I don't generally notice men in sleeveless shirts. Personally speaking, it's my least favourite sighting of flesh on the planet, after the paunch shows on beaches. Especially when you are straight, and fat. It gives you a complex, makes you think about the money you've blown up on the gym you never went to, and worst of all, makes you want to go easy on your rum. But when you're walking around in team hotels, you have no choice but to bump into athletic young types, who saunter around the place showcasing their forearms for the world.
I ran into two contrasting individuals, Sreesanth and S Badrinath, both in sleeveless attire. The first thing you notice is the large tattoos on their arms. I don't know about Kimberley diamonds, but tattoos are forever - and a day. Getting one is a big decision. I wasn't surprised to see Sreesanth sporting one, but didn't expect Badrinath to be similarly marked. Blame it on the stereotypes that we carry in our heads. However, after I thought about it for a while, I found that their tattoos were perfectly in sync with their current state of mind.
Badrinath's is not a graphic tattoo; it's the Chinese characters for "Guts and Glory". "I had it done six months back, when I was playing domestic cricket." Why Chinese? "They say Chinese characters have a good influence on you." Well, then, if every fifth man had a Chinese tattoo, the world would be a better place. And the text? "It's what I am about." Actually, he is all about guts, waiting for glory. He has tasted some in the two seasons of the IPL, but wants more. After years of doing the hard yards in domestic cricket, playing to empty stadiums, he longs for the India cap.
"It's the recognition," Badrinath says. "The IPL has been a real boon for cricketers like me. You want to play for your country for the sheer pride of it and the recognition of being among the best. This IPL gives us the chance to play with the best. This is international cricket, and it's nice to get the recognition. Over the last two years, since the IPL started, my confidence has grown because I am playing almost international cricket."
He speaks about the recognition. "Exactly, that's what I mean... hardly anyone recognises first-class cricketers, except their friends and family. You don't normally get an opportunity to prove yourself against bowlers like Brett Lee or [Shane] Warne. When people say, "That shot off Lee was good," it's a little bit of recognition, it's a little bit of happiness that gives you satisfaction."
And then there's Sreesanth, who has lived the past few years of his life as much on page three as on the sports pages. His tattoo simply says "Faith". In Chinese, of course.
And since it's Sreesanth, there's a lovely graphic image as well. "It's the hand of god," he says with a smile. Palms folded, encircled by a chain. Why faith? "All I want from people is to have faith in me. I know I am tagged with lots of negative publicity. But I am what I am. All I can assure every cricket follower in India is that when it comes to playing and preparation, I am as disciplined and dedicated as anyone else.
"I like to party, of course, to go out and meet new people, but that doesn't mean I neglect my cricket." He has seen plenty of bad days in recent months, but says he is looking ahead. "I tried to be a good boy by their definition, changed myself in the last six months, but I found that it's not me. It's not working. I am not being myself. I just want to express myself out there and enjoy my cricket."
Sreesanth is trying hard to find himself. Badrinath is trying hard to get others to find him. One man asking for faith, another waiting for his tryst with glory. In them you might find the story of your lives too
In his first couple of games this season Sreesanth didn't touch the ground and blow a kiss; he didn't do the fist-pump and the self-exhortation, but he has started to now.
I even asked him about the nickname given to him on the Fake IPL Player blog. He claimed he didn't know about it and asked what it was. And his answer when told? Oh, it was off the record. All I can say is, it was extremely humorous. Anyone who can laugh something like this off cheekily, as he did, has to be in a positive frame of mind.
Sreesanth is trying hard to find himself. Badrinath is trying hard to get others to find him. One man asking for faith, another waiting for his tryst with glory. In them you might find the story of your lives too.
Just get a tattoo done. I am going for one on my back, which will say, "Enough of toilet paper, I need water." In Chinese, of course.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo