Kumar Sangakkara underachieved in his international career: Kshema Sangakkara

Special to The Indian Express: Retiring great’s father, first coach & harshest critic KSHEMA SANGAKKARA writes his son had skills to do better that what he did.

Colombo | Updated: August 25, 2015 7:09 pm
Kumar Sangakkara, Kumar Sangakkara cricket, Kumar Sangakkara sri lanka, sangakkara, sanga, kumar sangakkara wife, kumar sangakkara family, sangakkara, india vs sri lanka, ind vs sl, india sri lanka, sri lanka vs india, cricket news, cricket Kumar Sangakkara retired after 134 Test in which he score 12400 runs. (Source: Reuters)

LET me start by admitting that I was always on tenterhooks while watching my son bat. I don’t know how this sounds but I just knew when he was going to get out. It was like an intuition but I was never wrong, and that’s why it would make me even more nervous. I could pick it almost an over before it eventually transpired.

That is one of the reasons; I preferred not watching it live from the ground. Even from home I would only watch his innings in phases when I knew he was in good flow, and his body was getting into perfection position, eye over the ball.

Watch as Kumar Sangakkara bids goodbye to cricket (App users click here)

I have always been his harshest critic. And he knows about it all too well. For the world, Kumar was this venerated technician. But in my opinion, he never reached that level. He could have done so much better with the skills he had.

Everybody speaks about his average being in the same league of Graeme Pollock and Garry Sobers, but Kumar could have done better. He too often let bowlers dismiss him rather than them having to get him out.

For me, Don Bradman was the ultimate batsman. He scored a century once in every three innings. If you truly consider yourself to be a world-class batsman, you should be able to do that. Kumar did well, don’t get me wrong.

But did he achieve his true potential? I don’t think so.

I started working on Kumar’s cricket from a very young age. He always had great touch. You could see that from the way he connects his shots. But touch and technique are two totally different concepts. According to me Mahela Jayawardene had a much better technique, and a much tighter defence. Kumar’s temperament and grit is what ensured he scored more runs and averaged more than Mahela. But I still believe the likes of Mahela, Marvan (Atapattu) and Aravinda de Silva were more in control of their game in the middle.

There is hardly a shot Kumar plays that I haven’t mentored him or harangued him about. He was always very competent against the short-ball. He had a very good back-foot technique. The pitches in Kandy always have had more bounce and carry than those in the south. Kumar grew up batting on them. Mahela was lucky in the sense he faced a lot of spin in his early years.

Kumar never used his feet to the spinners though, and he wasn’t comfortable against them early in his career. He did get better at it. But he took too long to get there. It also took a lot of pestering from me, often to his chagrin. Even now at times, I feel he gets too leaden-footed.

For me, the one batsman I admired a lot was Sunil Gavaskar. He was someone who tired the bowlers out first with his temperament, and then put them to the sword with his array of strokes. But never did he succumb to their relentless pursuit to raid his citadel. A successful batsman is a lot like a boxer. You have to last till the 12th round to win the battle. And I ensured that Kumar grew up watching a lot of Bradman and Gavaskar, and reading about them too.

I wouldn’t call Kumar a natural talent. He has always had very skilful hands.

Not many know this, but he was a very good tennis player. Tennis was his first sport. His sister, Saranga, was a more accomplished player than him. She won the senior national title when she was just 15. I think she’s still the only up-country girl to have done so. She went to the US and did really well too, and had a great future ahead of her but she suffered a shoulder injury that killed her career. She had a forehand that most male tennis players in Sri Lanka would have struggled against. But Kumar was more talented on the tennis-court. One day Saranga beat him though in an inter-family battle of the sexes. That’s it. He never played tennis very seriously again. Cricket became his primary passion right after that defeat. I’m sure he won’t agree with me though.

Kumar and I have always had our debates, on cricket mostly. He has a very modern view of politics and general life in Sri Lanka, unlike mine. He has travelled the globe and got great exposure. And he certainly has an opinion about everything. But in most cases, in my opinion I get the better of him in our healthy discussions. My wife always feels he’s a lot like me, and that we both are equally stubborn over our respective views on everything.

