For years, the cricketing world knew Sreesanth as a temperamental bowler who also sledged aggressively. On Thursday, it watched as Sreesanth threw in the towel on his cricketing career after damning revelations that he was in league with bookies, taking money to spot fix matches. While the BCCI will wait for the allegations to be proven before it takes a decision on the speedster's career, back home in Kerala, the news has left behind many fans and friends very hurt and bitter.
One of Sreesanth's fans, Amal, says the pacer has shamed his home fans.
"I am a great fan. He was such a huge talent, big talent but shame on Kerala and on Keralites. He was the only one from Kerala to play two World Cups, including Twenty20 and 50 overs. He was such a motivation," says Amal.
For many of the boys who were either inspired by Sreesanth or played with him and watched him rise to heights, the turn of events has left them feeling personally bitter and let down.
Thyagarajan, a cricketer who played with Sreesanth, says he feels cheated. "IPL draws the maximum crowds. In Kochi, it used to be housefull. You don't feel like watching the game now. You feel they are cheating everyone. But we play because we are passionate. If he has done wrong, he should be banned, punished," he said.
Till just a couple of years ago, Sreesanth was among the first faces you would see at Kochi airport as he was brand ambassador for a leading Kerala-based company. But after the Kerala Express derailed on Thursday, most have been in a hurry to distance themselves from the cricketer. Leading the way was the Kerala government that asked for Sreesanth to be removed from posters of the state-owned Kerala Lottery, Karunya Lottery.
Kerala Cricket Association secretary TC Mathew, among those who spotted Sreesanth's talent in the player's Under-13 days, recalls that Sreesanth had some personality issues that did not make him most popular among fellow cricketers.
"When he started playing Under-13 for state, I was the selector. He used to say I will play for India. He was a character with determination. On the field, he was always emotional, challenging opponents, would quarrel with fellow cricketers. Out of the ground, he was a calm boy. Even when grown up, he would fight with talented, international cricketers, respected cricketers. He even fought with Sachin Tendulkar in the Challenger Trophy. He thinks aggression motivates him. He believes that. He is not a role model but motivates others. He was always encouraging fellow cricketers from Kerala. We thought that was a good sign," he said.
Kerala no doubt feels disappointed, let down by what they see as the biggest cricketing star out of the state. But for a state with a sporting culture, love for cricket has now taken deep roots. So despite the setback, the game will go on.