From now on, I want to play for myself: Sreesanth
He bowls with passion in his heart, anger in his eyes and the magic of swing in his fingers.
S Sreesanth has been part of two World Cup triumphs -- the Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 and the 50-overs World Cup, earlier this year, but unable to cement his place in the Indian squad since making his debut in 2006.
That can be attributed to the Kerala speedster not getting enough chances, or a long enough run, at the international level and injury woes.
There is also another side to that debate vis-a-vis his tendency to lose his cool out in the middle, which even earned him the ire of his captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, at times.
But the 28-year-old admits he has finally realized that getting on a batsman's nerves is not the way to get wickets, and, instead, a calm approach is needed to succeed at the highest level.
The tour of England is vital for him. If he gets his bearings right, he will prove a handful for the English batsmen. He had a lacklustre outing against Somerset in the warm-up match but, then, the pitch hardly had anything for the bowlers, and, added to that, the Indian pacer was making a comeback after a long gap.
Before leaving for England, Sreesanth spoke with Senior Associate Editor Harish Kotian, and expressed his delight at the World Cup triumph, the challenges that lie ahead in England and how desperate he is to bowl fast again.
Are you completely fit for the upcoming England tour?
Absolutely! I am looking forward to playing in England, because I had a good break after the last match in Cape Town. So I am eager to play Test cricket again and do well for India.
What exactly was the injury you suffered? How long was the recovery process? You trained quite hard at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore for the past few months...
If you love the game, you always want to keep playing. I love training, so no complaining. I was training at the NCA, which is like a second home for me now. It was all for a good cause. Now I am completely fit and raring to go.
I managed to go home for a couple of days before leaving for England. It has given me a bit of energy, because I met my family after a long time. But now my focus is on the upcoming tour of England.
Talking about the injury, it was a tennis elbow injury, but nothing serious. First, I thought we might need surgery, then I was sent to England to meet Dr Andrew Wallace, and I was under Team India's physiotherapist Nitin Patel and trainers at the NCA -- Sudarshan VP and Nagendra Prasad -- which really helped during my recovery.
I have been bowling without any problem at the NCA for the past weeks, against the likes of Gautam Gambhir and a few Under-19 players. It was nice to meet with the youngsters. The best thing about the NCA is that you always push yourself when you see the youngsters.
Image: S Sreesanth
'I want to be known as a fast bowler'
You show good form when it comes to Test matches, having picked a five-wicket haul in your last Test match against South Africa at Cape Town. You must be eagerly looking to get cracking against England in the first Test match at Lord's...
I love all formats of cricket, but Test cricket is my favourite. In my last Test match, at Cape Town, I picked five wickets at the start of the year, and so far 2011 has been good. I have been bowling well, and fast as well.
I could have gone to the West Indies and bowled in the 120s [kmph], but I wanted to make sure that I don't get the tag of a slow medium or a slow military. I want to bowl fast, and want to be known as a fast bowler. I want to bowl consistently in the 140s and even touch 150, which I have managed so far. Even in the IPL, I managed to bowl consistently at speeds touching 150.
After the injury I have started to take a lot of inspiration from Brett Lee. Even after so many injuries, he has managed to come back fitter and bowl fast. One thing I learnt when bowling with him is that, as a fast bowler, if you can't bowl fast, then don't play. That is the sort of attitude I have; I want to be like Lee, and that is the motivation for me.
Image: S Sreesanth
'Our bowling attack is shaping up really well'
You are that type of fast bowler who relishes seam-friendly conditions, which you are bound to encounter in England. So that must have been an extra incentive for you to recover in time for the England tour?
I was lucky enough that the BCCI gave me permission to play for Warwickshire in the 2009 season when I was looking to make a comeback after my injury.
That experience will surely help me this time. I was also part of the 2007 Indian team that was victorious in the Test series in England. I was lucky to have bowled with Zaheerbhai [Khan], who had a dream run in England in 2007, which actually happened because of his experience of having played a season of county cricket there.
It will be a good series, because all our fast bowlers are in good form. Ishant [Sharma] has performed exceptionally well in the West Indies, Praveen [Kumar] also did a good job there along with Munaf Patel. Zaheerbhai will be raring to go after a break and I am also bowling fast; so our bowling attack is shaping up really well.
It will be a great series and I just can't wait to reach England and start bowling. Surely, the conditions there will help me bowl longer spells, maybe around seven or eight overs in each spell instead of just four.
Image: S Sreesanth
Zaheer is a big inspiration
You speak highly of Zaheer Khan. What have you learnt from him? He is currently one of the top fast bowlers in the world.
Since 2006, when Zaheerbhai went to England to play county cricket and made a comeback to the Indian team, he has become not only the backbone of the Indian bowling attack but the main strike bowler of the team. He is one of the best fast bowlers India has produced after Javagal Srinath and Kapil Dev.
I always look up to him, because he is a big inspiration. He comes to the gym and works hard; also, in the nets he trains really hard. The main thing about him is his work ethic, and I must admit I really love his work ethic.
He is also from the MRF Pace Academy, where I also trained, so I know him for almost ten years. He is one of the seniormost players in the Indian team and I really look up to him as an elder brother. I am very lucky to play alongside Zaheerbhai.
Image: Zaheer Khan and S Sreesanth
We have proved that we deserve to be the top Test team
Will the competition in the fast bowling department put extra pressure on you?
You are ranked the number one Test team in the world, so we don't want one or two fast bowlers in our squad, but at least 8-10 good fast bowlers, which will be a good thing for Indian cricket.
