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'When the police came knocking at my door...'

By HARISH KOTIAN
Last updated on: May 13, 2020 09:32 IST
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'People tell me to forget, but it is something to learn from.'
'A couple of seconds can change your life completely.'

Shanthakumaran Sreesanth

IMAGE: Shanthakumaran Sreesanth will be eligible to return to cricket after his seven-year ban ends in August. Photograph: Shanthakumaran Sreesanth/Instagram

The wait could get just a bit longer for Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, who was looking to launch his bid for a comeback to cricket.

The Kerala fast bowler's life ban by the BCCI on charges of spot-fixing during the IPL in 2013 was reduced to seven years, which ends in August.

The coronavirus pandemic and the consequent national lockdown could delay the start of India's domestic cricket season and Sreesanth's wait to return to competitive cricket could be delayed by a few months.

"Everyone has been in lockdown for the last one month or so, but I have been in lockdown when it comes to my profession for the last six-and-a-half years," he says.

In the meantime, he is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that he is ready to fire from the start when he gets the all-clear to train outdoors and push his case for selection to the Kerala state team.

He has a fully-equipped gym at his house where he puts in hours of hard work and also an indoor cricket training facility, including a bowling machine, to ensure he always keeps in touch with the game.

Sreesanth, 37, believes his age won't be a handicap as he much is fitter than when he used to regularly play for India from 2005 to 2006, having represented the country in 27 Tests, 53 ODIs and T20Is.

The fast bowler's ability to swing the ball at a good pace made him a genuine threat with the new ball, especially in overseas conditions, like the memorable game when he picked up 5/40 in Johannesburg in December 2006 to help India win its first-ever Test match in South Africa.

Sreesanth, who always seemed to make more news for his off-field controversies than his performances, sounds a changed man.

Life, he says, has given him another opportunity and the unpleasant experiences of the past has only made him a better person.

Even though the odds are firmly stacked against him, Sreesanth is hoping for another return to the Indian team.

"If I get another chance to play for India, it will be a miracle," he says.

"I will be 38 next year. Someone like Misbah-ul-Haq played till he was 42. Even our tennis legend Leander Paes is still playing at 47, so let's see. I am very much positive," he says.

The first of a multiple-part interview with Rediff.com's Harish Kotian:

 

You are just a couple of months away from returning to action after your ban ends in August. You have waited seven long years for this to happen.
Is this lockdown a setback for you because you are not able to go out and train on cricket grounds, which would have helped you get back your rhythm before the season starts later this year?

Absolutely. But I am not disappointed, I will look at the positive side because for everybody out there, this is an opportunity for us to get stronger especially when it comes to sportspersons.

Most of the times when you get injured, you will stick to your houses and just do the physiotherapy sessions and strengthening exercises and not heavy weights.

This is the time when you can workout in your house and strengthen your glutes, your core muscles, your shoulder stability.

You can do a lot of yoga, you can do a lot of meditation, you can get mentally strong. You can work on your mind a lot.

So I will not say it's a setback, it is actually a blessing in disguise that I am getting more opportunity to learn about myself and the cricketing side plus evaluate what my goals are.

You should write down your goals for the next five years as to where do you want to be in the next five years. I have done that, as to where I should be in the next five years, four years, three years, two years, one year.

So you cut down to one month, 11 months, 10 months and so on... you just keep on coming back.

It's a very exercise to do and people who will read this article, I would love them to try this out as to write down or think about 'Where will I be in five minutes? Where will I be in five hours? five days, five months, five years...'

You should have a clear picture. Don't be in hurry, take your time.

When you have the beginning and the end in mind, when you know where you are going like if you take Google maps, if you don't write the exact destination, you don't reach there, so write the exact place.

In this case what you want to achieve and you will be able to achieve it.

It could be a miracle, but you have to believe even when you have setbacks, like coronavirus or anything like a puncture in a tyre or you miss a flight it doesn't matter, you got to believe that it's happening for a reason.

And whether you believe in God or not, you should believe that the power which controls the universe will give you an opportunity to get stronger.

So I am happy in one way, and I am sad in one way because a lot of lives have been lost, and a lot of families completely washed out because of coronavirus, so that is very sad.

A lot of people forget that the things which you should be should be grateful for. How many people have an opportunity to stay at home? I would say very few, so many people don't even have houses.

I am looking at the positive side, I am very positive.

I want sports people and others to keep themselves busy, maybe go to the Internet and learn new things, like learn some music, learn to play a new instrument.

What is your comeback plan?
Have you spoken to the Kerala Cricket Association about it?
Will we see you in action in domestic cricket once the season resumes after the coronavirus break?

The Kerala Cricket Association is very positive, they are supporting me.

Even a lot of people in BCCI are in touch with me. I am very happy that everything is falling in place and I am very greatful to every individual who has supported me.