There are some of Kumar’s innings that I remember fondly though not all of them. His 192 in a losing cause against Australia in Hobart always gets talked about a lot. It was my favourite knock. It was alright. His four centuries in four matches in the World Cup was a good achievement too.

There are many batsmen who have been tagged as great. But I consider those who really come into their own after they turn 35 and their reflexes start slowing as the true legends. I do agree that Kumar has scored plenty of runs after turning 35. Some say he has hit a purple patch. But I wish he had hit that purple patch earlier, he could have easily scored many more runs and tons then.

My son might be a cricketer but cricket is not close to my heart. It has brought too much of malice into sport. It is no longer the gentleman’s game even if my son played it with great integrity. The corrupt practices we hear about from the IPL and T20 leagues have marred the image of the sport, quite indelibly. I didn’t have a problem with Kumar playing in the IPL but I think he never got going there. His was a game built to be successful across all formats, but he never reached a great level in T20 cricket-even if he was there in the middle when Sri Lanka won the World T20 last year.

There wasn’t much sorrow or anguish when he informed me about his decision to retire. We both agreed that his time was up, and that there was no point hanging around for much longer.

These days I travel to Colombo a lot to meet my daughter, Thushari, and her kids. I am very confident about my grandson Methvan. He is a combination of Kumar and Saranga, and I see him becoming an excellent tennis player. I am not sure what Kumar has planned for his future. I don’t see him taking up law seriously at this stage. I wouldn’t advice it. He’s 37 now. By the time he finishes his law studies, it will be another five years and by the time he establishes himself he will be well over 50. There’s no point then.

I do have a new challenge for him, and I hope he accepts it. I want him to take up golf very seriously. It’s a sport where his touch and skilful hands will hold him in good stead. He’s been a professional sportsman for two decades now. That competitive spirit will never die. Golf will provide him that opportunity and at the same time it’s a sport that he can pursue for another 30 years. Age doesn’t really matter as we have seen. And I can assure you this: I will not be half as nervous watching him on a golf course.