I can't complain about me being there or not being there. To play cricket, you should be a cricket fan first, and I am certainly a huge Indian cricket fan. I would love to see India doing well, whether it is me taking wickets or some other bowler taking wickets. I love being part of the team and my job is to do whatever task is assigned to me by the captain and the coach. I just want to make sure that whatever opportunities I get, I make it count.
A lot of former England players believe that their team is the best Test team in the world. Do you agree that England is a better team than India in Tests?
Everybody has got the right to speak. If the rankings don't count, then what is the use of having it? We are ranked number one for the last one-and-half year and we have proved that we deserve to be the top Test team. What more do we need to do?
Image: Indian team
'It is always special to play at Lord's'
How special is it playing a Test match at Lord's, which has a so much of history attached to it?
It is always special to play at Lord's. I was fortunate enough to play at Lord's on the last tour, in 2007. I got three wickets in the second innings. If I had got two more wickets, I would have got my name on the Honours Boards at Lord's.
I don't know if I will be in the playing eleven in the first Test at Lord's in this upcoming tour. I can't be optimistic and say I will be playing in the first Test for sure. There is a warm-up match against Somerset before the first Test, where I will be hoping to get a chance and do well.
But playing at Lord's is also a lot of fun. It is nice bowling from the Far End, where there is a slight slope. When I went in 2007, I did not have much experience, but, having played for Warwickshire, I have a fair idea of how to bowl at Lord's.
England players tried a lot of mind games during the last tour, like constant sledging and even resorted to silly tactics, like throwing jelly beans at the Indian players. How will you react if you are sledged? Will you keep your cool, like you have been looking to of late, or will you give it back to the England players?
I am no more 19, I am 28. That itself speaks a lot; I don't want to go through the same road again and again. As [Mahendra Singh] Dhonibhai always says, a person who makes a mistake is fine, but a person who has got a huge gap in making that same mistake again goes further.
I want to be in that group, where I keep a big gap in making that same mistake again. They [England] can talk, they can do whatever they want, but, for me, what matters is to run in, bowl fast and take wickets for my country. I always get motivated when people talk and try to get me angry.
Even when I bat I will look to stick around and make it hard for them to take my wickets. Incidentally, my highest Test score is in England, which is 35, when Anil Kumble scored a century at the Oval in 2007.
Image: S Sreesanth
Tinu Yohannan made me believe that a Malayalee can represent India
What if they throw a jelly bean at you? You won't react even then?
Honestly, I don't know how I will react. But I hope they don't do it.
The last time you played for India was the 2011 World Cup, when you won the coveted trophy in front of home fans. How special was it to win the World Cup, India's first after a long gap of 28 years?
I was quite surprised to be in the eleven for the final. But I always had faith in what I dreamt of. Coming from Kerala, I never thought I would even play for India, but thanks to Tinu Yohannan!
He made me believe that a Malayalee can actually represent India in international cricket. I followed him and ended up playing in the 2007 World Cup, where we were knocked out early. I remember me telling the world that we will win the 2007 World Twenty20 and we did manage it.
Our next aim was the 2011 World Cup and, quite honestly, I never thought I would play cricket till 2011. And here I am, having won two World Cups, and now embarking on the tour to England.
It has been a roller coaster ride, but I have enjoyed it; so far, no regrets! The 2011 World Cup was amazing. Playing in front of your home fans was an unforgettable experience. For me, opening the bowling in the first match and the last match of the World Cup... I can't ask for more.
Image: Tinu Yohannan
'World Cup has only increased my motivation'
In fact, you were lucky to make it to the World Cup squad. You were a late replacement for Praveen Kumar, who had to pull out because of an injury. So you must have been overjoyed at winning the trophy. Isn't it?
I always thought I would make it to the 15-member squad, but I was not included. But, then, I was lucky enough to make a late entry. I felt bad for Praveen, because he had to miss the World Cup because of injury. I felt good that I got an opportunity. But that is how cricket works.
When I got injured in 2008, Ishant Sharma got the opportunity to play for India; so, in the end, it is all good for Indian cricket.
The 2011 World Cup has only increased my motivation and now I am hungry for more success. In 2007, after winning the World T20, I was relaxed, but in 2011, after winning the World Cup, I said to myself that this is where my cricket starts and the next four years I will be looking to do really well.
I am 28 now and this is the best time for fast bowlers to do well, between the age of 28-32. I just want to stay fit and bowl India to victories.
Deserve to desire
You have been part of the Indian team that won the Twenty20 World Cup, the 50-overs World Cup and is the number one in Test cricket. Are you satisfied with how your career has shaped up so far?
Honestly, from where I started in Kochi till here now, I have no regrets. I have been a part of the 2007 World Cup victory, 2011 World Cup victory and also the No. 1 Test team in the world. So, as a team, we have achieved everything possible.
But, from now on, I want to play for myself. You are playing for your country, so your pride is at stake; but, more than pride, it is personal responsibility. We are ranked number one, so it is my responsibility to set the standard.
My father always said that 'first you should deserve to desire', so my desire is really more. I have to make sure I deserve it. That is what I have been trying.
I am keeping my fingers crossed. There is an important series against England coming up and I could not ask for a better opposition and a better place to bowl fast.
Image: S Sreesanth
It is about starting fresh every match
Any specific targets you have set yourself for the England tour?
I just want to go with a fresh frame of mind. One thing I learnt from playing county cricket is that everyday you got to believe that you have not done anything. You can never boss around saying I won the World Cup or I did this. It is about starting fresh every match, every day and bowling in the right areas.
The next four years of my life will be one ball at a time rather than thinking about every game or every series. So no specific targets as such; the only target is to bowl the first ball in the right area.
Image: S Sreesanth