He’s always talked about as the trouble child of Indian cricket. When people refer to him, it’s more for his on-field antics rather than his lethal swing bowling or perfect presentation of the seam. But once in a while Shantakumaran Sreesanth does something so extraordinary with the cricket ball that compels the world to sit up and admire his art.
He got a chance to do that in the recent Test series in South Africa. His response: a snorter of a delivery that forced a colossus like Jacques Kallis into meek submission.
“Everyone talks about everything other than my bowling and here was a chance for me to change the game,” Sreesanth says of the bouncer that got Kallis out in the second innings of the Durban Test. It happened the day after he had a “little talk” with Graeme Smith. “It really spurred me on. I bowled in full rhythm, with perfect seam and I could generate the bounce. That delivery was more about aggression and belief rather than execution. I just wanted to bowl fast.”
Smith had gotten out to Sreesanth in that innings soon after the altercation between the two. The Proteas claimed Sreesanth had hurled personal abuses at their skipper. However, according to the stump microphone, the worst name he called Smith was “arrogant”.
While Sreesanth felt “sad” that the South Africans chose to present a false picture to the media and the public, he chose to take it as a backhanded compliment. “They were losing the Test match and I was bowling well. So to distract me Smith went out in the media and said that I abused him. But I can say honestly I never abused. I was just being sarcastic.” Sreesanth adds, “Graeme Smith was just whining”.
“Cricket is like my girlfriend. I love the game and I give it my all every time I step on a cricket field.”
He could shrug off the harshness from the opponents. But it did hurt Sreesanth when his captain, instead of supporting him publicly, took the opposite stance. “It obviously hurts when your own people go out and say, ‘It’s very difficult to control Sreesanth’. If that was the case I wouldn’t have survived in international cricket for six years.” He was referring to Dhoni’s comments in the post-match press conference.
Sreesanth, has in the past, been accused of overdoing his personification of an ‘aggressive fast bowler’. Some people, who have seen his mellowed and friendly off-the-field avatar, believe he was coaxed into behaving the way he does on the cricket field. That is anything but the truth. “I don’t try to be aggressive. With me it’s more about passion, which comes out in form of emotions. This is how I play my cricket, even at the club level,” he says.
Being true to his colourful personality, Sreesanth chose a very interesting way to express his love for the game he plays so passionately. “Cricket is like my girlfriend,” he said in a very serious tone. “I love this game. When something is really close to your heart, you give your last ounce for it. And I do the same every time I step on a cricket field.”
His passion has not always been taken in the right spirit and sometimes, rightly so. More than once he has been rebuked openly by his captain, paid visits to the match-referee’s room and was also given a warning by his state board, Kerala Cricket Association.
Voices from all around him asked him to behave himself, tone his temper down and just play cricket. And he did that. But for people like him, who wear their heart on their sleeves, being real is more important than being liked. Sreesanth realised that soon.
“I tried the act of turning up, playing your game quietly and leaving. But that wasn’t me. I wasn’t enjoying. I realised it’s better to play as Sreesanth rather than being someone I’m not.” However, the present one is the new and improved version of Sreesanth. Age and experience have matured him.
“When you get into the team, you’re on a high. You tend to think, ‘I’m the best, what am I doing here carrying water as 12th man?’ But then I realised, I should be happy just being a part of the action and not try to be the hero all the time.”
“I tried turning up, playing the game quietly and leaving. But that wasn’t me. I realised it’s better to play as Sreesanth rather than being someone I’m not.”
However, there are disappointments that even the sanest of men can’t take on the chin. And Sreesanth did go through one when he learnt about his World Cup snub. “Yes, I was heartbroken but I got over it very quickly.” How did he console himself when there was no doubt that on the basis of his skill and current form he should’ve been a part of India’s World Cup campaign?
To answer that, he went three years down memory lane. “I remember being down with a stress fracture in Sydney during the 2007 Australia tour. I was lonely. There was no one around me. I thought I’d never play cricket again. I went to England for county cricket with just one wish. All I wanted to do was play just one cricket match for India.
That was the toughest phase of my life and I came out stronger from that. I played for India again and did well. I will miss out on this World Cup but I know it’s not the end of road.”
In a country like India, where people treat their cricketers as demi-gods and, more importantly, expect them to be so, being Sreesanth is not easy. Like Tendulkar, he hasn’t spent 3/4th of his life on the cricket field, neither does he, like some of his teammates, make desperate attempts to keep his off-the-field life a secret.
He doesn’t hesitate in showing off his dancing skills at the slimmest of opportunities, has a music band of his own (S36), he writes songs, performs in concerts and keeps the world abreast with his life and his emotions on Twitter. “I’m like any normal office going person who comes back from work and does other things to relieve stress,” is how he describes himself.
Just how does it feel to be Sreesanth? “It gets very challenging at times but then I try to take it all in my stride and keep myself happy in all situations. I know in the heart of my hearts that till date I’ve never purposely hurt anyone. I may not please many people but that’s okay. At least I’m real, I don’t pretend to be what I’m not.
“It’s quite tough to be Sreesanth, but I love it.”
Apart from his undoubted talent, Sreesanth must be admired for his genuineness. In this world of hypocrites, that’s a quality to cherish.