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First Published on: August 25, 2015 1:33 am
  1. D
    Deric
    Aug 26, 2015 at 5:07 pm
    Aww c'mon pop..... Get off his back!!! He pla his game well and is among the greats. He's 37 and fully capable of deciding if He should just chill or take up Golf. If he does not... Pop- maybe you should. I'm sure you will be better than Tiger woods.
    Reply
    1. H
      Haig
      Aug 26, 2015 at 6:37 am
      He is not mean spirited, only, one who does not know when to distract from all the accolades his son was receiving. He probably wanted to share the credit for Sanga's achievement.
      Reply
      1. O
        Omar Abdullah
        Aug 25, 2015 at 6:48 am
        Same should be for yunios khans rerueurent
        Reply
        1. R
          Rohan Abeygunawardena
          Aug 26, 2015 at 12:10 pm
          I agree with Kumar's father. For Kumar has not taken a single wicket in test cricket, ODIs or T20s. He always get into a social phobia when in the field and hide behind the batsman. Anyway Kshema thank you very much for giving us a great Cricketer and Gentleman.
          Reply
          1. A
            Aikanaro
            Aug 25, 2015 at 7:42 am
            This is arguably the most churlish, ungracious and small-minded comment ever from a father to his son. Not everyone can climb Everest. It doesn't matter. KS's achievements are not to be belittled like this, and certainly not at this stage, and certainly not by his own father. It's no excuse to say that the father is the son's harshest critic. That's not for public consumption. Reading this, I imagine that KS's greatest triumph is that he overcame his father.
            Reply
            1. S
              Sujan
              Oct 30, 2015 at 11:53 am
              This reminded me of a joke on Indian Parents. The moment kid is born, it is decided by parents which school the kid will attend, whom he/she will marry & what he/she will become in life. There is a joke that when parents of Satya Nadella were congratulated on him being Microsoft CEO, they sighed & remarked "Poor fellow, had he done better in school, he could have got a Government Job". Joke, but sums up perfectly.
              Reply
              1. C
                Chathuranga Jayarathna
                Aug 25, 2015 at 8:24 pm
                Although its harsh, Kumar has always been aware of what Kshema has written here. Look at the legend Kshema has bred. "Always aim for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars"
                Reply
                1. N
                  Nirmal
                  Aug 26, 2015 at 9:29 am
                  typical Sri Lankan father figure !!! cannot blame !!
                  Reply
                  1. D
                    Dilip
                    Aug 25, 2015 at 1:12 pm
                    an honest essment of a legend
                    Reply
                    1. D
                      Dinukshi
                      Aug 29, 2015 at 8:00 am
                      Is this for real? seriously??? Hey Pop... we dont care what u think. Sanga doesnt have to take up anything else (let alone golf) to be good enough for us, or prove anything more to us. Handle your jealousy in private - this does not reflect well on you... OR.... would you like us to give a summation of YOUR life and why we think it isnt good enough AT ALL to meet OUR standards? After all, you didnt capture the hearts of millions, now did you?
                      Reply
                      1. F
                        Francis Anthony
                        Aug 25, 2015 at 2:08 pm
                        A very outrageously frank and kind of awkward article! I wonder how Sangakkara must have felt if he had read this, because I myself was squirming while reading it! Personally I feel, what needs to remain within the four walls of a home should remain within!
                        Reply
                        1. I
                          indian
                          Aug 25, 2015 at 8:19 am
                          Written more like a tough coach than like a proud parent.
                          Reply
                          1. P
                            Patriot
                            Aug 25, 2015 at 9:00 am
                            Excellent honest and truthful comment from a great father who made KS what he is today. Kudos to you Mr. Shema Sangakkara. We all proud of your son.
                            Reply
                            1. S
                              Saji
                              Aug 25, 2015 at 3:34 pm
                              There are many Eugenics followers, but I believe if members of family generations are equally successful, then it is simply because of influence in the children from their parents.
                              Reply
                              1. H
                                HILARY
                                Aug 25, 2015 at 10:44 am
                                Some years back I heard Kumara speaking at the ICC presentation. The subject, the tone, the reasoning everything in the speech was perfect. Now I know where it came from. It is in the genes.
                                Reply
                                1. T
                                  Tharanga
                                  Aug 27, 2015 at 7:36 am
                                  This is what happens when parents p judgement on their children's abilities publicly, it becomes everyone's business. While Kumar ' s skill mattered A LOT his ease at being a wonderful sport man also earned him his glory. I am a Sri Lankan and a parent, there is NO THING here which reflects on being Sri Lankan or a Sri Lankan parent! We are loyal to our cricketers and our children sometimes equally. And now that his son has retired how dare he cast his ambitious eye on his g son. Wonder if Kshema would have felt better if Kumar took to Golf from the begining ( or maybe football, chess, or some other sport not covered yet......oooh Rugby)
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    Ramesh Mahalingam
                                    Aug 25, 2015 at 2:51 pm
                                    a superb and very downright essment. A BLESSING INDEED TO HAVE SUCH A FATHER. KUMAR---YOU ARE BLESSED IN EVERY WAY BY THE ALMIGHTY. ALL THE BEST FOR YOUR FUTURE.---RAMESH MAHALINGAM
                                    Reply
                                    1. P
                                      Piuma Samaratunga
                                      Aug 25, 2015 at 5:45 pm
                                      Agree with every letter every word!
                                      Reply
                                      1. P
                                        Piuma Samaratunga
                                        Aug 25, 2015 at 5:39 pm
                                        I couldn't help but feel a lot of scrutiny. I think he is being a bit too hard on Sanga and depriving him of the full credit he deserves. All I would add to this is, it was very evident that Sanga is so appreciative of both his parents. Sanga has reached highest of highs in cricket and the w world admires him for his cricket and most importantly poise and character. It's nice of his to talk well of his daughter, but no one knows his daughter, but the w world hails his son. The son must have done something right !! Loosen up dad and give credit where it's due!
                                        Reply
                                        1. R
                                          ravi
                                          Aug 25, 2015 at 3:53 am
                                          Ok
                                          Reply
                                          1. K
                                            K de
                                            Aug 25, 2015 at 12:53 pm
                                            Thank You sir for nurturing the greatest sportsman Sri Lanka had ever produced.
                                            Reply
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