Shantakumaran Sreesanth is relishing the prospect of making a return to competitive cricket again. Image Credit: PTI file

Dubai: Shantakumaran Sreesanth does know a thing or two about how it feels to be down in the dumps. From a key member of the Indian pace attack and part of two of India’s World Cup-winning squads to being the face of the spot-fixing scandal in Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2013, the maverick cricketer has been to hell and back.

Now 37 years and with questionable fitness, it will not be easy for him to break into competitive cricket - but life has thrown a second chance at him as the Kerala Cricket Association announced last week that he will be eligible for selection in the state cricket team for this year’s domestic season if he can prove his fitness. The life ban of Indian cricket board on him, which was later reduced at the behest of Supreme Court to seven years, will end in September.

The seven-year journey in wilderness, during which Sreesanth dabbled in diverse activities - from acting in movies, making use of his dancing skills in reality shows which kept him occupied and ‘‘paid the bills,’’ but it was not without lapsing into dark phases. The shocking news of suicide of promising Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Raput last Sunday jolted him badly and he heaved a huge sigh of relief that he was back from the brink - with the support of the family and wife Bhubaneshwari Kumari.

‘‘The idea (of suicide) did strike my mind on a couple of occasions when I was interrogated. But since I came back home, I did not even think once about such a thing. True I was in depression for almost two months. To come out of depression is never easy,,,it is you who have to come out of it. My father always kept reminding me not to take any such step that I may have to repent,’’ he said.

Sreesanth celebrates taking the wicket of England's Matt Prior during his playing days. Image Credit: Reuters

Recalling his acquaintance with Rajput, Sreesanth told xtratime, a regional youtube channel: ‘‘I knew Sushant well. We used to meet each other when we trained together. The last time we met was in a party in Mumbai in February. When I got the news, I just could not believe it. Even today I feel that he is not that kind of a person for such an act. All I want to say to the youngsters is never run away from your life. You should embrace life and face the challenges it brings.’’

Asked how he managed to keep himself going, the owner of 87 wickets in 27 Tests and 75 wickets in One-day Internationals, continued: ‘‘The one who sacrifices his life is the biggest loser. People have a feeling is that they will be relieved by taking their life if they face extremes but we must constantly keep telling our soul that we need to take on the challenges of life and move ahead. All I can suggest to everyone is when you are not in a good mood you should do one thing and that is to sit upright and look in front. It is a neurologist’s programme which I have followed. I have a bigger responsibility towards my family. All I can say is that never run away from your life.’’

Ever since the lockdown for COVID-19 pandemic was eased from June, Sreesanth has started taking small steps on what could be an arduous road to any form of comeback. He has started training and bowling at an indoor facility in Kochi co-owned by him few times a week, with members of the Kerala team like skipper Sachin Baby and Basil Thampi keeping him company.

Speaking to Gulf News over phone from Kochi, Tinu Yohanan, former Indian bowler and now Kerala coach said: ‘‘From whatever I have seen, he is running in well and looking quite sharp. There is still a long way to go as the KCA will do his fitness assessment etc, but he definitely has a few years of cricket left in him.’’

Sreesanth, known for often his overstated aggro on the field, is planning big though. ‘‘I want to see Kerala winning the Ranji Trophy and feel it’s still possible for me to take a comeback into the national team. I want to complete 100 wickets in Tests,’’ he said in the interview.