Kumar Sangakkara: The crown jewel of Ceylon
Sangakkara embraces challenges with the adroitness and ambassador methods that he brought to the table as a legendary cricketer.
It is often said that batting is a job of attrition and persecution with the sword of a single mistake hanging over the head, that renders it joyless as batsmen are trained to be stoic and philosophical about the whole process of run gathering.
The approach and the attitude adopted by the batsmen to emanate from the emerald islands have always baffled me and the retirement of swarthy and svelte Kumar Sangakkara from all forms of cricket, after three astounding seasons for Surrey recently in the English championships have left many like myself with a lump in the throat, for such was the dignified manner exemplified by this model cricketer on and off the field.
His game was built around a sturdy defence, but his chief strength was his nimble-footed presence. His ability to cut and drive with equal felicity showed an alert mind that sensed length pretty quickly.
I first saw Sanga in mid-2001 during a one-day series in Sri Lanka where he was not too successful but then one could spot the radiating brilliance in his fleeting display.
That he and Mahela Jayawardene filled the void caused by the departure of Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga with aplomb was something Sri Lankan cricket would be perpetually grateful for.
Another feature of Sangakkara was his methodical preparation and his investment in the process. Being a fit individual, he had to be at his best to endure the rigours of both batting and keeping. He was cooler than a frozen cucumber and his astute application of skills ensured that Sri Lanka was a huge force to be reckoned with at home within the company of Mahela and Muttiah Muralitharan.
The world-class partnership of 624 runs for the third wicket between Sangakkara and Jayawardene at SSC Colombo in July 2006 versus the South Africans was the stuff of legends and Sangakkara had made 287 priceless runs, bettering his then best of 270. Needless to mention, he loved the Proteas attack.
Sangakkara also loved the bouncy Australian pitches, for he adapted to it ever so quickly in a swimmingly smooth fashion, so unlike other Asian batting giants. Quick and sharp off either foot, at Hobart in late 2007, he peeled a majestic 192 that was full of his trademark elegance.
Adaptability may well have been this charming islander's middle name, for he adjusted ever so cleverly to the demands of the shorter formats. His phenomenal success even as late as in the 2015 World Cup - he notched up four tons in a row - spoke volumes of his tenacity and innate method to ride the crest of a wave when in sublime form, as was recently witnessed with his efforts at Surrey, where he plundered hundreds at will.
His surreal knocks in the World T20 Championships in Bangladesh enabled his side to emerge victorious after earlier disappointing finishes in the finals of the 50-over competitions in West Indies India, in 2007 and 2011 respectively.
Indian IPL audiences were also regaled by the southpaw when he wore the franchise shirts of Punjab, Deccan and the Sunrisers Hyderabad. His partnership with the lanky Aussie, Tom Moody whilst with Sri Lanka and during his IPL days was enviable and egoless. On many an occasion, he insisted that he would not play just because he was a skipper, catering to his team's needs, when his then current form was not "red hot".
I always found him ever so articulate and diplomatic with his communication skills. With his rich educational background, it was not at all a surprise. Apparently a voracious reader, his Colin Cowdrey lecture drew attention to the slimy administration and the cunning skulduggery politics of Sri Lankan cricket.
Not too many modern-day cricketers would have mustered the nerve and audacity to take on the might of a home administration infested with medieval practices, whilst being a professional practitioner. His vision for a greater transparency and efficiency shone through, for he is and always has been a man of wonderful ideals.
He was not devoid of a sharp tongue either behind the wickets, giving 'em as good as he got as a batsman, but his confidence in his ability was breathtaking and he was, I felt, in a league of his own, warding off sublime competition from a regal Jayawardene.
His cover driving as a left-hander was out of the top draw, and much like another graceful lefty, Mike Hussey, behind the facade of agile and nimble-footed ballet dancer-like fitness levels was a man who was maniacal, cocooned in his studious preparations.
Life begins at 40, it is said, and I won't be too surprised if the meticulous, natty and suave Sangakkara embraces other challenges with the same adroitness and ambassador methods that he brought to the table as a legendary cricketer.
The day is not too far away when this charming Lankan will travel the world, winning friends and business as a dapper external affairs minister, or for that matter setting the inland house in order with his remarkable legal acumen and scholarly law background, for his eloquence even whilst silent is so communicative.