Author : Sougat Chakravartty
In a single sentence, it was all over for the temperamental fast bowler from Kerala. Disappointment was evident on his face at the news that he had just received a life ban from the BCCI for his role in the spot-fixing mess that gripped the sixth season of the Indian Premier League.
Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, the former Indian pacer, hasn’t had a squeaky-clean record in his seven-year international career. Stories of his numerous run-ins with match officials, teammates and opposition players have seen him thrust into prominence, while his cricketing skills had hitherto gone unnoticed bar the occasional superlative performance.
Sreesanth’s dreams of making a comeback to the national squad may be shattered for now, but there’s no escaping the fact that his colourful personality was somewhat instrumental in drawing large crowds to the grounds.
His on-field theatrics, while infuriating both his captain and the rival team’s players at times, garnered him much publicity but sadly, the showman really couldn’t handle the vagaries of fame and being in the spotlight for more reasons than one.
Here’s a look at five instances which defined the various facets of Sreesanth’s personality:
5. Corrupted by riches – The spot fixing saga
Demonstrators hold posters and shout slogans against Indian cricketer Sreesanth and two other domestic Twenty20 cricketers
The pacer has termed the recent life ban slapped on him by the BCCI on charges of spot fixing as the biggest setback of his career. His alleged links with bookies, accepting hefty payments in return for conceding plenty of runs at pre-determined stages in an IPL game (through use of a towel) and a taste for the high life – all of these combined to curtail an already checkered career.
Why he decided to fritter away slim chances of returning to the national squad is a question best left to the pacer himself. Fixing in sport is considered to be the ultimate betrayal by a sportsperson, and Sreesanth, sadly, had done just that.
He has also suffered the ignominy of spending a fair bit of time in prison for that solitary moment of weakness, but this conviction has sapped whatever hopes he may have entertained of a comeback despite his statements to the contrary.
And most unfortunately, this is what he will be remembered for in times to come.
4. The swinging pacer – Kallis’ dismissal and other brilliant spells
Jacques Kallis roughed up by a Sreesanth bouncer
Displaying extraordinary control over pace, line and length and swing, Sreesanth troubled the seasoned Jacques Kallis during India’s tour of South Africa. During an inspired spell of bowling, Sreesanth got one to climb onto the batsman at a steep incline. Kallis, in trying to dodge out of the way of the delivery, could only manage to glove it to gully. India, thanks to an outstanding spell from the then 27-year-old seamer, won that Test by 87 runs, squaring the series in 2010.
The maverick bowler has always had an uncanny ability of producing unplayable deliveries. In 2006, he produced yet another magnificent performance against England at Indore, grabbing a career best 6/55 against the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood.
Sreesanth has never been low on talent or had limited bowling stocks. It is his eccentric, sometimes bordering on the insane, behaviour that often overshadowed the fact that he was a fine bowler.
3. The aggressive bull – Aussie dismissals and Dhoni’s displeasure
Sreesanth and Andrew Symonds: Aussie battle
Aggression in cricket is good, but only if it is justified and within the rules of the game. Sreesanth’s antics often bordered on the side of extreme showman tactics – which have more often than not drawn the ire of players and officials alike.
When he dismissed a rampaging Matthew Hayden with an in-swinging yorker in the semi-finals of the 2007 T20 World Cup, the pacer slapped the pitch like a maniac as the opener began his walk back to the dug-out.
The two clashed again when the Aussie smashed three sixes off the fiery bowler during a match between the Chennai Super Kings and the Kings XI Punjab in the 2009 IPL. Sreesanth let loose a volley of abuse at the veteran player; Hayden replied that he was an over-rated bowler and loses his cool under pressure – a fact that has turned out to be true.
Sreesanth’s antics haven’t been restricted to cases where he was actually in the playing eleven. Andrew Symonds was at the receiving end of his immature behaviour when the Indian was carrying out his twelfth man duties during the fourth one-dayer of a six-match series at Chandigarh.
The two had almost come to blows during the second ODI in Kochi, where the Australian all-rounder was peeved at the unnecessary show of aggression by the bowler. Matters came to a head and would have turned ugly had MS Dhoni not intervened in Kochi, while Stuart Clark pulled the bowler away at Chandigarh.
Dhoni himself has publicly rebuked the mercurial pacer over his penchant for indulging in immature behaviour. Time and again, he has had to intervene in extreme situations, and he has made it clear that Sreesanth would have to tone down his bombastic tendencies.
2. A participant in India’s iconic moments – 2011 World Cup and ICC World T20 in 2007
Sreesanth: Member of 2007 and 2011 World Cup squads
As a bowler, Sreesanth proved to be quite expensive in the inaugural World T20 championship held in South Africa in 2007. However, he did manage to give his side important breakthroughs at crucial junctures – his dismissals of Australian openers Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist proved to be the turning point that eventually resulted in an Indian win.
However, one of the lasting images of the summit clash was his ice-cool catch to dismiss the dangerous Misbah-ul-Haq just when things had finally begun to go Pakistan’s way. It triggered wild celebrations all over the place and lasted for a considerable period – coming at a time when India had suffered the ignominy of being eliminated of the 50-over ODI World Cup in the first round.
Sreesanth also played in the first game of the 2011 Cricket World Cup, going for plenty of runs against Bangladesh. He, however, returned for the final in Mumbai, again bleeding runs and failing to pick up wickets. India still ended up winning their second world title after 28 years and Sreesanth, yet again, was fortunate to be a part of the winning squad.
1. The maverick cricketer – Sreesanth vs Nel, Johannesburg, 2006
Sreesanth celebrates hitting six runs off Andre Nel
His theatrics came to the fore during the first Test against South Africa at Johannesburg in 2006. After skittling out the hosts for just 84 in an inspired display of pace and swing, India were struggling at 218/8 in their second innings when the Kerala pacer came out to bat at the fall of Laxman’s wicket.
Fast bowler Andre Nel taunted Sreesanth after the latter ducked ungainly to avoid a short-pitched delivery aimed at his body, deriding the batsman for his apparent lack of courage. Nel also pointed at the emblem on his shirt, subtly conveying that Sreesanth was a scared rabbit.
Seeing the wicket-keeper Boucher move farther behind the stumps, and also that the short-leg fielder had moved, Sreesanth expected a bouncer. He backed away to give himself room, charged down the track and sent the ball soaring into the stands for a huge six. The South Africans were stunned.
As the bemused Nel passed the Indian on his walk back to the bowling mark, Sreesanth broke out into a celebratory jig, rotating his bat like the blades of a helicopter and thrusting his hips in the manner of a horse rider. That one, single moment defined the way he was going to play the game – aggressively.
India eventually went on to win the game, and Sreesanth won the Man of the Match award for his match haul of eight wickets. His ‘moves’ brought him to the notice of a few dance reality shows, giving him ample opportunities to showcase his skills.