“A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel!”
This was one of my favorite lines from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Since I read it as a part of my curriculum in class X, way back in time, I have often used it in various conversations without really understanding what it actually meant. However, this week, the judiciary of this country and the BCCI has made it crystal clear to me.
It’s been quite a week of judgments. First, the four Delhi rape accused were sentenced to death and the careers of a few Indian cricketers met the same fate. While the Delhi sentence spread a nationwide happiness, the life-ban on the culprits of IPL spot fixing case, has somewhat left all of us with mixed emotions, just like - “Larry Wildman going off a cliff in my new Maserati.”
Sreesanth and company deserved what they got. It was an act of treason against the game and BCCI, for once, did the right thing by slapping them with life bans. Though, the cricket world should have no sympathy with the likes of Sreesanth and Ankit Chavan, one cannot simply ignore the fact that, in Sreesanth, Indian cricket lost one of its best talents.
S. Sreesanth has always been a difficult character, who lived life on the edge. Controversy has always been his close aid and he is perhaps the only cricketer, in this world, who has never received any support, even from his own team-mates.
It wasn’t their fault, Sreesanth asked for it and made it easier for them. His actions off-the-field created multiple headaches for the team management and on the field of play – he often left the captain red-faced with his unwarranted antics.
Sreesanth lived his life on the stage and more than his cricketing skills, the spectators were forced to concentrate on his theatrics on the ground. His atrocious over-rates, going through varied rituals before every delivery, was a pain for both the opposition and his captain. Even the umpires had to wait for his hat and glasses until he went through his elaborate shenanigans.
If that wasn’t enough, he made distasteful gestures at the opposition after being carted around the park and often threatened to throw the ball back at the batsman even after a solid defensive shot off a not-so-special delivery.
It is often said that a captain has to go an extra mile to handle difficult characters in the team and people might point a finger at MS Dhoni for not letting an arm around this temperamental bowler from Kerala.
Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t!
Maybe, not getting the best out of Sreesanth was Dhoni’s biggest failure as a captain.
Dhoni has his fair share of detractors, who have their reservations about his on field tactics, but even his biggest critics would hail his man management skills. Dhoni, throughout his tenure, has backed the youngsters and has believed that if a player is selected to play for India, he must have the required talent and invariably, lets them have a crack at the highest level for a substantial amount of time.
But how long can a captain hang on to one end of the rope, if the player concerned keeps lighting fire at the other end?
Maybe Dhoni ran out of patience with Sreesanth crossing the line, every time.
However, apart from being brilliant at landing in trouble, Sreesanth was blessed with another skill. He could produce spells of brilliance that would rip apart the defences of the best batsmen in the world.
The jaffa to Jacques Kallis, that left the big South African in the weirdest of tangles, was a work of art and his spell against the English at Indore was a demonstration of the talent the man possessed.
But then again, Sreesanth never looked at ease in the team and as time went by became an outsider. He hardly had close mates in the side, kept aloof from the team and eventually, the idea of “not having a godfather in the team”, stuck to his mind.
From bowling unplayable deliveries to losing his bearing – Sreesanth could do that in a matter of moments. It was always a very delicate state of balance with him and he lost it more often than not.
However, all his tantrums aside, getting mixed up in spot fixing wasn’t certainly something that anyone expected out of him. Acts of treason are well conspired and demands an envelope of secrecy. Being a loud character that he is, one would have thought, such acts would be beyond Sreesanth’s reach.
Did being out of favour with the team management add to the frustration and led to do what he is convicted of?
We will never know.
After the verdict, Sreesanth issued statements maintaining his innocence and stating that he was framed and his statements of confession was taken under duress. However, as soon as one goes back to the press conference held by Delhi Police back during the IPL, where the officer read out the transcript and backed it up with the video clips of the matches, Sreesanth’s ”I am innocent” cry looked just as much fixed as those IPL games.
In terms of natural talent, Sreesanth is one of those rare few cricketers but his acts with the towel will wipe him off the memory of the millions of Indian cricket fans. It’s was a pity to see his gifted pair of wrists in hand cuffs – a pair that bowlers would die for.
However, even if he appeals for sympathy, the fans won’t respond to him because he made it difficult for them with his constant outbursts on and off the field. They were tolerant till a point – they laughed when he mocked at Andre Nel, they wowed at his courage when he sledged Andrew Symonds but when Rahul Dravid openly accuses someone of “cowardly acts”, you know he has stretched it a tad too far.
Is the life ban, too tough a sentence?
Maybe it is, but when talent turns poisonous and lashes out at the game itself, forgetting how reliant he is on the sport itself, it is time to take the hardest decisions. Endlessly indulging in a spoilt brat reinforces his acts and sets a wrong precedents to the others.
True, Sreesanth has been a difficult character to deal with and he has been a pain for everyone. He has pushed his boundaries and tested the patience of the opposition, his own captain, the umpires, the spectators and even now, his IPL saga is far from being over.
However, Sreesanth will be regarded as Indian cricket’s biggest loss over the last decade. There has never been a doubt about his talent but his temperament has often restricted him to attain the accolades that he deserved.
His entire life has been a fascinating tussle between talent and temperament but would it have been a different story if the guardians of Indian cricket have handled him a little differently?
He might go ahead and overturn his ban and become “an expert” on a television channel or might end up as a resident of the Big Boss house, but one question will always haunt the Indian cricket lovers – Did Sreesanth fail Indian cricket or did Indian cricket fail him?