“I always wanted my name to be cleared before my daughter Googles my name”
These were the words of an emotional Sreesanth, cleared of all charges laid on him in the 2013 IPL spot-fixing case couple of years ago. Clear they did, but with the BCCI refusing till date to revoke the life ban slapped on him, the Kerala pacer has not yet been able to make his comeback to cricket in any form.
Challenging the BCCI’s defiant stand, Sreesanth had approached the Kerala High Court with a plea that has now culminated with the Court passing an order to lift his ban. However, when all would seem hunky-dory again for Sreesanth, the BCCI has other ideas. Reiterating their earlier position, the Board is now all set to appeal against the latest Court order, much to the dismay of the bowler, whose trials and tribulations may now prolong further.
A two-time World Cup winning member of the Indian team and chief architect of a famous Test win on South Africa soil, the fall of Sreesanth is one of the most unfortunate stories of genuine talent wasted away.
While the BCCI sticks to its unrelenting stand on denying the temperamental fast bowler another chance, here’s a perspective on why Sreesanth deserves another chance.
#5 A case of natural justice
The entire case against Sreesanth is thinly built on information from the Delhi Police and recorded conversations between Jiju Janardhanan - Sreesanth's friend - and the bookies. During the course of the hearing, the Courts had declared these evidence as inconsequential in proving any involvement of Sreesanth in spot-fixing.
Yet, claiming their internal enquiry is independent of the legal proceedings in the Court, BCCI considered it as enough evidence to straightaway impose a life ban on Sreesanth.
With Courts having set aside all charges alleged against him on two separate occasions, the BCCI’s stubborn attitude towards the player is harsh and it would go against all principles of natural justice for them to deny him any further, the right to play competitive cricket.
Sreesanth, 34, has already lost four years of what is considered that stage of the career when a bowler is at the peak of his powers, courtesy the BCCI dragging their feet on this issue.
Notably, the Kerala High Court , in its judgement made the following observation:
"The BCCI referred to the conversation, selectively, as against Sreesanth. When evidence is in the nature of circumstantial evidence, that evidence ought to have been appreciated as a whole. If the evidence as a whole is appreciated, it can easily be concluded that Sreesanth had no direct link in spot fixing or betting.”
“The question in such circumstances is whether Sreesanth had any knowledge of occurrence of the subject of the betting? The evidence as such clearly does not indicate whether Jiju Janardhanan had approached Sreesanth or not. It is to be noted that another BCCI anti-corruption court if the player has the knowledge of the subject of the bet, he is bound to report to the authorities (article 2.2.3). Assuming that Sreesanth had knowledge of such betting, the court is of the view that the punishment already suffered by him of four years of the ban from all format of the cricket, nationally and internationally, is sufficient to meet ends of justice."
#4 Double Standards?
“The board is firm on its zero tolerance policy on corruption and match-fixing”, said an official, explaining the BCCI's stand on a possible comeback for the speedster.
However, in a series of angry tweets yesterday, Sreesanth questioned the irony in the statement. And, he does have a point.
Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, the two franchises suspended on account of corruption and betting charges in connection with the IPL spot-fixing saga, will be making a grand return in the coming edition of the league.
Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir has been welcomed back to the international fold without any qualms and celebrated for his performances. Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif have been allowed to play domestic cricket in Pakistan. While second chances have been doled out to offenders in these instances, Sreesanth, allegations against whom are yet to be proven, has been left to languish in wilderness. Therefore, he cannot be faulted for feeling short-changed in this case.
#3 Fit and raring to go
Even if the BCCI does indeed relent at some point, Sreesanth cannot afford to buy further time on crossing the biggest hurdle in front of him, his physical readiness for a return. Four years away from the rigours of the sport and a lack of access to training facilities can take its toll on a cricketer's fitness, more so for a fast bowler.
While there is the living example of Mohammad Amir’s smooth transition to international cricket after serving his time, it is not going to be as easy for Sreesanth, who is a decade older. At 34, Sreesanth needs to really prove his fitness to win back the confidence of the selectors and the team management.
To Sreesanth’s credit, it is heartening to see that despite years away from the game, he hasn’t lost his physique and still looks the part as a fast bowler. He attributes this to the disciplined fitness regime he had maintained even while he couldn’t play any cricket.
Denied access to training under the BCCI, he put in the hard yards of bowling in an indoor nets designed at his home, where he would bowl to several of the Kerala Ranji stars. Eternally optimistic of coming out clean, he had wanted to ensure that whenever the ban was lifted, he would be ready with immediate effect.
However, being in good physical shape and bowling long hours in the nets is one thing, match fitness is quite another. Having stated that playing Test cricket again is the biggest of his comeback goals, Sreesanth will need to attain a level of fitness that would be required to bowl long spells in Test match conditions. With this favourable verdict lifting his ban coming just ahead of the forthcoming domestic season, anything other than Sreesanth’s return to active cricket from the start of the season will be a case of unfair denial of opportunity.
#2 An asset on upcoming away tours
After the busy home season, the Indian team will be embarking on long tours away from home. Starting early next year, India has important tours to South Africa, England and Australia lined up in its calendar.
In the past year or so, India did have settled on a combination of fast bowlers who would do well in those conditions. The likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma will form the core of this strong bowling attack.
A couple of other young seamers have also been identified from their impressive performances on ‘A’ tours and in the IPL. However, it wouldn’t hurt if India can keep Sreesanth in the loop as well. The Kerala pacer, in his prime, was an asset on overseas tours with his ability to swing the ball both ways at pace and pick up the big fish in the opposition batting ranks.
Sreesanth’s wicket tally features the best batsmen of the current generation – Hashim Amla (7 times), AB De Villiers (6 times), Jacques Kallis (5 times), Kevin Pietersen (5 times), Graeme Smith (5 times) and Adam Gilchrist (5 times). Two of them, Amla and De Villiers, would be part of the South African side against India. Sreesanth’s best performances have been on South African soil too, picking 27 wickets at an average of 28.55 and strike rate of 47.55.
#1 The bowler Kohli would love to have
If and when Sreesanth is able to return, one would expect the team management to take a benevolent stand towards him. Considering captain Virat Kohli’s appreciation for genuine fast bowling and the aggressive brand of cricket he promotes, Sreesanth could be the perfect fast bowling model he would love to have in the team.
There is unlikely to be cold blood between the players as by Sreesanth’s own admission, several of the current players have been supportive of him through this tough phase. Kohli, who shares very warm relationships with Mohammad Amir, would probably be the last person to give the cold shoulder to Sreesanth.
Sreesanth’s age may also not count for much if he can justify his selection with performance and fitness. In recent times, Ashish Nehra and Yuvraj Singh had made successful returns to the T20I and ODI sides.
Gautam Gambhir was preferred over a younger Abhinav Mukund when KL Rahul injured himself during the home Test series against New Zealand. A close look at India’s current selection policy indicates the priority for selection is performance and fitness rather than age. Once cleared to play, there is no reason why Sreesanth cannot return to the side with noteworthy performances in domestic cricket.