells in the day but it was Sreesanth who was the star of the attack. His bowling was sublime through the day but the highlight was the delivery that gave him his fifth wicket, a peach that cut in from the middle stump line to take out the off stump of the clueless Rangana Herath. The celebration was muted: a folding of palms in prayer and gratitude, the right hand raised to accept the high-fives from his team-mates and the face slowly creasing into a smile. It wasn't dramatic, it wasn't the usual Sreesanth theatrics that make him perhaps the most complex cricketer in this side. Today, those signature self-exhortations at the top of the run-up were rarely seen, as was any special celebration after a wicket. It was all about the bowling. If he troubled the batsmen with seam movement in the morning he found some reverse swing post lunch with the old ball and continued to harass the batsmen. He got the big breakthrough of the second session when he terminated the fighting partnership between the two Jayawardenes. Prasanna had taken an aggressive route, slog sweeping and driving the spinners and, though he faced Zaheer Khan, he didn't have to play Sreesanth till he reached 35. Sreesanth probed Prasanna with 11 testing deliveries that included leg cutters, inswingers and a lovely inswinging yorker but Prasanna stood firm. However, Prasanna chased the 12th delivery, a short and wide one, and got a thin nick through to the keeper.

That was a recurring theme. Sreesanth would severely test the batsmen with a cluster of good deliveries and would invariably pick up a wicket with one slightly wide from the stumps. His pace wasn't frightening (135 kmph was the average), there were no fiery bouncers and he didn't swing it around corners, but what he did was land ball after ball on a probing line and length and cut it either way just enough to test the batsmen. He had his share of luck too - two batsmen played on off the inside edge - and Sri Lanka's batsmen didn't tailor their techniques to the demands of the pitch.

Instead of playing as close to the body as possible on a pitch with variable bounce, the batsmen erred by playing away. Tharanga Paranavitana was set up by a bouncer that crashed into his shoulder before he pushed at one cutting away from him. Kumar Sangakkara, who faced 24 deliveries from Zaheer Khan today, fell in the first over he faced off Sreesanth. Sangakkara played out three straight deliveries but was lured into a cover drive by a full wide one and ended up dragging it on to his stumps. Thilan Samaraweera was the next to go, pushing hard and early at a length delivery cutting away from him.

Not everything went Sreesanth's way though. He produced an edge from his best delivery but it didn't get him a wicket. Mahela Jayawardene, on zero, pushed at one that cut away late and got an edge but neither MS Dhoni nor Sachin Tendulkar at first slip went for the catch. It was the keeper's catch. Jayawardene got another reprieve on 25 when he edged a late cut off Harbhajan Singh to first slip where Rahul Dravid couldn't hold on to a sharp chance. It didn't matter as Mahela couldn't carry on for long.


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