November 24, 2020
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Sayonara, Sangakkara

An appraisal of the cricketer as he plays his last match.

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Sayonara, Sangakkara
AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena
Sayonara, Sangakkara

It is 35 years since Sri Lanka became a full member of International Cricket Council (ICC). It has since produced an array of excitingly talented players, who have achieved many laurels, individually and collectively, including winning the quadrennial World Cup on the subcontinent in 1996.  

Kumar Sangakkara, who was only 4 years old when the island nation got the Test status, has played a pivotal role in making Sri Lanka a major force in world cricket today. A solid, consistently prolific run-maker, and an outstanding wicketkeeper to boot, he was the mainstay of Sri Lanka’s batting since making his Test debut against South Africa at Galle in 2000.??

He has long secured his place among the pantheon of the all-time great left-hand batsmen who have graced the game. And they include geniuses like Garfield Sobers, Graeme Pollock and Brian Lara. With a Test average just a shade under 60 after playing 130-odd matches and scoring over 12,000 runs, Sangakkara has a right to claim to be the most successful, if not the most elegant or graceful, left-hand batsman in the history of cricket. 

Many in India tend to go gaga over Sachin Tendulkar and his exploits and feel there is no other batsman like him. But spare a thought for Sangakkara, his vintage batsmanship and his mind-boggling achievements. They are in no way less dazzling and important. It is just that the media has not always been kind or generous to the Sri Lankan, whose batting often bordered on the sublime.  

Sangakkara set higher standards of excellence and success from the very beginning of his career, when he first appeared on the international scene as a 22-year-old wicket-keeping allrounder. It is a measure of his genius that he had been performing the dual role – his team’s wicket ?keeper and chief architect of batting – with aplomb. His batsmanship, a judicious mix of art and science and often a cognoscente’s delight when he was on song, grew in stature, especially after he abandoned the wicket? ?keeper’s gloves in Test cricket in 2006, though he continued to wear them in ODIs and Twenty20s. 

Doubtless, he remains Sri Lanka’s best ever batsman. Only his close friend and teammate Mahela Jayawardene could give him a good run for his money. But even Jawardene would struggle to match Sangakkara’s ruthless professionalism, voracious appetite for runs and connoisseur’s penchant for excellence. The fact that they were a perfect foil to each other was also the secret of their many mammoth partnerships, not just when they put on 624 against the likes of Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini at Colombo in 2006. 

He was among six Sri Lankan cricketers injured in the terrorist attacks while travelling to play against Pakistan in Lahore in the early 2009. Later that year he was appointed captain of Sri Lanka. No one deserved the honour more. Leading from the front, Sangakkara took his team to the final of the ICC World Twenty20 in England, where they lost to Pakistan at Lord’s. Two years later, when Sri Lanka lost to India in the final of the World Cup in Mumbai, he resigned the captaincy accepting moral responsibility. 

A law graduate, Sangakkara has been one of the nicest and most intelligent cricketers of the 21st century. He lives a disciplined, principled life and is a role model to budding cricketers. He has been a splendidly articulate and charismatic soul liked and admired by most of those who have come into his contact. The world knew the depth of Sangakkara’s genius as a man, too, during his extraordinary, impassioned MCC Spirit of Cricket Colin Cowdrey Lecture 2011, discussing issues from surviving the Lahore attacks to the problems with cricket administration in Sri Lanka. 

Sangakkara may be 37 now, but he is still fit as a fiddle and capable of lasting at least a couple of years more. Why, only last year he made a record 2,868 runs in international cricket at an average of 53. As if that were not enough, this year he became the only batsman in history to essay centuries in four consecutive ODI innings – all coming in the World Cup in the Antipodes. 

It is just that he has nothing more to prove to anybody and he clearly lacks motivation that Sangakkara has decided to call it a day. Considering his fitness and form, he could well have approached Tendulkar as Test cricket’s leading run-scorer. With 11 double hundreds in the heavyweight division of cricket already under his belt, he may well have overtaken Don Bradman, who had 12 to his credit. But Sangakkara has never cared for statistics; nor bothered about records. 

“I’ve been told if I play another year or two years, I could score another 1000 runs. I might be the second highest run-scorer, or I might be able to break Don Bradman’s double-century record. But if you really think about it, if that’s the only reason you want to prolong your career, it’s really time to say, ‘thank you very much,’” he said announcing his retirement. “I’ve always prided myself on performing well for the side as an individual, but at the end of the day I want to be able to look my team-mates in the eye and say I went out there because I really wanted to do well for the side, and it was nothing to do with individual records. I can do that right now.” 

This gem of a man and sportsman leaves a rich legacy, on and off the field, which should inspire generations? of cricketers, not only Sri Lankan.

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