Sportstar archives: On being Sreesanth

Sreesanth insists that he has learnt not to cross the limit. “I have learnt that the hard way. I’ll make sure I won’t cross the line,” says the fast bowler.

Sreesanth: A journey to remember.   -  S. S. KUMAR

England, a wicket short of winning the first Test at Lord’s in July this year, decided last man Sreesanth was Harry Potter. How the connection was arrived at isn’t entirely clear. Perhaps the unruly hair, streaked an unseemly shade of burgundy to Potter’s black, and the glasses, worn on the field only when batting, affected the Englishmen acutely. Perhaps it was a certain artistic propinquity: Harry Potter and the Deathly Harrows had been released two day s earlier; and Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Potter in the movies, had visited the Test Match Special booth at Lord’s. Either way, the Englishmen saw a rib too good to miss.

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“It started with KP (Kevin Pietersen),” says Sreesanth with unmistakeable relish. “Soon everyone was calling me Harry Potter. I looked at the skies, and I said, ‘Harry Potter has lots of powers bro, he’s going to bring rain’. I looked up, and showed my bat at the sky like that, like a magic wand, and you won’t believe it, next ball, it started raining.” The match, of course, was abandoned, India went on to win the series, and “after that they never called me Harry Potter again.”

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The incident offers an insight into the much-theorised Sreesanth dichotomy. Shivkumar, his mentor growing up, told Cricinfo that Sreesanth, even when young, had “two distinct personalities — the quiet, shy boy on the one hand, totally transformed when playing, almost demonic (on the other).” The only common thread is a naiveté — independent of native intelligence — that is temptingly easy to pin on his upbringing in Kochi. There seems a fascination with the limelight, characteristic of small-town starlets; certainly, the 24-year-old has a facility for drama. It’s this inclination that has allowed him to express himself on the big stage; yet, its most extreme manifestation — referred to as naatak by some of his team-mates — has landed him in trouble.

Sreesanth likes batsmen that decide to hit him. Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen: each has been picked up at a big moment.   -  V. GANESAN

 

There were questions raised in South Africa and in England, when I wasn’t doing well,” he says, asked about criticism suggesting the need to concentrate on cricket. “There were people that were saying he only plays for the camera. I’m not contradicting that, but the old-friends group I still have say I haven’t changed. Yes, I have changed a bit. But, I was worse in Under-13. In Kerala cricket also, I’ve gone against the captain. I have always shown my emotions. If I want to cry, I cry. If I want to laugh, I laugh out loud.

“I show my emotions because it helps me. Whenever I suppress myself, I don’t bowl well. I don’t feel good. When I enjoy myself with the crowd — they say I play to the crowd — I play for myself. If I am watching the game, if the player is happy and shares it with me in the crowd, I’ll be the happiest person going home. I don’t want anyone to feel bad. I just be (sic) myself. I try to keep it simple — and simple for me is being myself. And I’ve also learnt not to cross the limit, I’ve learnt that the hard way. I’ll make sure I won’t cross the line.”

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Was the beamer he bowled to Pietersen — the one that compelled Michael Atherton to write that Sreesanth should be banned — intentional?

Not intentional,” he says. “It was my effort ball, a yorker. With a tall batsman shuffling, a good ball. He’s fun to bowl to. He’s my favourite modern-day batsman. I love the way he and Dhoni bhai bat. I don’t like to bowl to players who leave a lot. Players like KP, it’s that instant. You need to think fast. It might be that sudden moment when he decides to hit you.”

Sreesanth likes batsmen that decide to hit him. Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle, Kevin Pietersen: each has been picked up at a big moment. The celebrations that have followed have often drawn from his days of dancing in reality shows. “Michael Jackson all the way,” he says of the influence. “Dangerous, I think. I love him. And there was this ad with a robot that moved, and I wanted to learn break-dancing. I started taking classes. First in Kerala and then in Bangalore, where I did my schooling, my seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth.”

Sreesanth enlists Md. Kaif's assistance to enjoy his Man of the Match award.-

 

Sreesanth also draws and writes poetry. In the West Indies, where he made his name as a fast-bowler of promise, he captured, in dense, thatched lines from a ball-point pen, the quizzical expression of a journalist. The likeness was uncanny. “I’ve been doing it since my childhood. Maybe because it was the way I was brought up. I come from a big family, and everyone is into the arts, so that’s probably where it comes from. I went to Florence Public School in Bangalore, and Abidha Ma’am, who was the principal, really encouraged me.”

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The poetry grew from writing a diary. He begins tracing the process but gets caught up in his transformation as a bowler. “Every morning I write down the goal I need to achieve. For example, when I got into MRF (Pace Foundation), it was tough for me. I started as leg-spinner and was just converting, and I wrote that I had to achieve that in two months. It was about fitness, where basically the fittest two stayed back. It helped coming from Kerala because I was used to running in the fields and swimming in the lake.”

What started as a daily entry has evolved sufficiently for him to write a song, Jago India. His brother-in-law, renowned singer Madhu Balakrishnan, has sung it. Released ahead of the World Twenty20, the video raises the worry, voiced half in jest by captain Rahul Dravid in England, that Sreesanth the bowler will soon be forgotten.

Fortunately, he will have none of it. He has ordered Allan Donald’s White Lightning (“I read half of it and lost it”); the memory of Dennis Lillee’s action still glazes his eyes; he is a regular re-visitor of the MRF Pace Foundation, where he bowls for close to two hours a day in cloying humidity. In Kerala, he plays tennis-ball cricket — four, sometimes five matches a day, to keep fit. At practice, he is often the last bowler to leave the nets. “When everyone is running six rounds, you run that seventh when you want to give up,” he says. “When everyone is removing his shoes, you bowl those six balls extra.”

(This interview was first published in the Sportstar magazine dated 15/09/2007)