From the land of outrageous strokemakers, elastic wrists, mystery spinners and steel bands came a cricketer who batted like a lawyer. Brief understood, thoughts gathered, arguments diligently mounted, the opposition clinically taken apart, the judge impressed by the erudition on show.
Kumar Sangakkara may not have become the lawyer he wanted to, but he came as close as anyone could on a cricket ground!
Come to think of it, he was quiet a lawyer off it too. His MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture is a stirring oration that brought alive a country’s troubled past and the role of cricket within it. If he wasn’t such a good batsman, it might have been his best innings for it was full of passion, hard truths and genuine love for cricket.
Sangakkara spoke for Sri Lanka as he did for cricket that day. He will get many more opportunities in future for if he wants to, he can have a career in television within moments of retirement.
When he batted, he batted as much for Sri Lanka as he did for the good of our game. There was elegance, yes, but there was a fierce determination that those steely eyes announced. You always played against all of Sangakkara (well, most times. When he slogged during T20 matches, it was his identical twin slipping out on his behalf!). If you got him out, you could pat yourself on the back aware that you had achieved something substantial for there wasn’t an inch you could get without combat.
Around this core of resolve, there was style, exemplified best in the cover drive played down on one knee. But it was a veneer, often a thick pretty veneer but you also knew that it was coating resolve. That was the essential Sangakkara. The fighter. Resolute. Always overcoming. Tendulkar said it well. Even when he seemed to be struggling, he was always scoring runs.
As I write this, with a test match to go, he has 12,350 runs in Test cricket. There were another 14,234 in ODIs and, I don’t know how many more in T20 cricket because I didn’t look. Not that I don’t care but because this is the story of Sangakkara. Hugely skilled but a Test player at heart. Like Rahul Dravid who he perhaps most resembles in his style, his approach, his erudition and his view of the world. Sangakkara averages 57.71 and after he gave up the gloves, a well-made side-dish but a side-dish nonetheless, he averaged 67.39.Those are staggering numbers.
Was he Sri Lanka’s best cricketer? Muralitharan with 800 wickets and the power to carry a nation’s bowling single handedly might steal the votes. Was he Sri Lanka’s best batsman? Undeniably so. Anyone who saw Aravinda De Silva bat in a magical phase in the second half of the nineties might spend nights pondering over that. Anyone who saw Jayawardene paint landscapes with a cricket bat might mount a fair debate.
But Aravinda and Jayawardene were players of the heart, as they say Roy Dias was before them, they were richly gifted and like an heir to the throne, you waited for them with an air of inevitability. They had been announced to the world before they were seen.
Not so with Sangakkara. He was crafted. The sculpture looks perfect now but there was much chiselling before it was done. Unlike Aravinda and Jayawardene, who were announced with bugles, Sangakkara crept up on you. Everytime you saw him he was a better player. I believe the person within Sangakkara drove the player and he is a mighty example, like Anil Kumble is, of what you can become. He took tools with him to the crease, not brushes. With those tools, he crafted beauty.
And look what he became. One of the greatest the game has played. One of the toughest, the strongest, the most resolute, the most defiant. And, what everyone craves for, one of the most respected. If you can leave the game with respect, you have it all. Sangakkara will. And Sri Lankans can be proud of him for he was their most stirring ambassador. The pettiness in the administration hurt him but he was born to exist in a different orbit.
And now the time has come to say goodbye. The Sri Lankans will, in style, but so will the Indians, opponents on the field but fans within. And so will cricket lovers everywhere this game is played. For while Sangakkara was indeed Sri Lankan, he was much more. He was a gift to our game.