Kumar Sangakkara - A modern great with distinction
“In his own way he brings class and combativeness to the Sri Lankan team…In so many ways, he is everything his country needs to be…”- Peter Roebuck
Cricket is a pursuit wherein the lessons of life are learnt. I love the sport for it has taught me sportsman spirit, but begrudge it because the ones who teach this lesson fade away in the background early, pretty early. This realization was so poignant when Kumar Sangakkara took to the mic for his farewell speech at P Sara stadium. It feels as if yesterday I saw Sangakkara, a rookie crouched behind stumps, chirping to annoy the batsmen. The fifteen-year-long career ended in a blink of an eye, and it was a privilege to see his transition from a rookie to a legend; a journey so incredible and phenomenal.
Not boisterous but affable, Sangakkara epitomizes calmness and precision, gleaming with equanimity akin to that of a Buddhist monk. His game has been packed with and justifies all these epithets. To pick one of his several gems is difficult for legends produce myriad of innings with each having a charm of its own.
But underlining his innings against Australia in the 2nd Test at Hobart in 2007 possibly defines and capsules what the man stands for. During the afternoon on the fourth day, Sri Lanka came out to chase a mammoth target of 507. The team’s loss was predicted a lot before, but what stood out was Sangakkara’s resistance and defiance against the then team of Australia and that too on a deck down under.
The southpaw went on to score 192 runs, displaying a carnival of magnificent off-side drives and clinical cuts, occasionally lofting the ball on the onside for fours against the spinners. He played 360 degrees making potent Australian attack look petty in front of his batting prowess.
This innings of his also encapsulated the charm of a one-day innings when he batted with the tail-enders. It was an outrageous act and a courageous fight back, a nugget of an innings that came to a disappointing end when the umpire erred. Nonetheless, the ease with which the knock was played gave nervous moments to the hosts. The innings was a product of 68.08 strike rate that involved 27 fours and one six, highest by a Lankan batsmen in Test in Australia; a perfect blend between defiance and attack.
Among the modern greats, Sangakkara has the highest batting average in Tests (57.40) and stands among top five batsmen who ever played the game. Talking about statistics seems irrelevant as the legend cannot be reduced to numbers and one fine innings cannot define his immaculate ambassadorship to the game.
The finest product of Trinity School in Kandy came of age and stood atop every other great when he delivered an awe-inspiring oration at MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture in 2011. Perhaps it was the best innings he played at Lord’s. When other greats adjusted to the bubbling corruption within the administration, Sangakkara perched on a global dais, lent his voice against the thriving malpractices in the sport in general and Sri Lankan cricket in particular.
It was a rare moment with a message so strong that he is their not just to play the sport, but also as its guardian. His intellect didn’t leave him hovering on the brink of the action like some Hamlet wondering whether to go forwards or back, he belonged to the game. Sangakkara is a true warrior in a guise of a Buddhist monk.