Sreesanth speaks 'I have not committed any mistake'

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 7.07.13

A "Do not disturb" sign hangs on the handle of the door to room no. 1504 at the Renai Medicity hospital in Cochin. Two burly men are at the door, trying to keep visitors out. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth is inside, lying on his hospital bed and watching television. The bearded 30-year-old cricketer smiles, but refuses to talk, though an interview has been fixed for the day. After some cajoling, he gives in — with a resigned air but in good humour.

Dressed in a blue T-shirt and a pair of grey trousers, the pacer looks frail. He has lost 10 kilos in the past two months. He was hospitalised last week after he was diagnosed with high blood pressure, a viral infection and tonsillitis. Doctors have advised him to talk less and relax, and Sreesanth says he is mindlessly surfing channels to keep "bad thoughts" away. (After five days in hospital, he is now back in his sister's house in Cochin's Tripunithura area.)

Sreesanth, who was arrested along with Ankeet Chavan and Ashok Chandila — two of his teammates from the Rajasthan Royals — on charges of spot-fixing under the provisions of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act in May this year, relates the "torture" that he went through in jail. He tells SONIA SARKAR that he doesn't want even his enemies to experience all that he did during the 27 days of police and judicial custody. All that he wants to do now, he says, is get back to the field. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. How are you spending your time since you have come out of jail?

A: It's been really tough. After 27 days of torture, I also wanted to get back to my original self. My family members are really trying hard to get me to smile again. They are keeping me engaged in different activities. I have been mostly composing music along with my brother-in-law Madhu Balakrishnan, who is a well-known singer. Plus, my nephews — Madhav and Mahadev — are making me watch a lot of 3D movies such as Shrek and The Adventures of Tintin. I have been gymming and swimming too.

Q. Do you feel frustrated at times?

A: No. I know it is a bad phase. I am just trying to move on.

Q. How did the hearing of the anti-corruption unit of Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) go last week in Delhi?

A: It went off really well. I told them my side of the story. They asked me to be patient with the case and wait for the disciplinary committee meeting, which is to take place next week. They said if there was nothing against me, I would be absolved. I completely respect the BCCI.

Q. When is the next hearing of the court case in Delhi?

A. I don't know yet. I have left it to my lawyers.

Q. Since the BCCI has suspended you now, you cannot play cricket. But are you practising?

A. I want to practise. Some local clubs have even offered me their facilities informally. Legally, they cannot do so if they are affiliated to the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA). With the BCCI ban on me, the KCA won't allow me to play for the clubs.

Q. Do you want to play?

A. Yes, of course. There have been cases where legal battles have gone on for long. And then one day, the accused is suddenly acquitted. If I also get acquitted and am suddenly asked to play for, say, the Ranji Trophy, I won't be able to do that. I really need to practise.

Q. How did you feel when you were in the police's special cell?

A. That's something I really want to forget. I have no complaints against anyone but I really hope no cricketer ever goes through this. It was not easy to face this after being hailed as a world renowned cricketer. It's very difficult to accept it when you are being treated as the biggest culprit ever.

Q. How do you look back at your days in jail?

A. This was a phase that not even my worst enemy should go through. Life was doomed. I could get just one phone call a day from my family members. Even now, when I watch a film where there is a scene in a jail, it haunts me. The first 3-4 days were really tough for me. But then I believed in the saying, "maut se kya darna jab qatilon ke beech hum ghar basa chuke" — why fear death when you are living in the midst of killers? I took some time to adjust but I have the habit of adapting to any situation. Initially, I was very scared but by the time I got bail the fear was disappearing. But this experience has surely made me stronger. Probably, whatever happened was my karma.

Q. How did you spend time in jail?

A. I was mostly in jail number one. I used to read the Bible and Bhagavad Gita. I also penned down my feelings during those days.

Q. Did you make friends there? Were you treated like a celebrity?

A. A lot of people in jail tried to cheer me up by reminding me of the prosperous career that I had left behind. Many policemen from Tamil Nadu spoke with me in Tamil to make me feel comfortable. They said, "You will be fine, we are your fans." I had hope. Loads of people came to me for autographs. Some of the cricketers in the jail also came to visit me. But I didn't talk much.

Q. Reports said you had a fight with (co- accused) Chandila in the special cell.

A. That's not true. I don't know who spread these rumours.

Q. The police claim that you had confessed to spot-fixing. Is this true?

A. I don't want to say anything on this. All I can say is that if a thief is caught and brought to a police station, he has to sign a letter confessing the crime.

Q. So was there any pressure on you to confess?

A. I don't want to talk about it. I can only say, let's wait and see.

Q. How did the people of Kerala react to your arrest and alleged involvement in the spot-fixing scandal? You are a hero in the state.

A. I was really scared earlier because I didn't know how people would take it. But the people of Kerala have been very supportive. I did not receive such a grand welcome from the people even when I came back after we won the World Cup. But yes, there are people who also mock us. Once, my nephew was asked by a friend, "Hey, what happened to your superstar uncle?" On another occasion, a classmate teased him, saying, "High Five for Sreesanth, he went to jail." My nephew replied, "Yes, high five for Sreesanth, he went to a special jail called Tihar, which ordinary men don't go to." He just laughed it off.

