Banishing the demons from the past, Santhakumaran Sreesanth whipped up a display of compelling swing bowling at Green Park here on Thursday.
At peace with himself and bowling with sustained hostility on a sub-continental track, Sreesanth posed searching questions to the batsmen. His mind and body were in harmony.
The comeback paceman's five for 75 in the Sri Lankan first innings has put India on course for a comprehensive win in the second Test.
Wilting under pressure
Bowled out for 229 and following on, the visitor was tottering at 57 for four when bad light ended third day's play. There was no devil in the pitch but the Sri Lankans wilted in the cauldron.
The dismissals of Mahela Jayawardene – skipper Kumar Sangakkara had set out for a non-existent single after playing Pragyan Ojha to mid-wicket - and Sangakkara – loose outside off stump to Harbhajan Singh - in the dying moments summed up Sri Lanka's day.
Skipper Dhoni led smartly and the Indian plans fell in place. The dismissals of Mahela Jayawardene and Tharanga Paranavitana are cases in point.
The fleet-footed Mahela (47) danced down to debutant left-armer Ojha in the Sri Lankan first innings to loft the ball over the man at mid-on.
When Ojha returned for his next over, Sachin Tendulkar was moved to a deeper, wider mid-on; the bait was laid. Mahela attempted the stroke again and Tendulkar accepted the offering gleefully. The experienced Mahela failed to notice the subtle change in the field.
When the Sri Lankans followed on, Dhoni surprised the visitors by introducing occasional off-spinner Virender Sehwag, who foxed the left-handed Paranavitana with a delivery that came in with the arm from round-the-wicket.
Sreesanth opened the path for India, bowling with much heart and craft in a morning spell of 9-2-28-3. He returned for a crucial burst after lunch.
Operating to a telling line around the off-stump, Sreesanth set the batsmen up by denying width and room, and gradually dragged them wider for the fatal inside-edge or the out-side nick.
The Sri Lankans were sucked into the trap. Paranavitana (38), Kumar Sangakkara (44), Thilan Samaraweera (2) and Prasanna Jayawardene (39) were all dismissed attempting extravagant strokes with limited footwork.
Sreesanth switched his line to the right and the left-handers effectively. And he varied his pace cleverly.
When the Sri Lankans batted a second time, the paceman prised out Tillakaratne Dilshan with a gem. The ball pitched on off, moved and lifted to find the edge.
A wonderful wrist and seam position makes Sreesanth an engaging swing bowler. The cocking of the wrist that is held straight is the key to his bowling.
Sreesanth generated impressive speeds and generally bowled a fuller length that is mandatory for swing. He mixed the one leaving the batsman with the delivery either swinging or angling in. The short-pitched delivery and the yorkers were effective variations.
Pace bowling is much about rhythm and Sreesanth was running in smoothly, his action blending with release.
He harried Tharanga Paranavitana in the morning and hit the left-hander on the helmet with a sharp bouncer to set up a soft dismissal.
After ending the threatening association between the Jayawarnedes – Prassana appeared to have got a thin nick chasing a widish delivery – Sreesanth bowled the left-handed Rangana Herath with a peach of a delivery that pitched on middle and hit off. It was his fifth strike.
There was some encouragement for the spinners and Harbhajan and Ojha performed their roles. Delivering from wide off the crease, Harbhajan breached Angelo Mathews' forward defence with a well-flighted ball that angled into the right-hander. The off-spinner consistently got the ball to straighten when the batsmen played for turn. Ojha was steady and stuck to his task.
Catching was the only area of disappointment for the Indians. Mahela was let off thrice. In the first innings, he edged Sreesanth between first slip and the 'keeper; both failed to move. And Harbhajan saw Rahul Dravid at slip put down Mahela in either innings. Both were sharp reflex catches.