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’s arrival on the cricket scene was sensational. A blistering 156 against Zimbabwe A in 2000 was enough to convince the selectors of his ability. He was selected in the ODI squad and made his debut against Pakistan in the year 2000. He made 35 runs in this debut match and showed that he has the flair. Sangakkara received his first ‘Man of the Match’ award in the second match of his ODI career. He played an amazing knock of 85 in the 2nd match of the Singer Triangular Series against South Africa.
He scored a total of 199 runs in that series at an average of 66.33 and showed everyone that he is here to stay. Meanwhile, the legends of the game felt like a future legend has taken his steps into the game of Cricket.
This performance secured him a place for the upcoming Test series against South Africa. He gave a good performance in the series and was close to getting his maiden century in one of the Test matches. This series cemented his place in the Sri Lankan side and he continued to give good performances. But something was still missing. That was a ‘CENTURY’. Before reaching his first Test century, he was twice dismissed in the 90s, once against each of South Africa and England. But that moment of glory finally arrived in August 2001, when India toured Sri Lanka for a three-match Test series. In the opening match of the series, he scored his first century.
Sanga played a special knock of 105 not out and Sri Lanka won the match by 10 wickets. By seeing him bat, another Sri Lankan legend Sanath Jayasuriya said that “we have got one player in the who will take our cricket to a whole new level”.
From a guy who used to play a sheet anchor role for his team and had limited playing shots in his book, Sangakkara swiftly evolved into an attractive batsman who got almost every cricket shot in his arsenal. He was always a good back-foot player and was brilliant at playing cut and pull shots. But Sangakkara made changes to his batting style and became a confident front-foot player as well. His cover-drives are still one of the best in the business though he always strived to play straight drives like Sachin.
Everyone got to knew that he was a reliable player but did he possess the capability to play a big inning? He gave a befitting reply to this question in the year 2002, when he scored a double-century against Pakistan. This inning was played in the 2nd Test match of the Asian Test Championship final. With the help of this inning, Sri Lanka won the match and claimed the Asian Test Championship. When he played that inning, no one thought that in future he would go on to score 11 double-centuries for his team, which was just one short of Bradman’s 12 double-hundreds.
Along with teammate Mahela Jayawardene, he recorded the most partnership runs for the 3rd wicket in Test history, scoring 5890 runs surpassing the 5826 runs of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, during the first Test match against Pakistan at Galle. The two also hold the record for the highest partnership for any wicket in Test matches, scoring 624 runs for the 3rd wicket against South Africa in July 2006. This still stands as the biggest partnership for any wicket in Test cricket, anywhere.
In the year 2007, Sangakkara’s gutsy knock of 192 made everyone think that he will always be there to save his team whenever they face any crisis kind of situation. He would come as a ‘Superman’ and take his team home.
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.
In the year 2013, he became the fourth player ever to reach 13,000 runs in the One-Day International cricket. After the World Cup held in Australia in 2015, he hung up his spiked boots from ODIs. Sangakkara was in supreme form in the World Cup. He amassed over 500 runs which included four centuries to his name and became the first batsman to compose four tons in a single World Cup.
He announced his retirement after the 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.
Kumar Sangakkara was truly a ‘LEGEND OF THE SPORT’.
About the Author
Sports Journalist by profession, a Cricket Fanatic by passion. Aayush Sharma has been following the game of cricket since childhood and considers Sachin Tendulkar as his idol. When in free time, he loves to read books or go out and play some gully cricket with friends. For him, Tennis ace Roger Federer and F1 Legend Michael Schumacher are the only sportspersons that reach the level of Tendulkar