Sri Lanka has been a land of great players. The Islanders have given us legendary players like Aravinda DeSilva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Muttiah Muralidharan, Chaminda Vaas, Mahela Jayawardene and many more. The list can go on and we will not be able to settle to the fact who among them is the greatest of all. But one cricketer who came out and changed the landscape of the Sri Lankan cricket was none other than Kumar Sangakkara. Surprisingly, Cricket was not Sanga’s first love. In school, he used to excel in sports like Badminton, Tennis, and Swimming. He represented his school in all these sports and win numerous medals. But it was his Principal, who saw him batting in the nets once and convinced his mother to join the sport of Cricket.
Sangakkara is regarded as one of the greatest batsmen of all time. Now, let’s turn our attention to his playing career. 134 tests, 404 ODIs, over 28,000 international runs and 63 international centuries. He sits at number six on the all-time leading test run-scorers with only Alastair Cook, Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar ahead of him. All of them have played more games and none average more than Sangakkara. These numbers alone propel him into the conversation of ‘greatest of all-time’. 11,679 Runs were scored by Kumar Sangakkara at number three, the most by any batsman in that position. Dravid (10,524) is the only other batsman who has 10,000-plus runs at first drop.
36 is the age of Kumar Sangakkara at the time of scoring his first triple century, the third oldest to reach this milestone. Sangakkara was 36 years and 101 days when he scored 319 at Chittagong – the first ever triple century in Bangladesh. He has scored 11 double centuries(one Triple century) in Test cricket which is only one behind Don Bradman’s record of 12 (10 double and 2 Triple hundreds). Five of these scores have come in away Tests, which equals the most by any batsman. Bradman, Wally Hammond and Brian Lara also had five 200-plus scores in away Tests. He slammed his maiden double ton in Test cricket in Lahore and then played a magnificent knock of 270 runs versus Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. Sangakkara soon registered his first 200+ score in Tests at home with a 232 runs inning versus South Africa. Two years later, he hit 287 runs in a home Test against the same opponents. Playing against Bangladesh in 2007, the former Sri Lankan captain registered two double hundreds in the space of just eight days. His seventh double century came against India in July 2010 while in 2011, Sangakkara recorded his maiden double century in the United Arab Emirates. He decimated the Bangladeshi bowlers to achieve his highest Test score of 319 in February 2014. His penultimate 200+ score came against Pakistan at Galle whereas he hit the last double century of his Test career versus New Zealand in 2015.
Sangakkara retained relevance as the importance of One Day cricket and T20 cricket increased. He played in two World Cup finals and three World T20 finals, passing 50 in three of those games; most memorably in 2014 where he led his side to their first global triumph since 1996 with a Man of the Match performance. He was as much a white ball titan as he was a traditional red ball great. Additionally, he was not merely a great batsman with his wicket-keeping ability often overshadowed by his batting mastery. 678 international dismissals place him up with the best of glovemen, and none of them have claimed as many as Sangakkara’s 482 in ODI cricket. It is therefore indisputable on statistics alone that Sangakkara is in the conversation for the greatest player to ever play the game.
In 2009, he was appointed as the captain of the Sri Lanka team. He was quite successful and took his team to greater heights during his captaincy. The advent of leadership catapulted his powers even further. Sangakkara enjoyed a great deal of success at the helm, leading Sri Lanka to wins in the tri-series in Bangladesh and defeating Asian-rivals, India. He also guided Sri Lanka to the 2011 World Cup final. However, he stepped down from captaincy, following the agonizing loss in the final, realizing the importance of ushering in the new age of Sri Lankan cricket aside from sharpening his own batsmanship. The same year, he was named the ICC ODI Cricketer of the Year.
Finally, it is important to consider how Kumar Sangakkara has used his status as a cricketing great. For me, it is here where Sangakkara promotes himself from a ‘great’ to the ‘greatest’. How great players conduct themselves as people on and off the pitch does matter. Brian Lara clashed with the West Indies Cricket Board over a sponsorship deal, Steve Smith was wrapped up in a ball-tampering scandal that brought national shame and Virat Kohli constantly antagonises the opposition through verbals. In contrast, the number of people to applaud Kane Williamson in the aftermath of the World Cup final highlighted the importance and the power of the behaviour of leading cricketers.
He announced his retirement after the 2015 World Cup and shocked everyone with this decision. He was on 2nd position on the list of ICC Player Rankings (Batsmen) when he took the decision of leaving the shorter format of the game. Later that year, in August, he called it quits in the longest format of the game too. Even after achieving so much in the game of cricket, he never seemed to be arrogant. He was always humble and got respect from all the opponents that he has played with. Sangakkara has been an inspiration to the Sri Lankan youth. With his exceptional achievements on the field of cricket and in academics, he is playing a role-model to the country which needs leaders like him.
by Paramdeep Rathee