Sa’adi Thawfeeq reporting from Galle
GALLE: It was fortunate or unfortunate for some that Sri Lanka Cricket scheduled a media conference with Kumar Sangakkara ahead of the customary pre-Test match conference with the two rival captains Angelo Mathews and Virat Kohli.
What happened was that Sangakkara’s presser overshadowed the two captains and as usual he held the centre stage.
The greatest left-hander of the modern era if not debatably in the history of the game is playing his final Test series before he quits international cricket and justifiably was hosting his one but the last press conference before he brings down the curtain on what has been a remarkable 15-year career.
Never a person to be short of ideas Sangakkara on the eve of his retirement came out with the suggestion that Sri Lanka and India should play a Test series on the lines of the Ashes for a trophy.
“When you look at Test series around the world, there is one iconic series in the Ashes and maybe if we can develop a contest and a meaningful rivalry and a meaningful trophy for maybe a Test series in that vein for Asia as well, that will be a great step forward,” said Sangakkara .
“The rivalry (between Sri Lanka and India) has been great, it has been tough cricket and both sides have come through tough times. Hopefully this series will be similar.
“It has been a great rivalry. And it’s been a tussle between some great players. When you are facing a side which has a batting line-up with Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, you know you are in for a very, very tough time.
“And then you have Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan who to me is one of the most difficult bowlers I have ever faced. It’s an exceptional feeling going in and playing against greats and in our side we have had Murali (Muralitharan), Sanath (Jayasuriya), Aravinda (de Silva), Marvan (Atapattu), (Chaminda) Vaas and Mahela (Jayawardene).”
Sangakkara admitted that although the playing styles of both teams were slightly different there were similarities.
“When you take Jayasuriya and Sehwag, they are very similar in the way they go about their business. You have the classical elegance in of course Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman; we have the same in Marvan (Atapattu) and Mahela. But at the same time, our approach is slightly more carefree,” said Sangakkara.
“Our brand of cricket has been that since 1995 and we have also banked probably a bit more on pace during the times when India was banking a bit more on spin. It’s been a few different approaches to it but again, it seems to have come full circle where India has a good pace attack and a different crop of young batsmen whose attitudes are different. We are the same. It will be interesting to see if those styles are more similar than they were before.”
Answering a question how Sri Lanka combine aggression on the field but at the same time are known to be one of the most affable teams, Sangakkara explained, “Being aggressive on the field was all about how well we bowled, batted and fielded. It’s never being about verbal or sledging. Because whenever you meet a Sri Lankan, you meet him with a smile.
“At times, we used to get upset with Murali (Muraliatharan) because he always kept smiling at the opposition. I remember one instance when Andrew Flintoff, who was through a bad patch with the bat, came to Sri Lanka. Murali was getting him out for fun. Freddie came to Galle and Murali told him ‘Freddie, first ball off-break, push me down and get a single’. Murali bowled an off-break and Freddie pushed and ran for a single. Four overs later, Murali got him bowled. It’s been great to play in sides such as this. Take Sanath (Jayasuriya), he’s destructive and instilled fear in the opposition. As a person, he wasn’t that aggressive.”
Galle, the venue of the first Test and India hold a special place for Sangakkara. It was at this venue that he made his Test and ODI debuts in 2000, scored his maiden Test hundred against India in 2001 and captained his country in a Test match for the first time against Pakistan in 2009.
“It’s just the place it’s my favourite Test ground in the world,” said Sangakkara. “As players, we love coming here because we know the conditions, we have always backed ourselves here and we are taken care of extremely well by all ground authorities including Mr Warnaweera.
“All the boys come here looking forward to a really good Test match, weather permitting and it’s always got crowds coming in. It’s a great backdrop to play against. All these factors contribute immensely to the feeling that you have when you walk out to play. It’s going to be a very special ground not just for me but for a lot of players, both visiting and local. It is one of Murali’s favourite hunting grounds; we have always managed to win a lot of Test matches here.”
Sangakkara expects the upcoming three-Test series to be “very tough but a good series”.
“India seems to have a more settled side than we do. They have exceptional players. The way Virat (Kohli) talks about combinations it seems he has a very specific idea in mind, not just for the series but for India going ahead,” said Sangakkara.
“Those are the same ideas we discuss at times. So attitudes are pretty similar. In the end it is about taking 20 opposition wickets. How we go about it, whether it is through scoring big runs, bring scoreboard pressure on them or by having the skill or the situational intelligence to deal with tough times we will have to wait and see how it goes.”