“It’s indeed a pity that life is not cricket. If it were, we’d not have seen the festering wounds of an ignorant war”, said Kumar Sangakkara in his memorable 2011 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s.
Kumar Sangakkara’s speech at the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture is still remembered and talked about. It reflected his emotional connect with his countrymen. He has always pledged his loyalty to the ordinary Sri Lankan fan. For him, fans of different races, castes, ethnicities and religions, who celebrate together despite their diversity by uniting for a common national cause, are like his family. While announcing his retirement he said, “I have decided to call it a day on my international career during the second Test of the Indian series, and this was the commitment I had made with the previous selection committee. I had originally planned to retire after the World Cup, but following discussions with the previous selectors, I gave the commitment that I will be available for these two series”.
Kumar Sangakkara is the last of the island's geniuses to end his spectacular Test career. Recently, when other players have been questioned about their reluctance to pass the baton to younger players, many want Sangakkara to continue playing as he’s still one of the best players in the Sri Lankan team.
Sangakkara was seven when he first picked up the bat. Growing up in Kandy, the home of Muttiah Muralitharan, he trained under Sunil Fernando, who also nurtured the spin legend.
Though Sanga was passionate about badminton, tennis and swimming, he showcased allegiance towards cricket and was determined to make it big in the game. Wanting to pursue his academics, he opted for a Bachelors in Law at the University of Colombo. He dropped out of the course after grabbing a spot in the Sri Lanka A team in 1998.
After already holding the record for the highest first-class partnership of 624 runs with Mahela Jayawardene, the two ex-captains of Sri Lanka decided to extend their partnership beyond cricket. They opened a restaurant called 'Ministry of Crab' in Colombo and have also been involved in a number of charity works together.
Sangakkara had a tough initiation into test cricket as he could only manage 83 runs in 3 test matches in his debut series against South Africa in July 2000. While his back foot play was always sound, he was tentative on the front foot and worked hard on his game to overcome his shortcomings.
He came into his own after his knock of 230 against Pakistan in the finals of the Asian test Championship in 2002. In fact, he went on to record 11 double hundreds in his test career, second only to Don Bradman who scored 12. He also has 3 scores in the 190’s, including being stranded on 199 not out. His innings of 192 against Australia in Hobart almost guided Sri Lanka to victory in a mammoth chase of 507. It was a pity that his innings ended due to a wrong umpiring decision. That was his first century against Australia and remains the highest score by a Sri Lankan against Australia, home and away.
His decision to hand over the wicket keeping gloves to Prasanna Jayawardene in 2008 worked wonders, as his average skyrocketed to 67 from the 40 he averaged as keeper. Captaincy also elevated Sangakkara’s batting, as he averaged 69 as captain compared to his average of 56 as a player.
Sangakkara assumed the reins of the Sri Lankan team after his best friend Mahela Jayawardene gave up the captaincy duties in 2009. He relinquished ODI captaincy after leading the team to the finals of the 2011 ODI World Cup, and test captaincy in 2010 apart from a one-off test in England in 2011. Sangakkara led the team in 15 test matches, guiding them to 5 wins and 3 losses.
In 2006, Sangakkara added 624 runs for the third wicket with Mahela Jayawardene against South Africa which is still a record for the highest partnership in test cricket. Sangakkara and Jayawardene have added 6554 runs in test cricket at an average of 57, second only to the pair of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid who added 6920 runs at an average of 50.
Sangakkara also holds the record for being the quickest to the mark of 8000, 9000, 10000 (shared with Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara), 11000 and 12000 runs in test cricket. 2014 was his most prolific year as he aggregated 1438 runs in 11 test matches at an average of 71.90. While Sangakkara averages 61 at home in tests, he has a very respectable average of 53 away from home.
Sangakkara is Sri Lanka’s highest scorer in both test and one day international cricket. He led the team to the finals of the 2011 ODI World Cup and the 2009 World T20. He was also a part of the victorious Sri Lankan team at the 2014 World T20. His retirement will leave a void in the hearts of many Sri Lankans.