Talent has an inherent tendency to self-destruct. To different degrees, the saying holds true for a few Indian cricketers, but not so tellingly true for anyone other than S Sreesanth.
No doubt Sreesanth had talent. Someone who can win Test matches in South Africa has to have a fair bit of it. But Sreesanth is suited to the saying like no one else because he actually pressed the self-destruction button. Like a rich kid who does not know the value of wealth, he made a mockery of his talent before making a mess of it.
Right from the time he made his presence felt, Sreesanth looked special. He dismissed Sachin Tendulkar in the 2005 Challengers with a gem of a delivery and made people take notice of his ability to move the ball at a lively pace. “He was a brilliant talent with a genuine out-swinger and nice action. He had the fast bowler’s aggression and looked as if he would play for India for a long time,” said former India bowler Balwinder Singh Sandhu, who had seen Sreesanth before he had made headlines, in a pre-season match in Bangalore, when he was coach of Baroda.
Sreesanth soon made it to the Indian team on the back of his fine bowling in that Challenger Series. Sadly enough, just as the world got a glimpse of his precocious talent, it also started witnessing the other side of Sreesanth, the terrible.
VVS Laxman was leading South Zone against Sri Lanka A in a Duleep Trophy match in Kolkata in 2006. Short on fast bowlers, Laxman saw Sreesanth spray the ball around in an utterly careless display and when he took him off the attack, the bowler settled himself near the fence without showing any sign of remorse, chatting with a person who later became his agent. “His tantrums were tolerated for too long. He needed counselling, but instead of that he found himself surrounded by people who pampered him and fanned his ego to stay in his good books,” said Sandhu.
Despite his whimsical ways, Sreesanth got away with a lot of things because of his ability to make the cricket ball talk. His out-swingers, which often kicked off a length, could be menacing at times and the lifter he got Jacques Kallis with in Durban in 2010 to pave the way for India’s win was probably the most brutal delivery bowled by an Indian fast bowler playing abroad.
But be it a spat with Harbhajan Singh in the IPL or losing his cool on the field, Sreesanth had a number of confrontations with opposition players and was banned for two matches by the BCCI for abusing Dinesh Karthik in a domestic game earlier this year. Somehow, he continued to be tolerated.
“That became the problem,” said Sandhu. “He started thinking he could get away with everything. Nobody hauled him up despite his wild ways. It’s the lack of mental discipline that finally destroyed a wonderful talent. Those around him are also to be blamed.”
It’s probably sad that such a talent should remain unutilised, but when sense makes way for suicide, there is little that others can do.