Two-faced Sreesanth has lost face forever with life ban

Sreesanth showed he had promise but his maverick ways caused embarrassment as well. His indiscretion may have gone too far this time, writes Dileep Premachandran.

Shanthakumaran Sreesanth was banned for life by the Indian board for spot-fixing. Manan Vatsyayana / AFP
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Do you remember Shanthakumaran Sreesanth’s last act in a Test match? England spinner Graeme Swann bowled him to complete a stunning Indian capitulation on the final day of the Oval Test in 2011.

India’s last seven wickets fell for 21 runs that day to give England victory by an innings.

With three for 123, Sreesanth had been India’s best bowler, which was not really saying much since England had made 591 for six before declaring. That was more than two years ago.

You have to go back even further, to the 2011 World Cup final, for Sreesanth’s last one-day international appearance. Even before the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s disciplinary committee handed him a life ban for alleged spot-fixing in the Indian Premier League, Sreesanth was being seen as yesterday’s man.

It was a far cry from March 2006, when he made his Test debut at age 23 in Nagpur. Andrew Strauss was his first wicket, caught at second slip, and he got Kevin Pietersen as well – bowled off the inside edge – on an opening day that was full of promise. For much of the next five years, some of the game’s greats would talk up his potential, but in terms of real progress, there was little.

There were some stunning spells, most notably on two tours of South Africa. At Kanpur in 2009, he showed that he could be a factor on placid home pitches as well, demolishing Sri Lanka’s first innings with superbly controlled reverse swing.

When he was switched on – what Greg Chappell, the coach who got the most out of him, liked to call “Good Sree” – he was second only to Zaheer Khan in the Indian pace stakes. But when body and mind were not in sync, he could be expensive and wayward, not to mention an embarrassment to his teammates.

Often, the two faces of Sreesanth were seen in the same match.

At Durban in 2010, he accelerated India’s progress to an 87-run win with a magnificent spell that included the wicket of Jacques Kallis, caught fending off an unplayable bouncer.

It should have been one of his finest hours. Instead, after the match, he was reduced to tears after being admonished by MS Dhoni, his captain, who had taken strong exception to some personal remarks aimed in the direction of South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith.

The Sreesanth camp, especially in recent months, has spoken of the lack of support he had in the dressing room. What they fail to mention is how difficult he made it for others to warm to him.

Whether it was sledging Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag in domestic cricket, or being slapped by Harbhajan Singh in the Indian Premier League, his mention usually brought on a rolling of the eyes from exasperated colleagues.

Under Chappell his emotional instability was controlled, to an extent. Without a similar sort of mentor he struggled. Near and dear ones who cashed in on his fame, rather than trying to build a protective cocoon around him, did not help.

Brave words about challenging the ban in a court of law amount to little. At the end of the day, the legal system does not pick cricket teams in India; the BCCI does.

At the age of 30, the Sreesanth saga is almost certainly over.