The summer of 2006 saw India break a 35-year-old jinx – winning a Test series in West Indies.
They went to South Africa that same year, to try and break another jinx. In the 14 years and 9 Tests (over three series) since South Africa’s post-Apartheid return to international cricket, India had not even won a single Test there.
India’s main protagonists of previously famous away wins – Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble – were very much the torchbearers of this campaign as well.
And then there was five-Test-old S. Sreesanth.
Sreesanth had been India’s second-highest impact bowler (min. 4 Tests) in those 5 Tests since his debut, only behind Anil Kumble. He had not failed in any of those Tests. He was soon to scale a height that he would never reach again in his on-again-off-again Test career.
In the first Test at the Wanderers, Johannesburg, Dravid walked in to face the consequences of choosing to bat first as early as the tenth over. He saw another wicket fall the very next over – 14 for 2. A few partnerships were strung together by four of India’s “big five” as India compiled an ambivalent 249.
What followed was a rare exposition of Indian pace bowling abroad.
In the very second over, Sreesanth dismissed Graeme Smith. 5 for 1. Zaheer Khan got rid of Herschelle Gibbs in the next over. 5 for 2. Sreesanth soon accounted for Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis. 21 for 4.
An obstinate Ashwell Prince (24 from 60 balls) notwithstanding, the South African innings folded for just 84 runs and Sreesanth had 5-40 to show for it.
Four of those were top/middle order dismissals. Another feature of this performance was his ability to build pressure by taking wickets in quick succession.
India, in their second turn, made 236 largely due to VVS Laxman’s 73.
Chasing 402, South Africa were jolted by Sreesanth yet again as he accounted for Smith, Amla and Kallis for a second time in the match, ending up with 3-59. Zaheer (3-79) and Kumble (3-54) were also instrumental in India’s famous victory by 123 runs.
Sreesanth’s second salvo came at a high
This Man-of-the-match effort was the highest impact bowling performance of the match and the second-highest impact of the series.
He would produce another high impact bowling performance in India’s loss at Durban with another 8-wicket haul (4-109 & 4-79).
India would lose the last match at Cape Town and hence the series, 1-2, but Sreesanth still emerged as the highest impact Indian bowler and second-highest impact bowler overall (after Shaun Pollock) of the series. He also became India’s highest impact bowler (min. 5 Tests) and the fifth-highest impact bowler in the world in the period since his debut.
3.2 plunged to 1.94.
Gokul Chakravarthy and Nikhil Narain
NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.