Sreesanth gets candid on comeback, Kohli and Kerala

Off the radar for six years, paceman Sreesanth is back to training and is hopeful of wearing the Kerala jersey in domestic cricket after the completion of his ban in September 2020.

"I want to do everything possible to get back on the field," says Sreesanth.   -  PTI

Holding composure and strength, when the universe turns against you, is perhaps the best lesson offered by S. Sreesanth. The right-arm fast bowler had the perfect run up and an accurate seam position with good pace. He rose in geometric progression to become the most successful cricketer from Kerala. But circumstances derailed the pace engine.

The India international — who took 87 wickets in 27 Tests along with two World Cup titles — was banned by the BCCI for his alleged involvement in the IPL spot-fixing scandal six years ago.

Sreesanth was last seen on the cricket field on May 9, 2013.

On Tuesday, BCCI ombudsman D.K. Jain reduced the pacer’s life ban to seven years. Sreesanth, who will be cleared in September 2020, is keen for a second coming. In an interview with Sportstar, the 36-year-old discusses the roadmap and reveals what kept him motivated in times of extreme distress and anxiety.

Excerpts:

Has this sunk in? How do you feel at the moment?

God has been kind. I always believed I will get there. I kept talking to my family throughout and they also believed in me. I know that even if I get one chance, I would like to play a first-class match for Kerala, it is my aim. I believe I have a good three to four years of cricket left in me.

Who all have been your inspirations in this tough journey? What kept you motivated?

Every player inspires me because I have missed six years of cricket. The biggest motivation for me has been Leander Paes. It’s been a while I met him or spoke to him but whenever I see that man playing tennis at 46, loving his game and loving his family at the same time, I feel good. Ashish Nehra was a huge motivation as he came back and played the T20 World Cup at 37. I feel I am more of a red-ball cricketer, a Test player, so it is going to be a challenge. I want to come back and play at least one Test match for India.

I also look up to I.M. Vijayan, the former captain of the Indian Football Team. Whenever we met in these years, he would tell me, “Sree, age isn’t a factor. When sportsmen get an opportunity, they come back stronger. Look at Roger Federer, look at all the legends and gain motivation”. I would tell him, “Chetta, I get inspired by people like you. I don’t need to look at the TV when I can get inspired by just observing how you behave with people. I learn a lot from that.”

What kind of training module are you following at the moment?

I have started bowling very recently. I am following the guidelines given to me by Ramji Srinivasan, who was my first strength and conditioning coach at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai. He gave me a schedule and I am following that. He has worked with all world-class athletes apart from Team India. He always told me to keep my fitness levels high even if I am not playing cricket and acting in films. He would push me by saying, “even in movies, you need to look good”.

What is your immediate goal?

I want to do everything possible to get back on the field. Hopefully, I can return to the Kerala side next September and play the Ranji Trophy. For any Malayali cricketer, the dream is to win the Ranji and Irani Trophy. I am very happy to see so many youngsters doing extremely well in the domestic circuit. It will be great to be part of it.

How do you feel about your body now that you are running in and bowling fast again?

I have one year to prepare. I have been bowling for some days. I am practising at the indoor nets in Kerala as it is raining right now. I am clocking close to 135 to 140 kmph. I feel good. Once I start wearing the cameras, I can start studying the sessions and clock more speed. When it comes to fielding, I think I have taken a lot of crucial catches in my life, so that should be fine.

The break from cricket also turned you into a family man...

Even though I missed the game, I got really close to my family. I want my kids to wear my jersey when I am on the ground for the country again. Everybody is going to watch me bowl, score runs and get some run outs or catches for sure. I want to do it for the people who stood by me and I also want to prove it to those people who are struggling in their careers that if I can make a comeback, anybody in the world can make a comeback. Not just in sports, but arts, culture or any industry. Do not ever give up. That’s the message I want to pass. I am living my life for my family and I want my story to set an example. If I can, you can.

Steve Smith and David Warner completed their one-year ban (for ball-tampering) and regained form on return. Smith has been outstanding in The Ashes. How much does their story inspire you?

Absolutely, a lot. But Smith and Warner were allowed to play in the Global T20 League in Canada. There were certain priorities given to Australians but I didn’t have that. I will be more than happy to play a couple of leagues like Smith and Warner before I am cleared next year. Maybe a Big Bash League or somewhere, only if I am good enough.

Even today, the videos of your celebrations after claiming a wicket or hitting a six, gets a lot of traction. How different is this Sreesanth from the one who was aggressive and looked eye-to-eye?

I still love my life and very passionate about the game but a little more matured. That was the flamboyant side of me but it depends, I haven’t played a game in six years. I will surely enjoy when I play. Thank God Virat Kohli is an aggressive captain. I really want to play one Test or one T20I to see how a captain like him handles me. I want to enjoy a match with him. I really want to perform. He shows that aggression can be channelised in the right way. Kohli has shown that being emotional is not wrong and I cannot wait to play with him, that is my biggest motivation.
 

'Sree is very disciplined'
 
We have to do a complete assessment to know his strengths and weaknesses at the moment. He needs to be upgraded accordingly. As of now, he is doing a lot of running. That’s the basic. Then, there will be medical testings and rerouting of the muscle energy system. He has been a fantastic bowler and he can make a comeback. Age isn’t a factor at all. He is very disciplined when it comes to fitness and he will follow every instructions to the T.

— Ramji Srinivasan, former India trainer