Santakumaran Sreesanth flashes the V-sign on his comeback for the Kerala team after serving a prolonged ban. Image Credit: Twitter

Kolkata: It was easily the most interesting sub-plot in the first two days of T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy when Shantakumaran Sreesanth, the prodigal son of Indian cricket, returned to the first class game after more than seven years on Monday.

At a ripe 37 years, the controversial former Indian paceman had worked hard to shed the kilos and did not look out of place against a rookie Puducherry side as he finished with 1/29 from his four overs at an economy rate of 7.25 as the Sanju Samson-led Kerala beat Puducherry by six wickets with 10 balls to spare. The T20 event marked the start of the domestic season for India after being postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Banned for life on charges of spot-fixing in the 2013 edition of Indian Premier League (IPL), the outspoken character had endured hell over the past seven years - seeing his life turned upside down from being a flashy international cricketer to being an outcast in the cricketing fraternity. It was only after the Ombudsman of the Indian cricket board - which had banned him for life - reduced the ban on a suggestion of the Supreme Court, which the bowler had moved to have his ban rescinded that the decks were cleared for the most unlikely of comebacks.

“God is great. My faith in god has given me this opportunity to comeback for the Kerala team. I am physically fitter than I was in 2011 when we won the World Cup. I am expecting to perform well and the team has both experienced hands like Robin Uthappa, Jalaj Saxena, Sachin Baby, captain Sanju Samson, as well as young players like KM Asif,” Sreesanth told IANS over telephone from Mumbai.

Sony Cheruvathur, a former Kerala Ranji Trophy captain and a compatriot of Sreesanth, said he is a gifted bowler. “I know Sreesanth and his attitude. He is raring to go and he has always been an aggressive person in the field and this nature will take him a long way. He is a gifted fast bowler and I am expecting him to perform exceedingly well. He is a happy go lucky guy,” Cheruvathur said.

Interestingly, Sreesanth’s former Ranji Trophy teammate, Tinu Yohannan, who was the first Kerala cricketer represent India in Tests, is now head coach of the Kerala team.

The fast bowler was a regular in the Indian team and was part of two World Cup-winning squads under Mahendra Singh Dhoni - first being the 2007 T20 World Cup and then the 50-over World Cup in 2011 at the Wankhede Stadium, where he returned to competitive cricket on Monday.