By Suresh Menon
The stormy petrel is a bird with an interesting history, and a unique connection with Indian cricket. The petrel belongs to a species of seabirds that includes the albatross, which fly far from land. The stormy petrel flies low with its legs dangling and appears to walk on the surface of the ocean while feeding – petrel derives from Peter, who walked on the Sea of Galilee .
Lala Amarnath, Independent India’s first Test captain was known as the stormy petrel. Regular usage seemed to suggest that these might have been his middle names. Lala was a firebrand who got into trouble regularly with the authorities. He was sent back from India ’s tour of England in 1936 after an altercation with the captain and manager.
Since then, every generation of players has had a stormy petrel or two in its ranks. In recent years, Vinod Kambli, Harbhajan Singh and Sreesanth have worn the mantle and carried forward this little-discussed tradition in Indian cricket. Some of them have been captain’s nightmares but the mature captains have been able to handle the player and channelise his energies. Harbhajan established himself as a world class wicket-taker under Sourav Ganguly.
And now Mahendra Singh Dhoni has suggested that he could play a similar role for Sreesanth. His tribute to the bowler after he won the man of the match award on his comeback in Kanpur should give the bowler the confidence from knowing he has the captain’s backing. Sreesanth has been saying publicly that the bad old days are over.
When a sportsman overcomes his demons and emerges triumphant after a long lay off, he deserves commendation for the fantastic physical and mental effort required.
The new, born-again Sreesanth should be prepared to deal with efforts to rile him and get him to lose his cool. Such efforts will come both from the opposition as well as from the media. The media are a strange bunch. On the one hand they love to moralise and apportion blame for individual behaviour; on the other they follow a player around hoping to catch him losing control. That makes for good copy in the newspapers or visuals on television. Sreesanth has played into the media’s hands in the past, and added to his image as a stormy petrel even when the incidents have involved those around him or his friends. The media are famous for giving a person a bad name and then hanging him.
And yet, so long as it didn’t get out of hand, there was an energy about Sreesanth’s reactions, an honesty, and sometimes a rare humour that might now have been lobotomized. Thanks to an atmosphere of political correctness fostered by the International Cricket Council’s Code of conduct which discouraged human reactions, the real characters in the game have been forced to keep themselves in check. The game is about joy, disappointment, frustration, ecstasy, patience, and much more, and if these are not reflected in the reactions of the players then there is something artificial about it.
Sreesanth brings to his bowling a rare frisson that few Indians are capable of . This is because he is a genuinely talented bowler who seems to be on the verge of taking a wicket every time, an attacking bowler who has that crucial element of unexpectedness that makes for excitement. Part of this unexpectedness lies in his temperament; what makes him an exciting bowler is found in the same reservoir from where his urges as a stormy petrel arise. To divorce one from the other is difficult, but Sreesanth must train himself to lose his anger without losing his focus. Kanpur was the starting point.