P R Sreejesh is arguably the most loved man in Kerala right now. But not so long ago, another sporting star, the first syllable of whose name is strikingly similar, used to be the darling of sports lovers in the State.
On Thursday, when Kerala erupted in joy after goalkeeper Sreejesh had inspired the Indian men's hockey team to a bronze medal in Tokyo Olympics, the other 'Sree', also from Kochi, was seeking self-validation.
That Sree, former Indian cricketer S Sreesanth, had made an emotional post on Facebook that struck a chord with sports lovers instantly. He had carried a picture of himself in a jersey, with his name on the back appearing to be fading.
“My name is Fading away on t-shirts print, but not in my body esp (sic) my soul ..” Sreesanth posted on Thursday evening. The inference was obviously Sreejesh's newfound fan following, but it wasn't out of jealously, rather pure admiration.
“I'm grateful to Sreejesh for bringing my name back,” Sreesanth told Onmanorama. “The saves he effected in the bronze medal match were very motivating,” said the Kochiite who was part of two World Cup-winning Indian teams.
The fast bowler said that he has texted Sreejesh, congratulating him on the success and was waiting for a response. “I messaged him that I knew his phone would be bombarded with congratulatory messages and hoped he would spot my note somehow,” said Sreesanth, adding he would love to strike a conversation if the man of the hour replied.
At 38, despite being away from competitive cricket for long, he has kept himself in great shape and is hoping Sreejesh, who is 33 now, can maintain his form and fitness and go for a gold medal in the next Olympics.
“I always wish the best for the best. I hope in four years' time he wins gold for India.”
Sreesanth no longer sounds like the belligerent youngster who was once loathed just as much as he was loved. His words are measured and thoughts, refined. Life, he says, has taught him a great deal and he is hoping to be an example for his kids and inspire others to 'not give up'.
In 2013, Kerala's most-decorated cricketer had suffered a huge setback at the peak of his prowess when he was accused on charges of spot-fixing during the Indian Premier League.
Sreesanth's cricket career went downhill thereafter due to a jail term and court cases.
Despite the Supreme Court setting aside his life ban imposed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in 2019, the parent body for cricket in the country did not lift the sanction until September, 2020. Credit to his perseverance, Sreesanth earned a spot in Kerala's limited-overs teams and fared well in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Tournament and Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day championship.
But Sreesanth isn't content with just that and wants to carry on, possibly play in overseas leagues. A hindrance to that is a No Objection Certificate from the BCCI. Sreesanth is hoping to attain one while he is still an active cricketer.
“But if I have to retire (to play at the top level again), then why not?” Sreesanth asked hinting that he might call it a day as there are offers to play club cricket from a host of foreign countries, including England, New Zealand, the US and Canada.
“Those who say that life is short are wrong. I'm 38 and still working hard. Many people had given up on me but I didn't and I'm sure that I will play till I'm 40,” said Sreesanth.