We are supposed to start the domestic season in September, beginning with the one-day games, maybe it will get delayed.

But whenever I get an opportunity I am sure I am ready and I will give my best.

I am hoping to be the match-winner again which I was in the past too.

I am not here to compete with anybody, I am just here to help and serve and making sure my state wins in domestic cricket like the Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy and prove to the youngsters in my state that the sky is not the limit if we are good enough.

It is not only the IPL that you have to aim for, you have to aim to play for India in Tests, ODIs and T20s.

When it comes to the state, we have to win the domestic tournaments.

I will hope to play a part in that and if in that process if I get another chance to play for India, it will be a miracle.

Shanthakumaran Sreesanth

IMAGE: Shanthakumaran Sreesanth celebrates taking Shaun Pollock's wicket during the first Test against South Africa in Johannesburg, December 16, 2006. Photograph: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images

You still believe you can play for India again?

I am looking at the 2023 World Cup.

If Ashish Nehra can play at 38 in the 2011 World Cup, then why not Sreesanth at 39 (in 2023)?

You never know, I am keeping my fingers crossed. No expectations, only hope.

It's good that you are positive despite everything you have gone through in the last seven years.
I would like to know about two of the biggest turning points of your life and career -- the first one was when you were arrested by the Delhi police in 2013 and the second when your life ban was reduced to seven years last year by BCCI Ombudsman Justice D K Jain.

When the police came knocking at my door, it is not a great thing to remember.

I don't know who planned it or who didn't plan it. But anyway, that happened and that is something which people tell me to forget, but it is something to learn from as a couple of seconds can change your life completely. That was very sad and hard for me and my family and my fans for sure.

I had to wait two-and-a-half years to get the clean chit and believe me those two-and-a-half years were very, very bad.

It was worse than a nightmare. I felt like I am dying also, it was that close.

I was very, very, happy when the life ban got lifted last year. Lifting of the lifeban was like a lifeline for me, one more lifeline, given by the Supreme Court and BCCI.

I am thankful to the BCCI Ombudsman who gave me an opportunity.

I will be 38 next year, someone like Misbah-ul-Haq played till he was 42. Even our tennis legend Leander Paes is still playing at 47, so let's see. I am very much positive.

So those two moments I will never ever forget, those two moments will make a lot of difference in my future.

All I can say is that I have only become stronger. I always say that as long as I am breathing, I will never give up.

Something which I believe is that time heals everything and tough times don't last, but tough people do.

During these tough times, who were the people supported you the most?

I don't want to thank one particular individual, I want to thank every individual out there who supported me because my memory is not that great after 2013 for sure, with all those hard times.

A lot of people came to me and helped me and people who didn't help me also, I am thankful to them too.

If it weren't for all them, I wouldn't have had that much power to make a comeback so I am thankful for them.

I respect the decision of some people who didn't keep in touch because I am sure they had their own reasons because everybody in this world is fighting their own battles.

I am greatful to everyone, my parents, my wife, all my family, all the fans out there whom I call my family, all the cricketers across the globe who were in touch with me, and also all those were not in touch with me, all the celebrities from Bollywood, even the politicians.

I also want to thank the Almighty for giving me the strength and the courage to go through all this.

Was cricket the only thing that kept you going in the last seven years because even though you tried your hand at a lot of things like politics, movies, television, you never really drifted away from cricket?
Your only aim throughout was to get the life ban lifted and get back to cricket.
Was cricket your lifeline in the tough times?

Absolutely. The hope of playing cricket get me going.

The hope to play cricket for the country, for my state, kept me going and the hope to show my kids that nothing is impossible kept me going.

I want to show that I am a father who never gave up and they look up to me and that's more important for me than anything else in this world.

I want to make sure they also work really, really, hard and make our country proud, that's my main aim.

I am just being grateful all this while and all I wanted to do was earn bread for my family and that is what I did.

Thanks to Pooja Bhatt and Mahesh Bhatt for giving me a role in the movie Cabaret, then I did another movie Aksar 2. Both movies did really well on the Web.

Then I did another Malayalam movie Team 5 and the Kannada movie Kempegowda 2 for which I got the Best Villain award last year.

I did my best in everything I tried because I had to earn bread and butter for my family.

Cricket was always my bread and butter and the hope to get that back kept me going and that is why I never gave up in the last six-and-a-half years.

Looking back, do you have any regrets?

It is a very difficult because my father always says never have regrets.

It is very important for me not to regret because life has given me another opportunity.

All the past experience has made me a better person and I have learnt from it.

What will you be careful about in the future when you start playing cricket again?

I will surely be very careful with the friends's circle I keep.

I am a family man now, I am a husband and a father so I have got extra responsibility.

I will be much more careful anyways.

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com
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