Sreesanth looks to Scotland

Former Indian pacer Shanthakumaran Sreesanth’s bid to resume his career appears to be gathering momentum as a petition was filed in the Kerala High Court requesting that his lifetime ban from cricket be overturned.

The punishment was imposed by a BCCI disciplinary committee in the wake of the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal but despite a Delhi court dismissing all criminal charges against the player in 2015there has been no indication from the governing body that it might be rescinded.

But with an offer from Glenrothes Cricket Club to make a comeback via league cricket in Scotland on the table the 34-year-old is hopeful that his civil action against the BCCI will be successful and finally bring an ordeal which began with his arrest in May 2013 alongside fellow Rajasthan Royals Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan to a conclusion.

Speaking to me from his home in Kochi, Sreesanth was cautiously optimistic that the matter may at last be approaching a resolution.

“The court has given the BCCI fourteen days to respond [before it passes] an order lifting the ban,” he said.

“That is what it is looking likebut we have to be patient to wait for those days to pass and we have to see how the BCCI reacts.

“The greatest thing that could happen is me getting to play and the worst is that maybe they won’t lift the ban and give me a NOC [No Objection Certificate] to play in Scotland.

“But I will surely fight to have it uplifted because it is very important,” he continued.“If I come to Scotland, God willing, I want to play with a lot of respect and also bring a lot of Scotland players to Kochi, my home town, so it can be a much better experience for them if they come to India with Scotland in the future. They will have had more opportunity to play here.

“I want to give the best I can. I am just hoping that the court will give me justice.”

It was Sreesanth’s announcement of an unsanctioned comeback which proved to be the catalyst in ending what had been a two-year silence from the governing body. After he made clear over social media his intention to play a two-day league match for Kerala on February 19th, the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) received a PDF copy of the 2013 banning order from the BCCI, a document which, according to Sreesanth, had not been made availableeither to him or his representatives before. The specific detail it provided enabled the civil action to be instigated.

That it took so long to reach this point, however, clearly rankles.

“It is very shocking,” said Sreesanth. “In fact, shocking might be an understatement because the things that me and my family, the cricket fans, all the people from Kerala across the globe went through over the last four years you cannot get back.

“Even after the court ruling the BCCI hardly responded to my messages. They have not acknowledged my emails. That is not a way to perform in any office.

“When I was accused they suspended me. That’s fine, that is the rule, ninety days of suspension and I agree with that. So I waited while the case was going on and for almost two years I was quiet. I always believed in the court and I never wanted to make a comment. I was keeping faith in theAlmighty and in justice and in the hope that it would happen, and then on July 25th 2015 it did [when criminal charges were dismissed in Delhi].

“But that same evening [BCCI Secretary] Mr Anurag Thakur was in a hurry to announce to the public and to the media that the ban still stood.

“I have always been thankful and very grateful to the BCCI, the KCA and Kerala Cricket Club for giving me the opportunities that they did to represent my club, then the state, zone, juniors and country, to win a couple of World Cups and be a part of the number one Test side [in the process]. I never wanted to take the BCCI to court.

“[But] with the new reformed BCCI under Vinod Rai I am very confident that with him being very close to the laws of the country and with the BCCI taking their reforms very seriously the court order will be respected and I will be given the chance to play again.

“The past is past,” he said, “I will not forget but I have forgiven everybody.”

His enforced time away from the game has seen Sreesanth build a successful second career in the film industry, with his latest movie,AnantMahadevan’s thriller Aksar 2, to be released shortly. So, cricketer-actor or actor-cricketer? How does Sreesanth view himself these days?

“I think the best way to answer that question is to say that if you wake me up at 3am and put me in front of a camera I might struggle,” he laughed. “But if you put me on a cricket field with a white ball playing a night match at 3am I’ll still bowl that outswinger pitching on middle and taking the off stump!

“I am a cricketer – not a born cricketer, I have worked really hard to make it even at club level. I used to play in the fourth division and from there I came up to the A division. I used to carry water for the senior cricketers and do a lot of rolling on the ground before the match. God has taken me from there to playing for the country and I am really grateful.”

Music, though, occupies a particularly special place in his heart.

“I have no shame in saying that when I came out of jail I was really depressed,” he said.“Twenty-seven days in Tihar jail is not something which you would wish to happen to anybody and [when I was released] I was in a very bad state. It was thanks to music and thanks to God that [I was] brought back.

“My parents always supported me when I was in school and did my dancing and singing. After the jail incident happened my father was the first to say ‘don’t worry, you’ve got to have faith. You have your dancing and your acting skills so let’s see.’ Cricket used to be bread and butter but thanks to the TV shows and the movies I have been successful elsewhere too. God has been extremely kind.”

And so, if all falls into place, to the Eastern Premier League in Scotland.With 87 wickets in 27 Test appearances, alongside the 75 he amassed in the 53 ODI matches he played for his country, what may seem at first glance an extraordinary move is, says Sreesanth, down to his love of the game and desire to express his gratitude to Edward Gibbs, Glenrothes CC’s Director of Communications, who has been a vocal and tenacious campaigner on his behalf.

“Eddie has been more than a brother to me, more than family,” said Sreesanth. “He has been supporting me throughout.

“I met him during a match when I was playing for a World XI in England. He asked me if I would like to play for his club once I retired and I said why not, I love cricket and I would love to come to Scotland one day.

“I never wanted to go like this but I am a cricket fan, I love to play cricket everywhere and I love to watch and experience it, and with Scotland being a developing cricket country I would love to share whatever humble experience I have learned from the greats like Tendulkar and Kumble and all the other legends.

“Cricket comes first,” he said. “I love my country and I love my state but if you ask any cricketer he will say that he is a cricketer first then everything else after. I want to make sure that cricket grows in every part of the world.

“It is also a great opportunity for me to explore. In Scotland it swings a lot and I am a swing bowler and can bowl fast too and I want to explore what I can do.

“[I would also like to] do some batting as well and come back to the Indian team as one of the best all-rounders hopefully. These days you have to bat well otherwise you will be out of the team so I would use the Scotland experience to play as many matches as possible and hopefully make a good comeback into world cricket.

“I will always be grateful to Scotland,” he concluded. “I cannot thank people enough for the amount of support I am getting from there. God has been kind.”

Jake Perry is a freelance cricket writer based in Scotland.

Twitter: @jperry_cricket

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