CHANDIGARH: He announced his arrival into the big scene with a lethal five-wicket haul in the first innings followed by another three scalps in the second to engineer India’s maiden Test victory on South African soil in 2006, but little did Shanthakumaran Nair Sreesanth perceive that his fledgling career will hit a roadblock at the interrogation cell in Delhi’s Tihar jail in 2013.
Sreesanth had last played competitive cricket way back in the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2013, a year in which he was arrested for spot-fixing along with two other Rajasthan Royals players Ankit Chavan, Ajit Chandila, and slapped with a life ban. However, with the Supreme Court setting aside the ban and ombudsman of the Indian cricket board allowing him to resume his cricket from next September, the 37-year-old Kerala pacer is primed to play his first domestic match in more than seven years.
The speedster starts his interaction with TOI with a one-liner, “Cricket is what matters to me for the next 5 years.” Excerpts from the interview:
How did the lockdown treat you? Was it any different as you anyway have been out of action for long?
Obviously it was very difficult to start with but when it comes to the cricket part, I did have my own facilities and train for 6-7 hours daily. I have my own gym and yoga centre and somehow kept working on my fitness at my house itself. Now since Kerala is much better in terms of Covid-19, we do get some indoor practice sessions because of the monsoon.
We have three indoor facilities near Kochi and we keep on shuffling here and there. Many players come for practice here, so it’s a great interactive session too. Lockdown was difficult but now it’s getting better, so practice from Monday to Saturday and play badminton on Sunday.
You are set to make a comeback this September, but there’s still an uncertainty around when cricket will restart. How do you cope with such situations?
Life is full of uncertainties, you are not sure about tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean you don’t put your money in the bank. Same with fitness, you got to invest into your body, it’s like a temple. I have learnt something from my cricketing days, a healthy mind is a healthy body. Not sure when cricket is gonna resume but here the moment rain stops, we are going to have some practice matches, and then we will take it from there.
I am sure this time the domestic season is going to start with One-dayers or the T20s, don’t think they (BCCI) are going to start with four-day matches straightaway because of the lack of outdoor practice due to Covid outbreak. I am looking forward to play.
You were a part of two World Cup wins, but suddenly things turned for the worse. Most cricketers have started opening up on the mental aspect, with some contemplating suicide. How did you deal?
Self talk is very important when you are happy, people forget that.
I think it’s very very important to have self confidence. A lot of people have been writing about having friends and family. Yes you should have somebody with you, but the biggest friend which you can have with you is your loneliness. And when you are alone, you can actually plan a lot of things. A lot of people misjudge loneliness with depression. It’s just the mindset, during this lockdown it has proved that one can stay at one place for 24 hours.
I was very fortunate that my mindset was very focussed at that point of time. I had to prove myself innocent and only I knew the truth, I needed to make other people understand the truth. It took me seven long years to prove myself once again. There is no shame in saying that but there were times when (suicidal thoughts) crossed over but I looked at the positives in my life. I won’t call it a dark phase but it was worse than even being in Tihar jail, all those interrogation sessions which lasted almost 18-19 hours a day, all that when I used to look back, I used to be very emotional when I talked about all that but you need to remain strong.
There were times when I was scared of even switching off the lights, I was scared of my niece or nephews going out for college, what if they get abducted by a commando. I had to overcome all that with just the single motive to clear my name. I want to make sure that when my daughter or son google my name, I want good things written about me, of the legacy that I leave after making a comeback.
You lost seven years of your prime in this mess, coming back at 37, will the focus be only on limited overs cricket?
No it’s more about match fitness, it is more about telling yourself when you get tired. Yes age do catch up but then you look up to players like Sachin Tendulkar (played till 40), Rahul Dravid (till 40), Ashish Nehra (as a pacer till 38), Leander Paes (won a grand slam at 46), it all comes to what you tell yourself.
Performers need to really really train and work hard, if you look at Virat Kohli getting so many hundreds, he needs that kind of fitness behind the doors. Even at the peak of my career, I don’t remember playing a four-day match to prove my fitness, but yes it’s going to be difficult but not impossible, to start with a few two-day and four-day practice matches.
I have always been a huge fan of Sourav Ganguly, and he has been a great example of that. I still remember the tour match in Potchefstroom before the Test series. Dada was making a comeback into the team and that hundred against one of the best attacks and that too on a green turf.
How do you see the current India pace attack? If you have to pick one for the future, who would that be?
I will pick Jasprit Bumrah, everybody talks of his unconventional action but hats off to him for sticking to the same action and getting stronger each day. Even I am a firm believer of the smooth classy action but then it becomes robotic, although it reduces the chance of picking frequent injuries. I believe in the old school thought of just running in and bowl fast. If you can bowl a yorker perfectly at pace you can get a wicket.
What’s your take on the saliva thing? Will it be a disadvantage for the bowlers?
It’s being blown out of proportion, you can use sweat as well, you have to take care, you have to respect every decision the association is taking, it all comes down to skills. When I played county cricket, I learned that you just have to maintain the ball, it’s more of keeping the ball dry,” Sreesanth said.
I am very happy in one way, there is a positive that only the skillful bowlers can now perform. You need to move on and adapt, you have to adapt if you want to become successful, the need of the hour is to adapt. It’s about practice, and players will eventually get used to it,” he added.
Talking about Kerala cricket, you think Sandeep Warrier’s transfer to Tamil Nadu has come at the right time?
I am yet to understand why he took that decision. I remember we were in Goa for two one day matches, and I couldn’t play the matches due to a stomach bug and he made his debut. I really wanted to bowl alongside Basil (Thampi) and Sandeep this season, it would have been great.
I think he should have stood by Kerala and used all our experience to win the Ranji Trophy for our state and for some others. If he has been called in as a professional to play for them it’s different, but a lot of people are now saying, since he has gone my chances of getting back to the team will be easy. No, if he would have been here, he would have struggled to be in the XI. If someone is good and performing at his best and it’s helping the team win, he should be in the eleven.