The urge to implode

AP

Sreesanth may stress on his innocence through a press release, but the damage he has inflicted on the fans’ faith seems irreversible. For a 30-year old who loved attention and even dreamt of a celluloid stint, the descent into the dark alleyways that often trail fame has been a huge tragedy, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

“In it to win it,” is the status message on S. Sreesanth’s WhatsApp messenger service. The contradiction in that line became ominously clear when his world came crashing down with spot-fixing allegations. The Indian seamer, who had the requisite skill-sets but seemed more inclined at irritating opposition players and at times even winding up his team-mates, now stands accused of the worst: cheating the sport.

Much before the Delhi police stumbled on phone lines buzzing with the stench of corruption between bookies and a few players, Sreesanth’s seemed a comeback-story in progress. He had recovered well from his toe surgeries. He was playing for Rajasthan Royals under the leadership of a man — Rahul Dravid — who always backed the Kerala bowler. The feel-good vibe was further enhanced when Australian great and former India coach Greg Chappell wrote in The Hindu: “I have never seen anyone bowl out-swing at genuine pace with better control and a more perfect seam position than Sree demonstrated in that (Wanderers) Test and the next one in Durban. That includes the great Dennis Lillee.”

Chappell hinted that a fit Sreesanth would again prove handy for India during its tour of South Africa, later this year. Unfortunately for Chappell and everyone else who invested faith in Sreesanth, there was only sadness to embrace.

Dravid spoke about a sense of “bereavement” in a recent press-conference. It is an emotion that resonated with many fans, who no longer have the urge to watch the Indian Premier League on television and there are reports that the IPL viewership has dropped by 14 percent.

Sreesanth was indeed controversy’s child, but his latest fiasco is an extreme fall that none would have imagined. Ever since his slump in form and fitness, from the heady days of wickets in the West Indies and South Africa in 2006, Sreesanth has had his brief stints with the Indian team. In some he caught the eye, like the manner in which his scorching bouncer had Jacques Kallis hopping in Durban in 2010, but largely it has been a tale of potential that remained unfulfilled.

Even during India’s successful run in the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa, the memories of Sreesanth’s cup-winning catch of Misbah-ul-Haq was marred by the remembrance of his ugly face-off with the Aussies in an earlier game.

A regular at Bangalore’s National Cricket Academy, Sreesanth oscillated between the endearing and the infuriating during his initial years for various rehabilitation stints.

opting for Ayurveda and performing pujas at his Kochi home while coping with injury, Sreesanth has been late for a few appraisal stints. “Pray for me brother,” was his constant refrain while the support staff at the academy rallied around him. In between, there were streaks of notoriety. He was forced to leave a rented apartment on bustling Hosur Road as a late night party he hosted turned too boisterous for his angry neighbours. Once he fussed about rooms in a five-star hotel, called television crews and suddenly mellowed down before moving out.

In Rahul Dravid, Sreesanth had a captain who always backed him.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Above all this he continued to soldier on, riding on enormous self-belief while also nursing a needless persecution-complex — about being sidelined because he was a Malayalee! Yet there seemed a silver-lining over the last year. He underwent his recovery process with discipline at the NCA and was constantly speaking about somehow playing the Ranji Trophy and proving his match-fitness. At the same time, he was driving into the academy in swanky cars with a friend often at the wheel.

He seemed to have struck a fine balance between honest sweat and the high-life and with the Indian pace attack becoming a musical chairs game between a few fit fast bowlers, it seemed only a matter of time before Sreesanth found his way back.

Unfortunately, the self-destructive streak reared up while he played for Kerala in the Subbiah Pillai Trophy limited overs tournament in Goa. He sledged Tamil Nadu’s Dinesh Karthik and incurred the match-referee’s censure.

A former India cricketer at the venue, wondered: “Why does he have to do this?” To make matters worse, Sreesanth reacted on Twitter and recalled the infamous slapgate with Harbhajan Singh. The ugly ways of the past had resurfaced but the most crippling blow was the spot-fixing crisis in which he got embroiled. A nation was let down, a captain was betrayed and Kerala’s sporting air suffered a massive blow.

Sreesanth may stress on his innocence through a press release, but the damage he has inflicted on the fans’ faith seems irreversible. For a 30-year old who loved attention and even dreamt of a celluloid stint, the descent into the dark alleyways that often trail fame has been a huge tragedy.