Hero worshipped in Kerala, Sreesanth still innocent in his state

Since this morning, TV channels in Kerala have been asking people on the streets if they believed Sreesanth was guilty. Unsurprisingly, a majority of them said they didn’t.

This is exactly how Shashi Tharoor or the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) initially reacted, with a caveat that the pacer should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

KCA Secretary TC Mathew said that he would still like to believe that Sreesanth was innocent unless proved otherwise.

Hero worshipped in Kerala, Sreesanth still innocent in his state

Image courtesy BCCI

The channels also repeated the allegation by Sreesanth’s family that the cricketer has been trapped. His father and brother-in-law went to the extent of charging that the entire episode was the handiwork of Indian captain MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh.

Sreesanth knew many personal things about Dhoni, his father Santhakumaran Nair alleged, perhaps insinuating that it could have made the captain insecure. Harbhajan, according to him, is a Deputy Superintendent of Police in Punjab and had a role in the trap. The reason: the Twitter expose on 'slapgate' by his son.

So, the summary of the response in his home turf is that of incredulity. They are unwilling to believe that the pacer is guilty. Many of them said he was hard working and rose to the top against all odds. Channel reporters in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram went to the grounds where he played or practised and boys who knew him said that their hero was trapped by certain lobbies.

Sreesanth is the only cricketer from the state who rose to such a level of international fame and sustained it for some time. The earlier names such as Sunil Walson, who was in the 1983 World Cup squad, and Tinu Yohannan were not even just flashes in the pan. They disappeared even before they started playing.

For its perpetual big city ambitions, Sreesanth was perhaps Kerala’s only national hero in popular culture. Leading film actors and directors, although won national awards, never succeeded in crossing over to the big league and the state doesn’t have big names in business or industries either. Therefore, every time a person of Kerala origin makes it big, the media celebrates it big time.

The media in Kerala, particularly the most popular ones that mostly dish out trivia, are specialists in making heroes out of even mediocre achievers. Hyperbole about national and international acclaims is their routine language to play the sons(and daughters)-of-soil card. Even the slightest acclaim by a Keralite, anywhere in the world, is routinely exaggerated and celebrated.

The same hero-worship and hyperbole was repeated for years on Sreesanth and perhaps that made him lose his way. While other Indian cricketers kept quiet most of the time, other than in official press conferences, he was often heard speaking in Malayalam channels.

In a popular Malayalam women’s weekly, he was once featured in a photoshoot for his penchant for international designer clothes and branded accessories. The photo-feature was so ridiculous and aspirational that it gave the price of each accessory he was wearing and he seemed to have enjoyed the attention. Similar references of the prices of his watch or a shirt also became part of a conversation that he had on a TV interview. He also kept talking about Kerala cricketers making it big in the national scene.

He was a star attraction because he was able to achieve glitter and glamour on a national platform, that was otherwise inaccessible to the people of Kerala. Most of the leading film actors were apparently close to him and they were often heard praising him on TV whenever he took a catch or made some impact in the field. After the T20 World Cup win, Kerala media hailed his catch as the winning event although it was a very ordinary effort.

So, this is what happens when people from small towns lose proportion, and one of the reasons is the misplaced hyperbole and the result illusions of grandeur. At one state, there were also talks of him acting in a movie.

The same hyperbole is now happening around the Rajasthan Royals player Sanju Samson as well. The media in Kerala as well as people from the state on social media have gone overboard praising Samson, comparing him with even Tendulkar and Dravid.

It’s high time that the people who govern cricket in the states and in India counsel cricketers from small towns, particularly from states like Kerala where hype is the media norm, so that they are not spoiled by silly hero worship and distracted by popular culture which feeds on reflected glory.

Sourav Ganguly on CNN-IBN was spot on when he commented on Sreesanth. He said the pacer was a wasted talent, who played one match and was out for a year due to injury. Then he would suddenly appear in Dubai dancing with his friends from Kerala.

Sanju Samson, who incidentally was brought in by Sreesanth, should be extremely careful not to be carried away and distracted. The kiss by the media and purveyors of popular culture in the state can be the kiss of death.

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Updated Date: May 16, 2013 15:14:57 IST

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