Kolkata: It’s not everyday that there is a buzz around a 38-year-old paceman, who had been down and out for over eight years, ahead of an IPL auction. Not unless one is Shantakumaran Sreesanth.
The mini-auction for this year’s league, scheduled to be held in Chennai on February 18, has the maverick cricketer registered as one of the players from the state of Kerala and ‘Sree’ is overjoyed about it. There is a buzz that with his state colleague Sanju Samson named captain of Rajasthan Royals this year, Sreesanth could make a return to the franchise for whom he last played in the cash-rich league before he was booked on allegations of match-fixing in 2013.
‘‘You can say I am in a dreamland,’’ remarked the effervescent Sreesanth as he was getting ready to leave home for the state camp of Vijay Hazare Trophy, the 50-overs state level tournament of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). After an agonising gap of eight years during which he served a ban from all cricketing activities and went through ‘‘hell,’’ life seems to have returned to normal for the fast bowler who was a member of two of India’s World Cup-winning squads in 2007 (the first-ever T20 World Cup) and 2011 (ICC 50-overs World Cup).
Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive interview over phone, Sreesanth said the experience of being him being a part of Kerala team’s dressing room once again went beyond words. ‘‘I played five matches and the adrenaline rush was unbelievable. It was nice to catch up with Robin Uthappa, a contemporary of mine who is now playing for Kerala, and he told me that he has still not given on the hope of playing for India,’’ said Sreesanth, who looked lean and fit during his campaign at SMAT - though only time will tell if he can take the rigours of competitive cricket all over again.
The fall of grace had been a shattering one for Sreesanth, once considered as one of the finest right arm pace bowlers, when he - alongwith three other Royals teammates - had to face the humiliation of being arrested and then slapped with a life-long ban by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It was a protracted court battle via which he managed to reduce the ban to seven years which eventually ended in September last year - making him eligible to play competitive cricket again.
How hopeful is he about playing the IPL again - and will he continue with his comeback into the mainstream if he goes unsold? ‘‘Certainly. It gave me a great pleasure to be among the 13 shortlisted players from Kerala after all these years but my pursuit will not stop if there are no takers for me (Sreesanth has a base price of Rs 7.5 million).
‘‘As I have said before, my aim is to help Kerala win in the Ranji Trophy once and take those 13 Test wickets to reach the 100 wickets mark,’’ he says - though it looks like wishful thinking given his age and the surfeit of fast bowling talent in the country.
It’s not that Sreesanth is not aware that the odds are stacked against him. ‘‘See, I didn’t have to do this if I was not desperate about returning to cricket again. In the last seven years, I had developed an alternative career in films and TV show appearances, which helped me in running the establishment. Even now, I have got six-seven Malayalam film assignments lined but I have realised that I will not be able to live without cricket,’’ he said.
The cancellation of Ranji Trophy has come a piece of bad news for him, for Sreesanth could have been at his best with his combination of pace and swing with the red ball. Looking ahead, he plans to play County cricket if the IPL call-up does not come and take it from there. ‘‘I want to set an example for people who have given up in life. I have prepared myself for one last hurrah with a lot of hard work in which, the support of my family and music have played a major role, I am ready to play with painkillers if need be and no competition can stop me,’’ he said.
‘‘There are not too many fast bowlers in the world who have been a part of two World Cup-winning squads in different formats. I really want to give it my all this time,’’ was his parting shot.
Born: February 6, 1983, Kothamangalam, Kerala
Age: 38 years
Major teams: India, Asia XI, Kerala, Kerala Under-19s, Kings XI Punjab, Kochi Tuskers Kerala, Rajasthan Royals, Warwickshire
Also known as: ‘Gopu’
Wickets: Tests: 87 wickets off 27 matches (Best figures: 5 for 40)
ODIs: 75 off 53 matches (6/55)
T20Is: 7 off 10 matches (2/12)