‘I was not worried about hitting a six’

With the ICC World Cup and the subsequent T20I series against Australia done and dusted, it’s time for the Indian team to focus on a new challenge — beating South Africa in a Test series in their own backyard. A challenge that is easier said than done, with the Indians yet to win a Test series on South African soil in eight attempts since their first trip in 1992-93.

Among the Indians to have left a lasting impact in South Africa is former pacer S Sreesanth, who was part of the 2006-07 and 2010-11 tours under the leadership of Rahul Dravid and MS Dhoni respectively. Of his 87 Test wickets in a six-year international run, 27 came in South Africa in those two tours including two five-wicket hauls and as many four-fers.

Sreesanth’s career-best figures of 5/40 came in his first Test appearance in that part of the world, in Johannesburg in which he helped the Indians bowl the Proteas out for a paltry 84 and collect a huge 165-run first-innings lead. Despite the hosts putting up a much better performance with the bat in the second innings, they ended up suffering a 123-run defeat that was India’s first Test win on South African soil.

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The match is equally remembered for an incident involving Sreesanth and pacer Andre Nel. Nel, known for being rather expressive on the field during his spells, had been subjecting Sreesanth to a barrage of pleasantries during India’s second innings on Day 3. Sreesanth waited patiently until giving the pacer a charge and smashing the ball over his head for a straight six before breaking into a cowboy jig in what was a hilarious response to Nel’s sledging.

In an exclusive chat with Firstpost on the sidelines of the ongoing Legends League Cricket (LLC) in Visakhapatnam, where he is part of the Gujarat Giants franchise that has qualified for the playoffs in Surat, Sreesanth revealed what was going through his head before he struck that famous six.

“Obviously I didn’t think in that moment what was going to happen. I had already got a five-wicket haul and we literally had 300-plus runs lead, and all I was thinking was, “Why is he shouting at me? He’s bowling at 90 miles-plus, he’s abusing and he’s talking to me’.

“And I was thinking maybe I will get two or three overs at the end, maybe I will get one or two wickets. So I was not worried about hitting a six. I was thinking if I connect it’s good, if I don’t connect I will get to bowl. I never thought of a six at that point of time but that got connected and God’s been extremely kind,” Sreesanth said.

The icing on the cake for the pacer was the fact that Nel wasn’t able to dismiss him even once on the remainder of the tour.

“Throughout the series he couldn’t get me out. Even in the Durban Test after that I was 29 and Andrew Hall got me out, and in fact I hit Nel for a couple of boundaries also. He was making gestures, and I didn’t even respond to it,” Sreesanth, who used to be just as expressive in his celebrations, added.

India’s victory in Johannesburg in 2006 was their first on South African soil, and gave them a 1-0 series lead. The Proteas, however, would claw back in the subsequent Tests in Durban and Cape Town, winning by 174 runs and five wickets respectively to take the series 2-1. Sreesanth, however, finished as the highest wicket-taker in that series with 18 scalps at an average of 21.94, ahead of South Africa’s Makhaya Ntini (15).

Sreesanth was also part of India’s next trip to South Africa in 2010-11, in which the visitors managed to hold the Proteas to a 1-1 draw following a series-leveling victory in Durban. Sreesanth once again had a role to play in an Indian victory with figures of 3/45 that helped bowl South Africa out for 215 after setting them a tricky 303 to win.

India’s tour of South Africa begins on 10 December with a three-T20I series followed by as many ODIs. The two Tests will then take place at Centurion’s SuperSport Park (26-30 December) and Cape Town’s Newlands (3-7 January) respectively.

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