The strange case of Shanthakumaran Sreesanth

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 15, 2011 11:11 hrs

He's been around for just five years. He's not even played 100 international matches (ODIs, T20s and Tests combined). And yet, he's already emerged as one of India's most controversial cricketers. On some days the media coverage he gets is greater than that of even the great Sachin Tendulkar.

Love him or hate him, you simply can't ignore him. That's Shanthakumaran Sreesanth for you.

Secret diary: Sreesanth ko aansoo kyon aatey hain?

Kerala has produced very few cricketers, but this one seems to be enough.

This psychology student loves playing mind games with batsmen and sometimes loses his own.

A break dance champion, he won the famous TV dance show Boogie Woogie and has shown his steps on the field too.

He started off his career as a spinner, making Anil Kumble his model.

But he later changed to pace, emulating Allan Donald, copying his aggression (with interest).

So many ups at the beginning...

Sreesanth in his short career has had many ups and downs. But the ups have only flattered to deceive. He has been found wanting short on consistency.

Few remember that way back in 2006, he took a rare 6-wicket haul against England in ODIs. Despite that, he has not been a regular in the ODI team.

In 2006, on the back of a 5-wicket haul in the last Test of the West Indies series, he produced another such spell to reduce South Africa to 84 all down. We won our very first Test on SA soil thanks to some amazing seam bowling by Sree. Despite that, he has not been a regular in the Test team.

In 2007, he was part of the glorious T20 World Cup victory, taking the famous Misbah-ul-Haq catch that got us the Cup. Despite that, he has not been a regular in the T20 team.

Even after his comebacks, he has impressed. Who can forget Jacques Kallis squirming to play a beauty of a snorter to give his wicket away to Sreesanth in the 2010 Test series in South Africa? That was the iconic image of the series.

He has seen it all. He has lost it all.

...and so many lows

Of course one can write a book on all of Sreesanth's controversies. The ICC can maintain a special file on him.

It all really began in South Africa in 2006. He was pulled up by the ICC for wearing a rival brand name under his India jersey. Then he ran towards the gentle and mild-mannered Hashim Amla after getting his wicket, drawing a lot of criticism. But that was nothing. He sledged non-stop in the series even getting SA wicket-keeper Mark Boucher to lose his cool and lose his wicket in the process.

Then there was the confrontation with the mercurial fast bowler Andre Nel. Spectators were treated to a Sree & Nel show with many words and gestures exchanged continuously. In the end, Sree hit Nel for a six and did his famous helicopter dance where he waved his bat in the air non-stop.

Boogie Woogie on the field!

All this in one series!

In the very next series in England, he barged into captain Michael Vaughan on the field and bowled a beamer at Kevin Pietersen. Commentator and former England captain Mike Atherton promptly called for a ban on Sreesanth.

Being in and out of the team has not cramped Sree's style one bit.

He is probably the only Indian bowler to sledge at Tendulkar (in a domestic match) after the former reached his iconic status. In an IPL match, he celebrated MS Dhoni's dismissal so much, that you could be forgiven for thinking he had got the Pakistan captain in a World Cup final. Not a very good way to endear himself to the Indian captain.

What happens when you put two of the most controversial players within inches of each other? You get IPL slapgate! It is a sign of his image that he got very less sympathy after being slapped by Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh.

Even in the current World Cup, it has been up and down for Sree.

First the dejection of being dropped. Then the elation of making it thanks to Praveen Kumar's injury. This was followed by being thrashed by a team like Bangladesh. Welcome to Sree world.

He may play in very few World Cup matches from now.

Sreesanth needs to be controlled better: Akram

Or he may come and give a match-winning performance and become indispensable.

Who knows?

In terms of pure cricketing personalities, you can't get more schizophrenic than Shanthakumaran Sreesanth.

When he takes the cricket field, you never know which part of him is going to show up that day.

Will the real Sree please stand up?

The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger