Think Sreesanth before the IPL spot-fixing scandal in 2013 and two things come to mind: his mesmerising swing bowling, and his in-your-face-ness.
On Tuesday, Sreesanth's life ban from cricket was reduced to seven years, making him eligible to play again from September 2020. And having got a fresh lease on his playing life, he wants to set an example.
How do you feel?
I just want to thank the almighty, my family, my friends and everybody who stood by me. I have got a roadmap for the next year before I make my comeback next September. I am much more confident than ever before, now I know where to focus completely on, so I am very confident about making a comeback. First play Ranji Trophy and do well and keep knocking the door (to India selection), which is impossible, which is going to be a miracle because the team is doing so well. But I just want to use the experience and tell a good story that whatever happens in your life you should never give up as long as you live.
When did you come to know about the ban being reduced?
On August 7, the day the ombudsman [Justice (retd) DK Jain] released the order. They sent me an email.
"The only mistake I may have made was living the life large in the worst possible way and may be that backfired"
So for nearly two weeks you have been keeping the excitement under wraps?
Absolutely. Silence is a feature of the spiritual. Most of the time (in the past), I was in a hurry to tell the world the ban is over. Good it happened today, holy Tuesday, one of my lucky days. Great day. So, no regrets. No complaints about anybody. A lot of individuals have been asking me if I wanted to blame anybody. I said 'nobody'. I have got a great opportunity here. I want to use this experience to be a much better cricketer, much better human being, play cricket for the next five years and never give up, and keep performing.
Did you celebrate?
Hardly. My celebrations will be when I wear those whites and play my first match. Officially, September 14, 2020 is when I will celebrate.
Did you read the ombudsman's order?
Yes, I did.
While trying to determine the quantum of the ban the ombudsman countered your age - late 30s - as one of the factors. He believed your "prime years", particularly as a fast bowler, were over. Is your career indeed over?
No. Never. I am a huge fan of Leander Paes to start with. For his age and fitness, he is showing the way (even) right now. So I should not give up. Even at 38, Ashish Nehra played the World T20 . I am only 36. So I still have another year to make the comeback. I don't think age is a factor. And, unfortunately or fortunately, I haven't played any cricket in the last six-seven years. So my body has not bowled six-seven years of good cricket. Age, yes, but when it comes cricket and bowling. I have hardly played cricket.
In that way, I am only looking at this as a blessing in disguise. In one way, it is good my body is not tired of bowling fast. I have got exactly one year. I am looking at it as an Under-19 kid. In fact, right now as we speak, I am on my way to the training and I am clocking 140-plus. I am a born fast bowler, and will always be a fast bowler. I will not give up cricket for the next five years.
Not sure whether you will ever admit that you might have committed an error of judgement, but what would you tell any youngster based on your experience?
It has been a great learning experience for me. It takes a few seconds to change your life, take a U-turn. One thing I have learned also is: no matter how difficult things are, thanks to my parents, my wife and my kids, when you see them smile and keep encouraging you to do better and better at what you were doing, I have learned that you should never give up even if the world is against you. You should keep continuing and keep fighting.
One message I want to share with everybody is no matter what profession you are in, whether it is arts, business, sports, if one, two, three roadblocks come, you should not give up. You should always believe. I just don't promote giving up. In fact, I promote fighting and winning. Winning for me will be wearing those whites and playing that first match in 2020. If I can do it, anybody can do it.
We went through a lot of struggle, but my family just told me one thing: it is a great experience, use it, be a better man, better person.
Leaving aside the allegations, in hindsight, did you make any mistake?
The only mistake I may have made was living the life large in the worst possible way and maybe that backfired. Maybe the late nights and partying, which a lot of people did too, but it was all apportioned on Sreesanth. I have no regrets. I don't think I have done anything bad when it comes to cricket. In fact, 2015 I was supposed to be playing. Now it is 2019 and now I have had to fight all by myself against such a big association called BCCI. But I am really thankful to BCCI because it has only made me stronger and much better.
Would you be happy to volunteer and help if the ICC or the BCCI were to ask you to help with the anti-corruption education programmes?
I would be more than happy to help youngsters in whatever possible way I can.
Fast bowling, you said, will never leave you. Is that wrist still ramrod straight?
You have to see it to believe it. I am still bowling the beautiful outswingers and beautiful inswingers. I am also batting really well.