Happy to be back on the field

PTI

“I will not give room for anyone to complain about my behaviour, on or off the field,” says S. Sreesanth to P. K. Ajith Kumar.

The wind in Palakkad is famous, or rather, notorious. On an already hot, dusty afternoon, it would bring in more heat and dust. You will never miss it during the Ranji season here.

The Palakkad wind was strong that November afternoon eight years ago too, as Kerala took on Himachal Pradesh. In that match, there blew an even wilder wind: Shanthakumaran Sreesanth took a hat-trick in Himachal Pradesh’s first innings, the first ever by a Kerala bowler in first-class cricket.

What was striking about Sreesanth was his supreme self-confidence. “We will have to do one more interview, after I have played for India,” he said then.

At that time, the only cricketer from Kerala the selectors knew was Tinu Yohannan; Sreesanth was hardly in the picture. But within a year’s time, he had made his debut for India.

Sreesanth has won Test matches for India in South Africa, England and the West Indies. He has been a member of two World Cup-winning teams. And yes, he always made news, even when he wasn’t bowling particularly well. He sledged. He got his captain to speak against him in public. He got slapped. He suffered an injury and feared his career might be over, but he was determined to bowl again.

After undergoing treatment for his injured toes, Sreesanth returned to cricket recently, after more than a year. He helped Kerala post a crucial victory against Tripura in Agartala in the Ranji Trophy and was amongst the wickets again, as his team posted its second straight innings win (against Jharkhand) a few days later at Perinthalmanna, a small, bustling town in north Kerala.

Sportstar caught up with the medium-pacer after Kerala had crushed Jharkhand with a day and a half to spare. (Sreesanth has since been picked for the India ‘A’ squad to play England.)

Question: How difficult were the past few months?

Answer: Very. There were times when I almost gave up; I was scared that I might not play cricket again. I had even told my parents that it was time for me to think of an alternate career — in films. Films have always fascinated me; I am a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan and Malayalam actor Mohanlal. And acting has been on my mind for quite some time. I might make a good comedian, or a villain, don’t you think?

But I wanted to play cricket more than anything else, and I wanted to play for India again. I was determined to be back, but it was not easy to be too optimistic when you have to undergo 12 surgeries on your toes on a single day and then spend weeks in a wheelchair, unable to walk. I am grateful to my family, the words of encouragement I received through social networking sites and to the BCCI, the Kerala Cricket Association and the NCA. I was overwhelmed by the support I received while I went through the most trying time of my life.

I could spend a lot of time with my music band, S36. I penned and composed songs for the band. Writing poems has been a habit since I was a kid. I also enjoy playing the piano. Doing things like that helped me get along during those difficult months. Now, I am just happy to bowl, leave alone take wickets. I am grateful to God that I could play again.

You have bowled well in both the games you played for Kerala on your return to cricket after more than a year…

Yes, I could bowl extended spells in Agartala against Tripura and here at Perinthalmanna. And it felt nice to take four wickets in the first innings against Jharkhand.

You are bowling with a shortened run-up?

Yes, I have reduced my run-up from 36 steps to 23 now. But I am glad that I am still able to generate good pace.

So how do you look forward to the next stage of your career?

My aim is to get back into the Indian team as soon as I possibly can, as I have proved my match fitness in these Ranji Trophy matches for Kerala. Who knows, I might even get to play in the series against Australia. And the one thing I am determined is to prove myself in limited-overs cricket. Yes, it has often been said that I am more suited to Test cricket, but the fact is that my economy rate in the one-dayers has improved considerably after I returned following the stress fracture in 2009. I want to be part of India’s one-day team and contribute.

Would we be seeing a mellowed Sreesanth?

Definitely. I will not give room for anyone to complain about my behaviour, on or off the field. I will continue to be aggressive, but that will only be with regard to my cricket, nothing else.

You seem to have inspired so many pace bowlers in Kerala; there are quite a few of them, like Sandeep Warrier, with whom you share the new ball for Kerala…

I think Sandeep is Test material and I hope he continues to make progress the way he has done. And it is great to see so many young pace bowlers coming up for Kerala. Imagine someone like Prasanth Parameswaran (named the Man of the Match on his IPL debut) is sitting out. I am also impressed by another left-armer Manu Krishnan, who could be a useful all-rounder in IPL. And there are other promising boys like P. U. Anthaf and N. Niyas.

I believe Kerala has the potential to do what Karnataka did some time back, when the state had so many quality pace bowlers at the same time, such as Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, David Johnson and D. Ganesh. Kerala has always produced outstanding athletes, so we should be able to contribute pace bowlers to Indian cricket, I feel. But there should be a system in Kerala to nurture our pace bowling talent and pitches that suit fast bowlers.

Q: You were talking of Srinath. How much of an inspiration was he for you when you took up pace bowling?

Huge. I think he was a much under-rated fast bowler. He was genuinely quick and I loved to watch him bowl. I was such a big fan of Srinath that I wanted to inherit the mantle from him — you know, from one ‘Sri’ to another ‘Sri’.

Sachin Tendulkar must have been another inspiration. And he announced his retirement from one-dayers recently…

I felt very bad. Like most people in India, I cannot imagine an Indian cricket team without Sachin. I remember going up to him at the nets at the MRF academy in Chennai to get his autograph when I was a trainee there. I also remember vividly watching Sachin bat in a one-dayer in Kochi, my hometown, with a friend, whom I had told that one day I would play with the great man.

I consider myself fortunate that I could play in the team that had Sachin. He has encouraged me a lot, over the years. Sachin is Mr. Cricket and the rest of us are mere details.

You have often been complimented for your seam position…

I have worked hard on my seam position, yes. The fact that I began bowling as a leg-spinner has helped; as did my days of playing tennis ball cricket in Kochi.

The Indian team is not exactly going through a great time…

I am confident that this period will pass and we will start winning again soon. Every team in the world will have to go through phases like this. There is enough talent in Indian cricket to survive any crisis.