It (the scandal) must have disturbed a lot of people. But I still thought I would face them. If I was scared, I would have been hiding. But I wanted to be there with the people, so I came to Cochin instead of going to any other city after being released from jail. I have to go through this phase.

Q. How did it affect your family?

A. My first concern was my parents. They never deserved to go through what they experienced. But they are very strong. My parents know me well. Their concern was how I would handle it as I am very emotional.

My parents have always respected me for whatever decision I have taken. They have always been there with me. They have been seeing me making silly mistakes since school.

Q. Is this also a silly mistake?

A. No, I have not committed any mistake. I am just in a phase that nobody should go through.

Q. According to the police, on May 9, during a match between Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals played at Mohali near Chandigarh, you ran up to bowl an over with a towel tucked into the band of your trousers. They allege that this was a signal to bookies on fixing an over. You had bowled the previous over without the towel. You were paid Rs 10 lakh for the match. Is this true? Did you wear a towel as a signal?

A. South African pace bowler Allan Donald wears a wrist band. Similarly, I use a towel sometimes. There have been instances when I have kept a towel and done well. I use it particularly on days when I am not doing well. I also use head bands. It depends on the day. I do it if I feel like doing it.

Q. Who are the cricketers who called you or messaged you to show their support?

A. I am not using my cellphone since being released. I am not sure who contacted me and who didn't.

Q. What difference has cricket made to your life?

A. Cricket has made me learn everything. It has made me a stronger person. Cricket is my passion. It gave me everything.

Q. How much money did cricket give you?

A. Can't say.

Q. Did you ever think of an alternative career for yourself? Do you see a future in cricket anymore?

A. No, I never thought of any other career. Why should I? When I was in jail, I wanted to come out of it. Cricket is what I want to play. But I do want to know when — when again.

Q. Do you fear that you will go to jail?

A. I don't even think about it. I will be patient for the verdict.

Q. You have given statements that this arrest could be a conspiracy by some people. Who would have conspired against you? Your father had earlier said that (Captain M.S.) Dhoni could be behind the conspiracy. Do you agree?

A. That was just an emotional statement. I believe in the Indian judiciary.

Q. Delhi cops claim that the bookies had promised you a sum of Rs 40 lakh, out of which they paid Rs 10 lakh. It was said you used the money to buy a smartphone and a few luxury items for your girlfriend Jhala.

A. First and foremost, she is not my girlfriend. She is just a good friend. I know her family well too. And second, that's how I treat people and friends. If you look at the last 12 years of my life, you will know that I am a shopaholic. I work hard and earn. I also save for family and charity. But there is nothing wrong in spending money. And whatever I spend is my money and nobody else's.

Q. When you were arrested, some insiders said you'd claimed that you had good connections with the Kerala and Maharashtra chief ministers. Did you try to influence the case by using your connections?

A. These are all rumours. All that I asked was if they had an arrest warrant for me. They told me to shut up. Then I sat quietly and came to Delhi.

Q. Chandresh, who is believed to be the leader of the arrested bookies, apparently admitted that he had "arranged" women for you and Chandila at least five or six times in the last one year. What do you have to say to that?

A. I should then find out about it. There is no girl in my life.

Q. There are rumours that you are planning to marry soon. Is there someone?

A. I am not seeing anyone. My marriage will depend upon my Mom and Dad. There are lots of proposals coming in. I don't know if they have zeroed in on anyone.

Q. How widespread is spot-fixing or match-fixing in India and elsewhere?

A. It could be widespread. How do I know?

Q. You had another traumatic experience two years ago when an accident put you in a wheelchair after two surgeries on your toes.

A. After that incident, I had really pushed myself into the game again. There are three platinum screws implanted in my foot. Even doctors had said that I would never be able to play again. If anyone sees the X-ray report of the injury, they will not believe that I still played after the injury.

Q. Your mother had told the media that you believed in your friends. Did any of your friends betray you?

A. I am too friendly and emotional. That's my good side — and my bad side. Most of my friends have used me. Sometimes I also feel that a particular person is going to backstab me; still I go ahead and help him out. This happened to me during my schooldays and even in cricket. But I forgive such people.

Q. How well did you know Jiju Janardhan?

A. I know him well. He is an all rounder. We met at the MRF Pace Foundation (a private school for cricketing training). I have known him for more than a decade.

Q. You are back on the social networking site Twitter after a long gap. Your fans must be very supportive of you but have you received any abusive messages online? How do you deal with such messages?

A. I have learnt that all these comments that we get on Twitter are never to be taken seriously. They don't change your real life situation.

Q. You are a music lover. What music do you listen to?

A. I have been listening to a lot of Yesudas and Kishore Kumar. Of course, I have been also listening to my brother-in-law's songs.

Q. Any song that you have been hearing again and again these days? Or one you can relate to?

A. I have been listening to Eminem's I am not afraid to take a stand. And also, Linkin Park's In the end, it doesn't even matter.

Q. If you have a chance to live your life again, what would you not do?

A. I would probably keep away from a lot of people. My biggest mistake has been that I made too many friends. And not only that, I treated some friends as my brothers and cousins. I have learnt a bitter lesson. I also learnt that it is better to be alone than in the company of bad people.

Q. Finally, are you innocent or guilty?

A. I know what I am. There is no point explaining whether I am good or bad. I just want to say I will wait patiently and keep myself busy. I will forget my experience of those 27 days and emerge much stronger.