S Sreesanth was always an emotionally vulnerable man almost fatally attracted to self-destruction but that he could combust so spectacularly still surprises one. And therein lies the sad tale of Shantakumaran Sreesanth.
Everyone expected something silly, even stupid, from him, but this? It's impossible for me to say whether the 30-year-old is innocent or guilty but it's a cautionary tale for the cricketing establishment to take greater care of immature young talents.
Here was a young man whose human awkwardness and emotional inadequacy always made you wonder about him. It was clear that he was a tormented soul who craved for attention and it bewildered him initially why no one in the cricketing fraternity really liked him.
Later, he began to feel victimised about everything and started to sulk - his natural state of being for some years now. Did that emotional alienation push him into a state of personal hell, where he couldn't bother anymore about the morality of his deeds?
Sreesanth was never a saint - most of us aren't - but nothing however quite prepared one for this slip into the abyss. At worst he came across as a self-absorbed kid who was bent on self-destruction, but it never occurred to anyone that he could be involved in matchfixing. That raises interesting questions about cricketing personalities that one would think of as capable of fixing and about the stereotypes that reside in our skull, but that's a topic for another day.
The stories that one usually heard about Sreesanth were never malicious; he would come across as an annoying pest at times but that's about it. He spent his early days at the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai and his fellow junior cricketers tell a story of a boy mischievously eager to please his seniors. When coaches, like TA Sekhar, would come into the room at the end of a training session, Sreesanth, who would be resting, would jump up and, in a player's words, "act" as if he is doing some training ritual. "We used to call him an actor," says the player.
He reminded one of a kid who would visit your house and, without much prompting, break into a song-and-dance routine in an over-eager attempt to show off his talent, and who would soak up the adulation of the elders. That kid can be occasionally annoying and irritating but it's difficult to see any real evil in him. Sreesanth was like that kid, or so it seemed.
The one thing that was certain was that he carried a sense of victimhood. Over the years, it has only strengthened. Initially, it was about how he didn't have any godfather in Indian cricket and how his background from Kochi in Kerala meant no one really took him seriously. Later, it grew into a persecution complex.
Image: India's Sreesanth (C) and England's Kevin Pietersen (L) confront each other during day 2 of the fourth cricket test match between England and India at The Oval Cricket Ground in London son August 19, 2011. (AFP)