S Sreesanth's cricketing career can be described as a rollercoaster ride. From making headlines across India following his run-in with the legendary Sachin Tendulkar to the curtains closing in on his international career after the Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing scandal in 2013, the pacer's career has the makings of a Bollywood box-office hit.
The story though, just got a fresh twist, with the Kerala High Court on Monday asking the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to lift the ban that they had slapped on the pacer in 2013, bringing back Sreesanth's hopes of making a return to cricket.
The pacer, only the second Test cricketer from the southern Indian state of Kerala, was among the 36 accused in the spot-fixing case to get cleared of all charges by an additional sessions court in Delhi on 25 July 2015. Even though a teary-eyed Sreesanth had confidently voiced his hope of making a comeback down the line shortly after the verdict, the BCCI refused to budge from their stance, and continued to impose the ban on the fast bowler.
Sreesanth tried entering the world of politics last year, contesting the state assembly polls from Thiruvananthapuram on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket, though he was bowled over by his Congress opponent VS Shivakumar in that election. He had also participated in the reality TV show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa in 2014, in which he had run into a number of spats with the judges on the show, and eventually walked out. He also made his on-screen debut with the release of Big Picture in 2015.
The judgment does bring back his hopes of ending his cricketing days on a happy note. However, it remains to be seen how practical his chances of a comeback actually are. Keeping in mind the fact that the BCCI have the authority to challenge decision by approaching a higher court, with the opening up of a new judicial process capable of delaying Sreesanth's comeback by a considerable period of time.
Let us take a detailed look at his chances of returning to competitive cricket, divided according to the level of competition.
The Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) has been highly supportive of Sreesanth since the ban, with former KCA chief and current BCCI vice-president TC Mathew being the first to take up the issue with the BCCI.
"He’s our own player and we supported him all along. We will take a positive decision soon," current KCA chief Vinod Kumar was quoted as saying according to a report on Hindustan Times shortly after the Kerala court's order.
Dav Whatmore, the former coach of teams such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh and now coach of the Kerala Ranji team for a period of six months, spoke about Sreesanth, "someone who can bowl like him was always welcome in the squad," according to a report on The New Indian Express.
With the support that he has garnered from his home cricket association, it should not be much of a problem for him to make a comeback into the state team for premier domestic tournaments such as Ranji Trophy. His match-readiness might be in question, with the pacer not having played competitive cricket for more than four years now, and the upcoming Ranji season might be a good platform for him to get back into his old rhythm.
Indian Premier League
It was in the IPL where Sreesanth has experienced the most infamous moments of his career. From getting slapped by Mumbai Indians' Harbhajan Singh while playing for Kings XI Punjab in the inaugural edition in 2008, to the spot-fixing scandal in 2013, when he was named as one of the accused along with Rajasthan Royals teammates Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila in an investigation by the Delhi Police.
Even if he gets cleared, there is no guarantee he will get selected in the IPL auction that takes place in the month of February, two months before the tournament kicks off. His chances of getting picked will depend heavily on how he fares in the domestic level, should he get the clearance from the BCCI.
It might be apposite to mention that life will come full circle for him if he gets picked by the Rajasthan Royals — the franchise he was part of when the dark incident happened. The Royals, along with Chennai Super Kings, mark their return to the league next year, having served their two-year suspension sentence over their team owners' involvement in spot-fixing. It will be somewhat surreal for Sreesanth to return to the familiar dressing room.
In the New Indian Express report, Sreesanth mentioned that he was not thinking about a national cap as of now, and that he wanted to go "step by step". He also mentioned the fact that the Indian team is performing very well these days.
The Virat Kohli-led Indian team clinched their eighth consecutive Test series victory with their innings-and-53-run win over Sri Lanka in the second match of the three-Test series, with the team fairly well-settled in terms of balance and composition. What adds to the competitiveness is the abundance of options that the national selectors have for every slot in the Indian lineup. The fact that an in-form pacer such as Bhuvneshwar Kumar has had to sit out of the Sri Lanka Tests so far is a sign of the amount of competition for a berth in the national side.
Sreesanth, therefore, has his task cut out if he seriously wants to play for the national team again. Even then, he might get an one-off opportunity as the likes of Parthiv Patel and Gautam Gambhir have had in recent years. Sreesanth though, will hope to do an Ashish Nehra, who has now cemented a spot in the T20 side at the age of 37.
Here's a look at Sreesanth's career, from the time he challenged Tendulkar, to the Kerala High Court verdict, in chronological order: