'The feeling is yet to sink in'
Only a few weeks back S Sreesanth had admitted that he was "heart-broken" after being overlooked for the upcoming World Cup. Now, after making a surprise, backdoor entry into India's squad for the mega event, beginning February 19, he does not know how to thank his stars.
After fellow-pacer Praveen Kumar was withdrawn from the squad because of an elbow injury, the Kerala pacer was on Tuesday called up as his replacement following a fitness test.
His first World Cup, four years back, was a disaster, as India was knocked out in the first round. This time, though, the 28-year-old is confident that both he and the team can go all the way.
Senior Associate Editor Harish Kotian caught up with the temperamental 28-year-old seamer in Bangalore soon after the BCCI announced his inclusion in the 15-man squad.
What was your first reaction after being called up to the Indian squad for the World Cup?
I was really excited and I thanked God. Very honestly, I felt bad for Praveen [Kumar]. I hope that he gets fit soon and plays for India again at the earliest. I am getting an opportunity to play the World Cup and I am really looking forward to it.
Has the feeling of your sudden call-up sunk in?
Even now I am struggling for words, because the feeling is yet to sink. I never thought I would play in this World Cup.
Were you expecting this call-up? A few days back you were talking of cheering the Indian team?
I am a huge cricket fan, so even though I had missed out initially I decided to support the Indian team. In fact, my band S36 did a show few days back and the entire show was dedicated to the Indian team. I am really happy to be able to make it to the World Cup. I thank the selectors, my fans and well-wishers.
Image: S Sreesanth
'I am ready for any challenge thrown to me'
What does the World Cup mean to you?
For any sportsperson, winning the World Cup is a dream come true. And winning the World Cup at home will be bigger than anything. I can't ask for anything more than this. I am really excited to be a part of the Indian team.
Will expectations from India's cricket-crazy fans be extra pressure or motivation to do well?
It is extra motivation and extra responsibility. As Dhonibhai said we don't look at it as pressure; we look at it as extra responsibility.
How tough a challenge will the tournament be, since the World Cup will be played on flat pitches in the subcontinent?
I am living everyday as it comes. I am sure tomorrow, when the squad meets up, we will make plans for each and everyone. But one thing I can assure you is that I am ready for any challenge that is thrown to me.
I would say it is a great challenge, but not tough, because when the going gets tough, the tough get going. So that is what I am looking to do.
Bangladesh defeated us in the last World Cup in 2007. Is this an ideal opportunity to extract revenge for that loss?
Yes, nothing like going to their home and beating them.
Image: S Sreesanth
'I don't cross the limits at all'
You were involved in a spat with Graeme Smith during India's tour to South Africa last month. Would you call that anger or passion for the game?
Honestly, it was not anger. It was a story made up by Graeme Smith. All I asked him was 'Is this the way you play cricket?', and he started abusing me. I think he should learn English.
So, would you continue to have a go at batsmen in the World Cup too?
I can only say that I will give my very best, no matter what. I am sure I will play with passion. I don't cross the limits at all. I am in full control of myself and I know what I am doing.
How do you rate the Indian team's chances?
I think our chances of winning the World Cup are very high.
Would you say our bowling attack would be one of the strongest attacks in the tournament?
It is a great attack and I am really delighted to be a part of it. We have so much experience in Zaheerbhai, Nehrabhai and Bhajji paaji, who have been around for a long time. Even Munaf Patel has played a lot of cricket; so everybody has got experience and are world-class bowlers.
Image: S Sreesanth
'I am blessed to have played alongside Zaheer'
But Zaheer is the leader of the pack, as he has shown in the last few years. Can you describe his role in the side? How has helped you?
He is a wonderful bowler and he leads our attack. Personally, I look up to him. He has always guided me and praised me whenever I have done well. Bowling with him is a great privilege and I consider myself fortunate to have got that chance.
He is a class act and knows his stuff well. So, just by observing him, you can learn a lot. I think I am really blessed to have played alongside him.
This is coach Gary Kirsten's final assignment with the Indian team. Will you want to win the World Cup for him?
Gary is a great human being; he is a great motivator. He was a great cricketer in his playing days and we respect him for what he has achieved in his career.
He is more like a friend and brother to us, and we keep going to him whenever we have any problems.
I am sure the whole team will try their very best to win the World Cup for him and his contributions to the team.
When you were out of the World Cup squad, you composed a song for the Indian team with your band S36. Now that you are in the team, will you play that song in the dressing room?
Hopefully, I will get the CD by then. I think songs are coming out soon and I am very excited about that too.
Image: S Sreesanth