S. Sreesanth bore the brunt of public ire ever since his involvement in the IPL spot-fixing scandal came to light. Overnight he turned from hero to villain. Fans burnt him in effigy and calls to ban him from the sport did the rounds.
But as soon as the Delhi Police slapped the draconian Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) on the speedster, public opinion dramatically shifted in his favour. The police force was indicted for invoking provisions of the stringent Act and Sreesanth was soon released on bail from Tihar jail.
Sebastian Paul, Supreme Court lawyer and former MP, admitted he was one of the many who wanted Sreesanth to face the music.
“However, popular sentiment began to change after MCOCA was slapped on him. The perception that he was being made a scapegoat for protecting the interests of big guns earned him public sympathy,” he said. Mr. Paul, however, does not believe the change in fortunes would affect the court’s verdict on the case as evidence was paramount. Jayan Thekkedath, Sreesanth’s friend who stood by him during the ordeal, has witnessed the turnaround from close quarters. The public were convinced that the charges levelled against the cricketer had substance.
“That changed when the case was tried in court. Extensive media coverage of court proceedings revealed the lack of solid evidence. There was no transcript of Sreesanth’s voice, no trace of the money trail implicating him in spot-fixing, and no proof that the over in which he leaked 14 runs was fixed. The very premise on which he was put behind bars was laid bare. When the police invoked the dreaded MCOCA, the public got a whiff of the trap being laid,” he said.
Biju George, under whose watchful eyes Sreesanth’s precocious talent was nurtured, said though Sreesanth had been granted bail his career could end for good if the case meandered. “There seems to be many who do not want to see Sreesanth out. We may witness another Rajan Pillai (the ‘biscuit king’ who died in Tihar jail) unless politicians and the media intervene,” said Mr. George, who coached Kerala’s Ranji team last year. Noted coach P. Balachandran said the shift in public opinion was inevitable because the police failed to produce irrefutable evidence. “Being a celebrity and role model he should show more maturity and be careful about his conduct on and off the field,” Mr. Balachandran said.
S.K. Nair, former Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary, said public opinion was fickle and changed with time.
“The law will take its course and he will have to face investigation. His career will depend on the outcome of an inquiry by the BCCI disciplinary committee based on an interim report submitted by the body’s Anti Corruption Unit,” he said.