In a matter of two weeks the cricket world will see the last of Kumar Sangakkara at top level cricket. The Sri Lankan batting maestro is bidding adieu to an extraordinary cricket career that has made him the most consistent and formidable run-getter for his country and among the world.
How does one assess a cricketer like Sangakkara? Is it by figures or the impact he has made in world cricket and for the success of his team. Any cricketer including Sangakkara will tell you that an innings is not worth its weight in runs if it has not helped in the team’s cause to win if not save a match.
Sangakkara does not belong to the class of genius’ like West Indians Sir Garry Sobers or Brian Lara, or in the classical mould of a Graeme Pollock or David Gower, but moulded himself into one of the greatest left-handers produced by his country and in the history of the game. It was his sheer ability to work himself to succeed at the highest level and to raise the standard of batting several notches above the rest that has made him the leading left-hander in terms of runs scored in Test cricket.
Going into the Galle Test against India, Sangakkara boasted an aggregate of 12,305 runs at an average of 58.04 inclusive of 38 hundreds and 52 fifties – figures that put him beyond the reach of any other left-hander. The nearest to him is Brian Lara with 11,953 runs (avg. 52.88) with 34 hundreds and 48 fifties.
No matter how many hundreds and runs you make in ODI or T20I cricket, what counts is the number of runs and centuries you score at the highest level – that is Test cricket.
Sangakkara has constantly emphasized that throughout his career and at the media briefing he had prior to the ongoing Galle Test against India, said, “I am proud of all my personal innings, without a doubt. All the hundreds, people ask me about statistics and I always say the only thing I really know for sure is the amount of Test hundreds I have scored. Whatever format you might play, at the end of the day, it is your Test capabilities that allow you to make a mark.”
Sangakkara is the first to admit that he was far from being elegant in his batsmanship.
“I used to have these arguments with Thilan Samaraweera in the dressing room about who had had the best looking forward defensive shot in the Sri Lankan side,” recalled Sangakkara. “He always told me that I had the ugliest forward defensive shot he had ever seen in his life and Mahela (Jayawardene) and Marvan (Atapattu) had the nicest. They always say left-handers were extremely graceful. I watch (Brian) Lara bat and, Upul Tharanga and Lahiru Thirimanne from the younger lot. Whenever I play the cover drive, with the back knee bent and head back, I just say to myself ‘how can that be stylish’.
“Most of the things I do doesn’t seem elegant but I’m glad with the amount if runs I’ve scored and how effective I’ve been. You can put me in that classical left-hander mould. You always search for the classic (Sachin) Tendulkar push off the back-foot shot for a boundary. I always like to play all the shots Lara played, but you can’t. I knew my limitations and I played around it.”
What made Sangakkara a run machine was his work ethics and his capacity to minimise his mistakes spending several hours at the nets perfecting a stroke or trying to overcome a weakness in his batting armoury which the opposition bowler might try to exploit.
Indian captain Virat Kohli paid a tribute to Sangakkara when he said, “If you ask any left hander in the world who he idolizes Sangakkara has to be one of the top three players most of the left-handers in general look up to. His record in international cricket, Test cricket especially has been magnificent. He’s been such a match-winner for Sri Lanka I am sure they are going to miss him.”
Sangakkara rated Sri Lanka’s present captain Angelo Mathews by far the best batsman the country’s had in a long time among the younger crop.
“He is already exceptional, he will get better,” said Sangakkara. “(Lahiru) Thirimanne, even though he’s had a lean period, I just feel he can kick on and become a wonderful Test player. Kusal Perera it will be interesting to see how he goes in Test cricket. It is amazing to see what he does and what he can do. He could be an amazingly destructive and match-winning cricketer.”
When Sangakkara finally hangs up his boots playing for his country he will leave a legacy behind him which those who follow will find very hard to emulate – a legacy for sheer hard work and dedication to become the best in your profession.