Sreesanth’s suicide mission: Dares BCCI to make controversial tape public and calls Harbhajan a

With Sreesanth (above) clearly pointing to the IPL organising committee, and by induction towards the Board of Control for Cricket in India, his spree of 44 tweets can very well have ensured the end of his international career. © Getty Images

Sreesanth’s tweets have reopened slapgate with a jerk, and has asked old unanswered questions and new stinging ones. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the various puzzles and wonders the effect of this new controversy on Sreesanth’s limping career.

In A Game of Thrones, George RR Martin says: “Some old wounds never heal, and bleed again from the slightest word.”

For Shantakumaran Sreesanth, the words, that cruelly peeled off a five-year scab and brought blood gushing out of an ugly old wound, were not really slight. The vulgar, uncouth Gautam Gambhir-Virat Kohli spat provoked the media into drawing obvious parallels with the slapgate incident of 2008. And this in turn made the impulsive medium-pacer seek refuge in the secluded sanctuary of the Social Network, unburdening his soul with as many as 44 tweets over a two-hour period.

He deleted a few of those from his account, but the outpouring of deep-seated resentment of a wronged man did not go unnoticed in a world hooked to the Social Media.

“Jst read times of india sports page headlines..very very disappointing…yesterday s incident with Gautam Bhai Nd virat ..was compared ??? ….To me Nd Bhajji pa?? really Nd written again about slap gate???? enough of this s#%^t..Stop it.. I can’t keep silent Anymore” – thus started the sequence.

Following this, Sreesanth went on to accuse Harbhajan Singh of being a ‘backstabbing person’. He also claimed that on that fateful day, Harbhajan had not slapped him as believed by the world, but had struck him with his elbow. In no uncertain terms, he demanded the tape of the incident to be released so that the world could learn the truth.

“I want the world to c it..Whn I went to shake hands afte the match..he had lost it..he had already planned to hit me (elbow me) all his anger.” – thus read another of his tweets, one of the many that have been subsequently deleted.

From the images of the April 2008 incident available to the world, one can only see an uncontrollably weeping Sreesanth after the Indian Premier League (IPL) game between Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab. Following the episode, Harbhajan Singh, the captain of the Mumbai Indians, had been fined his entire match fee and been ‘slapped’ an 11-match ban by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
After Sreesanth had let loose his series of tweets, the then IPL chairman, Lalit Modi, added to the confusion by tweeting that he would consider releasing slapgate video. According to him, the important member of BCCI and legal luminary, Arun Jaitley, had been the important voice responsible for concealing the video from the world.

However, less than 24 hours later, Modi did a volte-face. He asked the media not to harass him because there was nothing to be revealed and that the incident had taken place five years earlier.

Unanswered questions

Nevertheless, the old slapgate has been jerked open in no uncertain terms. And Sreesanth’s claim that the IPL authorities have kept the video hidden from the world has been heard loud and clear.

Five years earlier he had supposedly agreed to forget the whole incident to safeguard Harbhajan’s career, only to be haunted by images of his tear-drenched face making rounds in the media, often finding himself ridiculed in tasteless jokes. It is understandable that this sudden re-emergence of ‘slapgate’ in the media following the Kohli-Gambhir spat had triggered his unstable mix of vulnerability and vitriol.

What remains a mystery is the difference in his account of the incident and the one we hear from the man who headed the inquiry into the incident, Justice (retired) Sudhir Nanavati. According to Nanavati, it is clear from the tape that Harbhajan had slapped Sreesanth with the back of his right hand after the Kerala bowler had gone up to him and simply said, “Hard luck.” Further, the off-spinner was about to strike again when he was restrained by a couple of security guards. It was an unprovoked blow, deplorable and shocking to say the least. But, it did not involve the elbow that Sreesanth has suddenly uncovered in his tweets.

It is highly possible that the excitable pace bowler does not remember the incident in perfect detail. In stressful situations, memory often plays tricks on us. False memory, intrusion errors and inattentive blindness are all much discussed symptoms through which recall can be significantly tailored from the actual incident. After Harbhajan’s unexpected and unprovoked assault, Sreesanth may have been traumatised enough to form the mental pictures of his angry senior charging at him with his elbow.

However, Sreesanth, who had gone on record five years earlier saying bygones are bygones, has added an extra layer to the puzzle by calling Harbhajan a ‘backstabbing person’. One is left to wonder about the reason for such an epithet. We will also be interested to know who those ‘selfish’ people are from whom he received ‘no support whatsoever’.

The mystery, controversy and murkiness surrounding the half-decade old incident has perhaps become one of the major TRP-boosting facets of the tournament, some sort of an investment in filth which has provided enormous returns over the years. Is that why the IPL committee is so adamant in not releasing the tape of the incident to the world? What can be so damaging in the tape that has led them to be so secretive about it? Especially in a tournament which leaves little to imagination — from the dalliances between cricketers and celebrities to the uncovered assets of the cheerleaders.

Is it the IPL committee Sreesanth has indicated with his words ‘selfish people’? Buddha’s wise words remind us, “An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind.”

Was Harbhajan merely the ‘wild beast’ in this case and the IPL organisers the ‘evil friends’?
A close confidant of Sreesanth has supposedly told DNA that “a senior Indian batsman” had warned him against “ruining Harbhajan’s career”. “Do you want to play for India again?” Sreesanth was supposedly asked.

Sreesanth’s subsequent magnanimity was perhaps driven by a curious mix of noble intentions and fear factor, fellow feeling and survival instincts. Plenty of generous acts in real life are driven by such multiple triggers.

However, if safeguarding his career had been the initial motivation, it seems suicidal for him to come out with such allegations now. At 30, time is fast running out on him. India is scheduled to tour South Africa later this year, a country where he has achieved a fair amount of success across two tours. With India looking for their own artillery to answer the firepower of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, this might have been his last shot at clawing back into the national side and pinning his place down.

In this context the timing of the outburst could not have been worse. With his finger clearly pointing to the IPL organising committee, and by induction towards the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), his spree of 44 tweets can very well have ensured the end of his international career.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)