It is said that Cricket is a gentleman’s game! But, is the suave appropriation about a testing game of resolve and great rigor absolutely true? If yes, then why is it that in the modern version of the sport, there exists a corrupt lot of players who taint the pious fabric of the game staining it with their salesmanship rather than sportsmanship? Worst still, why has the game off late produced more characters who dump subtlety and resort to overt and overbearing emoticons that constitute of belching, chiding and just, being vile and unbecoming to the competitors?
Take West Indian Keiron Pollard or Aussie Mitchell Johnson or the likes of our powerhouse performer Virat Kohli and David Warner for example. Despite their eminence with their respective cricketing talents, why have they continuously indulged in shenanigans that best fit the need of low IQ or B-grade capers that hold nothing that can be called cordial? But, instantly if we recollect, it isn’t always that the game of cricket was about decorating the outer fabric of the game’s layer with mindlessness and needless bouts of anger or retaliation. There were suave stylists of the game who accorded to this magnanimous contest between bat and ball- a gentlemanly echo of silent triumphs.
A mighty silent conqueror of the game
Cricket, at least till a decade ago was a fanciful desire of the weak minded to rise to the triumphs of gladiators of the game. Gladiators whose own contributions lifted the spirit of the game whilst still refusing to corrupt the moral fabric of the game. These were brave and large hearted men whose victories were fought on a battleground where only bats and balls made noise and whose tongues came to use but only once a contest was over and were used to shower abundance of praise on decorating the checkered exploits of their teammates and often on other occasions, as a mark of respecting the courage of their arch rivals.
Untouched by wildness, there is a league of cricketers who for their commanding abilities with the bat and for opting silence over needless diatribes defended the strong spirit of the game. Jack Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Alistair Cook, and Michael Hussey have been the mellow warriors.
But there was also a special talent in this checkered marquee of legends who made his unique contribution toward solidifying cricket a gentleman’s game and a spectator’s delight by resorting to the exploits of his willow. He isn’t called the “God of Cricket” unlike Sachin. Nor is he “The Wall” similar to Dravid.
Despite his batting possessing a touch of subliminal alike Sachin’s and having an impregnable technique like Dravid’s, this man emerged as a silent rock akin to South Africa’s great rock, a common moniker attributed to Jacques Henry Kallis, he shunned any god-like or kingly manifestations of his image and created his own special place in the famous coterie of batsman. Looming large over the pantheon of cricket’s famous willower renowned for his flair and flamboyance, such as one Brian Charles Lara himself. In his part of the world he is often called the Lankan Tiger but to World- Cricket- he is Kumar “the Prince” Sangakkara. And if truth be told, there may be many mighty batsmen around, but few can be hailed as important to the game as is the art of batting for a side desperate to chase down a humungous total.
Prince, which also happens to be the literal meaning of Sangakkara’s first name is a just testimony to a marvelous cricketer who competed at the highest level for 15 long years.
A mighty scorer with the bat, a phenomenal all round cricketer, Kumar was a fitness enthusiast who never displayed lethargy and mediocrity in his offering of total commitment to his competitive and often feared Sri Lankan side. His retirement earlier this year at the conclusion of India’s tour of Sri Lanka (August 2015) conveyed that the era of gentlemanly cricketers who dominated score cards and popular tales in cricketing dressing rooms and after parties for their priceless efforts is now effectively over.
Rising up the ranks
Cricket can so easily take a toll on the best of players who fancy their chances of outliving their welcome given its onslaught of rigor and repetitive features in today’s version of the sport. Having once been a visual treat for limited cricket playing nations like England, West Indies, Australia, New Zealand and India, Cricket evolved and so did its regular features in the post Apartheid era in South Africa. It then went to Zimbabwe. Soon, it caught the attention of Sri Lankans who only came to reckoning following their unthinkable triumph in the WILLS 1996 World Cup.
This was effectively the time when as a youngster aged 19, growing up in the happy-go-lucky cricket frenzied town of Kandy, a certain Kumar Chokshana Sangakkara was struggling to decide which way to progress. Should he foray toward College education and rule Cricket out form his life and its daily fixtures, a game he had already shown tremendous skill at? Or should he continue to follow his heart that lay toward holding the bat and donning gloves at both national Sri Lankan pitches and those serene, idyllic beaches where harnessing the charm of the game is nothing less than a leveler of sorts.
Back then, the Matale born Kumar Sangakkara, one of the four children in a close-knit Sri Lankan Buddhist family surprisingly followed the West Indies team. Not very candid in his expressions and preferring his bat to do the talking, he even confessed his love for watching Brian Lara bat at a checkered ICC event in Sri Lanka in 2012. He opened up about his fondness for watching “Prince of Trinidad” bat in the esteemed company of Michael Holding and Andrew Strauss. However it must be shared that Sanga who twice won the eminent Wisden’s cricketer of the year award in 2011, 2015 has 2000 more runs than that of the West Indian great.
