An obnoxious dance. An unwarranted slap. A nerve-wracking catch. A plethora of on and off-field rants. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, years before his stint in the Big Boss and tons of other reality shows, was quite the entertainer.
For a man who played all of 90 international matches, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth left quite the legacy behind before his eventual ban from the sport in 2013. When he eventually decides to call it quits from the game - and no one, including himself, knows when that day will come - Sreesanth will, for obvious reasons, be remembered for everything but cricket. The rip-snorter of a bouncer to Jacques Kallis at Kingsmead, the wickets of both Hayden and Gilchrist in the 2007 World T20 semi-final and the vicious reverse-swinger to Mark Boucher, which knocked both the middle and leg-stump off, are moments of magic produced by him which will rest deep inside our minds forever, but when the name ‘Sreesanth’ is thrown at us, the first - and the only picture that gets often projected is that of an angry young man who liked to rile his opponents and, sometimes, even his teammates up.
Sreesanth’s overly-dramatic antics - something that was never witnessed in Indian cricket, prior to his arrival, ever before - coupled with his inability to walk the talk meant that he was never really taken seriously by his countrymen, to the point that he was seen more of an entertainer and less of a cricketer - despite his god-gifted ability with the ball. His theatricals often overshadowing his performances meant that a negligible few considered Sreesanth to be a ‘credible’ figure during his playing days, and any little plausibility that he possessed, sunk to the nethermost extent possible after he was banned for spot-fixing in 2013; his authenticity as a cricketer hit the rockiest of rock bottoms when he, surprisingly, decided to temporarily become a reality television star.
So it is natural that his words, now, with him three months away from being eligible to play professional cricket once again, are being taken with a pinch of salt or, worse, mocked. Bland and absurd over-ambitious statements like him expressing his confidence in being able to represent the national team in the 2021 World Test Championship Final and the 2023 World Cup haven’t helped his cause, either. But for once, there is an unremitting feeling inside that Sreesanth might just not be bull****ing anymore. There is an intrinsic urge to accept his words and start taking him seriously. And perhaps, maybe it’s time we do.
“Of course, I am hopeful of representing India again at an international level again. I know that it wouldn’t be a doddle. There is a lot of competition. But if I perform exceedingly well in the domestic circuit and prove my form and fitness, I see no reason why I wouldn’t be selected for the Indian team,” these are the words of the man himself. But there’s a twist that comes along with this - these quotes are not extracted from one amongst the flurry of interviews he’s been doing of late; these are statements that the Kerala-man made back in 2015.
The consistency in Sreesanth’s words, statements and ambitions is what that has been both fascinating and intriguing. Now it is easy to pass off all his words as nothing but a mere ‘attention grab’, but it is important to understand that these statements are not being made by a reckless 28-year-old anymore. These are remarks from a 37-year-old veteran who knows that his days in the land of professional cricket are numbered; these are pronouncements of intent from a boy who was separated from the love of his life, cricket, for seven years and these are words of remorse from a man who did his time and is keen to turn the wrongs into right and salvage his career and legacy.
Before his ban in 2013, Sreesanth was an ‘all talk, no walk’ guy, and that is something which cannot be disputed, but right at this very moment, there is a handful of evidence to suggest that he is indeed taking his comeback to the sport very, very seriously. At 37 years of age, the Kerala man is in the best shape of his career - as is evident from his Instagram posts and something that was confirmed by Jarrod Kimber, in person, last year - and, as revealed by Sreesanth himself, he has started taking online mental conditioning classes, thrice a week, from renowned NBA mind training coach Tim Grover, who previously worked with both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
These are, of course, things that will serve no purpose should Sreesanth fail to weave his magic with the ball in his hand, but if Kerala’s Ranji Trophy captain Sachin Baby is to be believed, then the 37-year-old is still ‘unplayable’. Only time will tell if everything adds up and lays the pathway for Sreesanth to make his comeback into domestic cricket or if this is all a false klaxon, a mere PR stunt, but the initial signs are encouraging, indeed.
If there’s one thing that has separated Sreesanth from his contemporaries who went down a similar path and saw their careers go down the drain, though, it’s his self-belief, mental strength and his ability to not give up. It is to his credit that he finds himself where he is today - in a position where, despite being 37 years old, he is raring to make a comeback to professional cricket.
But what would be interesting to see, if and when he returns to the sport, which is under three months away, is the heights he would be willing to go to push himself and leave his mark in the game. Common sense would say that being 37 years old, and being a fast bowler, there would be no chance for Sreesanth to have any sort of impact in the game when he returns and that his return would be nothing but a mere closure, but what if he could rewrite history and script a brand new legacy all together?
Given he’s had seven years of his career taken away, given he’s hungry as ever and given he’s in the best shape of his life, what if Sreesanth could play until the age of 42-43 at the highest level, whilst still bowling fast, and set the precedent for the years to come? What if he could inspire a generation of cricketers by virtually starting his career at the age of 37, and show the whole world that it’s never too late as long as you’re fit and hungry?
If Adam Copeland can miss 9 years of wrestling, come back from triple-fusion neck surgery and put out the best performance of his life at the age of 46, you could bet that Sreesanth, who has boasted the attitude of a heel wrestler throughout his life, will damn sure be looking at the doing something equally absurd; after all, he’s the one who stated that he is ‘unapologetically unrealistic with his goals’.
It has been Sreesanth vs the Rest of the World ever since he made his international debut back in 2005, but one feels that the time has come people to shelve their prejudice temporarily aside; he’s worked incredibly hard to get one final shot at doing what he loves and it’s only fair that we give him a chance before judging him and brushing him aside.
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