S Sreesanth: A life of more downs than ups

Sreesanth made headlines more for his antics than his bowling (DH File Photo)

The moment you hear S Sreesanth's name, the word that pops into the mind is controversy. Not his ability to bowl thunderous outswingers, not the perfect seam position of the ball when it left his wrist, not the eye-catching natural pace bowler's action; but controversy. And the several threads he wore below his wrists.

There have been a few sportspersons over the years who have been controversy's favourite children - John McEnroe, Mario Balotelli, Nick Kyrgios - who make headlines not for on-court skills but rather for antics off of it. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth can safely lay claim to being cricket's foremost on that list. He was the chaos amongst the calm of the Indian team back in his day.

Kerala is not known for its cricket prowess. The state is traditionally associated with football, so much so that only three cricketers from there have represented India - Tinu Yohannan, Sreesanth and Sanju Samson. Only one was deemed a generational talent.

Sreesanth's initial days were relatively quiet as he went about his job under Rahul Dravid's captaincy. However, the fiery celebrations when he took a wicket were there. He impressed enough to be picked in both the ODI and the Test squads for the South Africa tour in 2007.

That series perfectly encapsulated his career. He complemented his swing with fearsome pace to take 5-40 in the first Test and skittle the Proteas out for 83, helping India to win their first Test in the African nation. However, Sreesanth did not make the news for his bowling.

The Kerala lad walked in at the fall of the ninth wicket and was up against Andre Nel. The paceman, himself known for a bit of banter, bowled a raspy delivery and shared a few words with his counterpart. Sreesanth had a response ready - he danced down the track and whacked Nel straight over his head for a six. He then ran up to the bowler and waved his bat around like a maniac, staring at him in the face after the antics. The Indian fans enjoyed it and the world laughed.

He was an integral part of the Indian side that won the T20 World Cup in 2007, picking up regular wickets, and of course, taking the catch to dismiss Misbah-ul-Haq in the final. But yet again, the lasting memory of Sreesanth from the tournament is him banging the pitch in anger (or joy?) when he bowled Hayden in the crucial semi-final win against Australia.

The WT20 final can arguably be called the highest point of his international career because it all went downhill from there. Inconsistency began creeping in. Discipline was not something Sreesanth fancied, either in life or in his bowling. He still had pace and swing but erred with his lines and lengths, and batsmen began to take him for runs. An ODI economy of 6.08 and a T20I economy of 8.47 is proof of that.
 
In 2008, the first year of the Indian Premier League, he was the second-highest tournament wicket-taker but everyone remembers him in tears after being slapped by Harbhajan Singh. The injuries and indiscipline mounted in the years that followed; he was even reprimanded by the Kerala Ranji team for not showing up for a preparatory camp despite being anointed captain.

Despite all this, the fact remained that he was a terrific swing bowler. Sreesanth was surprisingly recalled to the team in the early part of the decade, even making it to the World Cup-winning team in 2011. He, however, failed to make a lasting impression. After undergoing surgeries on his toes, he was just getting back into his groove in domestic cricket in 2013 when he drove the final nail into his coffin.

Playing for Rajasthan Royals in the 2013 IPL, Sreesanth was found guilty of spot-fixing along with his teammates, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan. The trio allegedly took money from bookies to fix matches, and after a long-drawn investigation, the BCCI found him guilty and banned him for life from all forms of cricket.

Since then, he has dabbled in show business, taking part in reality shows and dance competitions, even starring in a movie and building up his body in his free time. A BCCI ombudsman's order has now reduced his ban to seven years, which means he can resume playing cricket in September 2020. He has said that wants to return to the grind and earn a recall to the Indian team because he wants to end his career with 100 Test wickets.

The thing is, he could have already achieved all of that and then some. Sreesanth is the epitome of the fact that skill can only take you so far in life. You need the right attitude and temperament to accompany it.

Sadly, he may always be known more for his many infamous exploits rather than the perfect wrist that bowled terrific swinging deliveries with the straightest of seams.

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