Sreesanth’s offensive behaviour cannot be dismissed as harmless, ritualistic sabre-rattling, writes Nirmal Shekar

The reckless display of primal, atavistic aggression by Santhakumaran Sreesanth on his home ground on Tuesday in the One-Day International against Australia is at once despicable and _ from team’s point of view _ dangerously incendiary. While the fast bowler from Kochi may have been under considerable pressure to perform heroically in his backyard, the easily combustible young man’s boorish behaviour cannot be dismissed as harmless, ritualistic sabre-rattling.

In an era when sledging has been turned into a highly valued art form, sports stars are no longer obliged to act as role models for children. Yet, Sreesanth’s tendency to self-combust and turn a cricket match into a barroom brawl has seen him cross boundaries that a sportsman may cross only at a great cost to himself and his sport.

It is one thing to want to ‘give it back to the Aussies’, quite another to willfully seek to incite bad feeling and naked animosity on the playfield.

That Sreesanth chose to do what he did on a day when the nation was celebrating the birth anniversary of the great and revered author of the non-violent movement made his tantrums appear even more unpalatable _ although nobody who is in touch with reality would seriously expect professionals performing in the cauldron of postmodern sport to stick to the Mahatma’s ways.

Surely, with so much at stake at the highest levels in popular sports, nobody wants to give an inch. This is understandable. What is more, players who are able to simulate within themselves the conditions of warfare are quite often more successful in finding the elusive edge when it matters most. This may not be agreeable to those seeking the moral high ground but it is no less true because of that.

Some of the greatest champions the world of sport has seen _ from Dr. W.G. Grace down to Ricky Ponting, from Ayrton Senna and John McEnroe down to Zinedine Zidane and Rafael Nadal _ have instinctively understood this while seeking to impose themselves on rivals.

Deliberate and dramatic

Twelve years ago, in the Observation Deck of the World Trade Center in New York, Garry Kasparov, trailing his young Indian opponent, Viswanathan Anand, 4-5 in the final of the Professional Chess Association world championship match, chose to walk out of the room and slam the stage door shut in a deliberate and dramatic show of emotion after making each of his moves in Game 10.

What kind of effect this piece of gamesmanship may have had on Anand is debatable. Yet, in hindsight, it is obvious that Kasparov was trying to prove a point; trying to prove that when it comes to getting pumped up for the occasion, when it comes to a show of aggression, he was one up on his young challenger.

In a sport where you cleverly move tiny pieces on a 64-square board to get the better of your opponent, a sport where trying to rearrange your opponent’s jaw is not a favoured option, that (slamming the door) was as much as Kasparov could have done by way of a show of aggression.

In Kasparov’s case, the aggressive edge apart, he was also seeking something else _ an enemy. He desperately needed to find an enemy, a role into which the suave, softly spoken Indian he was playing did not seem to fit.

Calm mental attitude

While it may be true that in any major sporting contest a calm mental attitude (examples: Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar) is preferable to the stresses that come with revving yourself up in an overt show of emotions, there are occasions when the psyching up process has to be activated in a hurry.

A Sampras or a Federer in a Grand Slam final or a Tendulkar or a Dravid in a key World Cup match would know instinctively when to get fired up. And they would not need histrionics to achieve that state.

On the other hand, a McEnroe or a Jimmy Connors would choose a more dramatic routine for getting psyched up, much like Kasparov.

Right timing

But what was common with all these great champions was that they knew when to push the magic button. These were intelligent men who knew that nobody could remain in a highly charged mental stage right through a match, leave alone a career. And they got their timing right.

Sreesanth, on the other hand, has got his timing wrong more often than not. And he seems hell bent on playing international cricket in a perpetual warlike mental state. This can turn out to be a serious health risk — literally and figuratively.

It is time the talented Indian fast bowler channelled his aggression like a responsible professional.

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