I always wonder what will I tell Sreesanth if I get to meet him one day. Will I say “I love you” or “I hate you”? Or will I say what Granger Smith’s song says, “I’m just tryin’ to hate you like I love you"?
But first, I am eagerly waiting for 11th January. It's the day when he makes his comeback. I'll be know whether he still bowls with that same beautiful seam position that made me fall in love with him a decade and a half ago.
My earliest memories of Sreesanth
I saw him playing his first few games but didn’t pay much attention. The first time I (and maybe the world) really noticed him was on the South Africa tour. India had never won a Test match in South Africa before, and coming into the first game of the 2006 tour, I don’t think anyone would have put their money on Sreesanth winning a game for India.
Yet, there he was delivering ball after ball with such a stunning seam position that I couldn't him admire enough. He displayed the aggression I had seen only in West Indian and Australia fast bowlers. He dismantled the South African team for 84 runs with his seam, bounce, and speed, giving them a taste of their own medicine.
Not just by bowling, he impressed me with his batting too by hitting the six off Andre Nel and then by the celebration that followed.
The following year, he was a part of the T20 World Cup squad. He bowled good spells in the earlier games, but the showcase event came against Australia in the semi-finals. In a high scoring game, he gave away just 12 runs in the first two overs and picked up Gilchrist early. Then, when Australia were cruising with just 2 wickets down, he came back to bowl the 15th over and went through the gates of Matthew Hayden.
The celebration that followed with him high-fiving the pitch showed the kind of effort and emotions he puts in each delivery. I was so impressed with his bowling that day, and of course the celebration, that I put this picture (see below) on my wall.
My wall leaks Cricket. I have many pictures on it, either of its legends or of great moments. On that day, I gave him entry not just into my heart, but my house too! But I didn’t know the same picture will bring a constant struggle between my heart and my mind in years to follow.
The journey turned sour
I wanted to go on a long journey with him. I wanted him to be successful. I wanted “our” relationship to be successful. But just when I started enjoying this relationship, it all went downhill.
Loss of form, injuries, disciplinary problems, code-of-conduct breaches, slapgate... I tried to stand by his side during these turbulences. It was not easy to unsee his off-field issues, but I tried. He was losing my trust, but I believed that it was his personality to wear emotions on his sleeve. I saw the same thing on-field when he bowled. He put his heart and soul in each delivery.
Then came the dreadful day of 16th May 2013. It was my birthday, and the day started with some birthday greetings. Then emotions swung from happiness to shock to sheer misery. What I thought was another notification on my mobile for a birthday wish, turned out to be the news of Sreesanth being arrested for spot-fixing. I could not believe what I read. I literally do not remember anything that happened afterward on that day.
What followed was chaos. Sreesanth, BCCI, police, reports, the media, said different things. There was nothing conclusive to prove him innocent or guilty. I wanted to still believe in him. I wanted our relationship to work. Soon he gave me a reason by mentioning some valid counter-arguments in the letter he wrote to the BCCI disciplinary committee.
"It is not uncommon to use a towel in afternoon matches particularly in a place like Mohali in the month of April-May. Enough photographs are there to show that in many of the earlier matches I played, white colour towel had been used by me. In fact even other well known cricketers use white towel as a matter of habit. Even in the very same match towels were used by other players," Sreesanth said.
"No inference can be drawn that just for Rs 10 lakhs I will be throwing away a brilliant cricket career forgetting my duties to my country and the game of cricket."
He switched to doing movies because he was not even allowed to watch any cricket game in-person, let alone play it, while his court cases were in progress.
He entered a reality show – Bigg Boss, the Indian version of Big brother – to put forward his side of the story. The show is all about expressing emotions, which was perfect for Sreesanth. He wore his heart on the sleeve once again, expressing his Cricketing, non-cricketing, and in-house experiences.
He was a stubborn kid here too, threatening to leave the house 299 times, before finally leaving the house as a runner-up. He won over many Cricket fans again, and grew the count of non-cricket fans too!
Awaiting his return
I have lost the count of the number of cases Sreesanth and BCCI have fought in different courts, overturning each previous decision. I do not even know whether the court has given him clean-chit or just set aside the life ban. But the bottom line is he is going to play again.
To keep yourself physically and mentally fit for seven long years is in itself an achievement. He has not just done that, but has kept his skills intact as well, and has been named in the Kerala squad. To be selected in the first possible tournament after the long comeback is brilliant.
I cannot say he was innocent or not. I cannot say I love him or hate him. What I can say is I love(d) his bowling, I love his enthusiasm, and top of all that, I love his determination to come back after seven long years at the age where most cricketers retire.
(A lover/hater of Sreesanth in hope of seeing a few more seaming balls and wild celebrations)