The most prominent of all Lankan Batsmen
From 2000 when a lesser known duo of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara entered into a star-studded Sri Lankan line up that featured names like Sanath Jayasuriya, Arvinda De Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Muttiah Muralidaran, Chaminda Vaas and Roshan Mahanama to the conclusion of his epic decade and a half stay in the game, Sangakkara has become a worldwide name, hailed for his great service to Sri Lanka’s rise to prominence in international cricket. He is idolized by youngsters worldover for his famous batting technique and lauded by contemporaries such as India’s Dravid, Australian Rickey Ponting and England’s Alistair Cook who regard Kumar as an all time great of the game.
For a bowling all rounder who bats well to find his groove by way of compiling useful runs, prominence isn’t too hard to find. One can ask Michael Bevan, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener for confirmation. The same can be said for a batsman who bowls really well. Hailed as an all rounder, we reserve our special regard wisely and dutifully in celebrating the tremendous achievements of skilled commanders of the game who shine with both the willow and red cherry. Focus in case being the extraordinary all round talents of Sir Garfield Sobers (West Indies), Kapil Dev( India), and in the more recent past- Jack Kallis, undoubtedly the greatest all rounder since Sir Garry, followed by the recently retired from tests, Shane Watson. But often, in compartmentalizing a player as an all round cricketer, we overlook the special traits of Wicketkeeper-batsmen who climbed lofty peaks of ‘batsmanship’ due to their special talents.
In Kumar Sangakkara’s case, the man who kept wickets for a decade for Sri Lanka in both test and limited over game, attention beckons to knock on his doorsteps and it seems it won’t budge unless this esteemed character of the game accepts what’s due for him in light of his commanding service to Sri Lanka.
From 404 ODI’s, Kumar snatched 402 catches with over 99 stumpings. In tests, he dismantled the bails of the deceived batsmen 20 times whilst diving and jumping his way to grab 182 catches.
What can one possibly expect from a wicketkeeper who has kept wickets for an entire 50 over inning and for a day and a half in tests. Kumar, who took 584 catches in all and stumped 202 times, went on to score a humungous 12,400 test runs and over 14,200 runs, making him the best Wicket-keeper batsmen of all time.
It is highly unlikely that the tireless Lankan’s tall order in standing as a true giant of the game will ever be disturbed, unless World Cricket produced another Kumar Sangakkara, which is not only practically impossible but genetically hard to emulate, for there is a rarity in Sanga’s DNA that may never be matched given his spectacularly special cricketing wizardry.
Giving number crunchers a lot of work to do
The list of great batsmen in world cricket is a special one and an extremely powerful force that in combined might has unleashed a world of savagery and utter domination on the fastest and cleverest of all bowlers. The likes of Sachin-Lara, Dravid-Kallis, Hussey-Ponting and his compatriot Mahela, about the same age as Kumar who will turn 38 on October 27th have marauded bowling greats with utter prominence. But, Sangakkara’s blade has offered some really remarkable feasts for both his countrymen and fans to gorge on whilst confirming his place in the iconic list of run scorers who have both entertained and inspired awe.
His incredible tally of 63 international centuries, sublimely divided by 38 from tests 134 tests and 25 from 404 ODI’s include 11 test double hundreds with a highest score of 319. Scoring over 14200 one day runs and 12400 from tests, he is easily the greatest Sri Lankan batsman and his muscle power and flair when combined in an ethereal combination offer nothing less than a cricketing extravaganza, is as iconic as modern day masters such as Kallis, Lara and Dravid.
While his personal best of 319 is 81 run short of Brian Lara’s epic 400, he leap-frogs both Lara and Sachin and even Dravid in scoring the fastest 8000, 9000, 10,000 and 12000 runs. No other Sri Lankan batsman or of the likes of Protean Kallis or Windies’ Lara have scored 4 one day hundreds in a world cup tournament. Earlier this year, Kumar, aged 37 pulled some aces out of his sleeves by scoring 4 savage tons whilst compiling 540 runs at an extraordinary average of 108 in ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. His phenomenal test batting average betters Dravid, Kallis, Sachin and even Brian Lara, his personal favourite batsman of all time. Measuring 57 in tests, Sanga is easily a few notches above Brian who measures 52.89 in tests and Dravid who stands tall at 53. Only Kallis, comes closest at 55, still 2 shy of Kumar’s might in test cricket. Not many know that Sangakkara who rocked South Africa during a colossal stand with compatriot Mahela Jayawardene in 2006, who scored 374 on his own from their record tally of 624 runs, compiled 25 one day tons out of which 6 came against Dhoni and Ganguly led India. Even his 38 test centuries mean he’s scored 2 more than Dravid’s Wall and Lara’s flamboyant tally of 34 tons.
Mastering class bowlers like Warne and McGrath at their peak and denouncing the threat of Mitchell Johnson and even Dale Steyn, the world’s fastest at the moment, Sanga who is one of the few leading batsmen to have stuck a test at Lord’s is undoubtedly a timeless emerald in the crown of Sri Lanka.
Having helped Lanka win World T20 in 2014 when he was 36, Kumar Sangakkara has left a lasting impression on the game where his name will often be remembered as being a hefty adjective for the word triumph. One of cricket’s all time great who whose bat was nothing short of the blazing supremacy of a sword, Sangakkara has left the game in a way he played it, with monk-like powers of concentration and a silently glowing princely charm.
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