How Sanga has failed to 'look to the end'


That’s one of my proudest moments being a Trinitian. The greatest thing I learnt from Trinity was that everyone is equal and deserved an equal opportunity. It didn’t matter what your religion was, what your ethnicity was, what your background was. No one really cared about it at Trinity when we were young. This is another case where this boy had the right to go to school and the right to his childhood. It’s the ignorance and misinformation that prevented that boy from being embraced by friends and other people. I also thought that we missed a vital point there. It doesn’t matter if the boy has HIV or not. That child has a right to go to school. He has a right to have friends. He has a right to be a citizen of this country.

by Rex Clementine

Former great Kumar Sangakkara was offered the post of Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Great Britain on the day he retired from the game, six months ago. Yet, he settled to be part of Sri Lanka’s selection panel instead of the prestigious diplomatic post.

Since retiring, he teamed up with Kevin Pietersen to help English county Surrey get back to the top division of county cricket. Then he played a crucial role in helping Sri Lanka Cricket in obtaining the services of Graham Ford. He has some visionary ideas for the future of Sri Lankan cricket.

The Island sat down with the former captain to seek his views on the World T-20 and a variety of other topics ranging from the education of his children to supporting the underprivileged.

In this candid interview, he provides his opinions on many subjects.

Here are the excerpts.

Question: There was a magnanimous gesture on the part of your old school Trinity College in accommodating a child from Kuliyapitiya, who was rejected from schooling at his hometown. Your thoughts?

Sangakkara: That’s one of my proudest moments being a Trinitian. The greatest thing I learnt from Trinity was that everyone is equal and deserved an equal opportunity. It didn’t matter what your religion was, what your ethnicity was, what your background was. No one really cared about it at Trinity when we were young. This is another case where this boy had the right to go to school and the right to his childhood. It’s the ignorance and misinformation that prevented that boy from being embraced by friends and other people. I also thought that we missed a vital point there. It doesn’t matter if the boy has HIV or not. That child has a right to go to school. He has a right to have friends. He has a right to be a citizen of this country. We must eradicate this stigma surrounding even the mention of HIV. HIV is a disease. HIV is not a death sentence anymore. People with HIV do some of the most amazing things. There are people with cancer. There are people with other decease. We need to forget that stigma. We should understand, support love and accept people with HIV who live in our society. Let’s say that the boy did have HIV, we shouldn’t have worried. A person’s HIV status should not in any way impact upon that person’s access to their basic rights and or their potential as productive Sri Lankans.

Question: ‘Respice Finem’ is the motto of your school. It means ‘Look to the End’. Have you look to the end when it comes to the education of your son?

Sangakkara: Well, you know, I would have loved to see him go to Trinity. But you see I spend so much time away from home. To have him in a boarding without us all the time would have been unfair by him. There are so many good schools in Sri Lanka. I am a great admirer of Ladies’ College. My sisters went there for some time. My nieces go there. For my daughter that would have been the ideal thing as well. For my son, whether he goes to Royal, S. Thomas’, Ananda, Nalanda or St. Peter’s, I have great admiration for St. Peter’s. The way they behaved in Murali Harmony Cup was a great example of how students should behave. The Rector of St. Peter’s should be proud of their products. My issue is I have twins of different gender and they refuse to go to school without each other. So I had to look around and I had to put them at an International School. They now go to Overseas School. That’s just five minutes from my place. The school has been wonderful to them and they enjoy their time. The staff at OSC are caring and they go the extra mile always to ensure their students are receiving the best possible attention and opportunity. All I hope is that decision will help them to become good people and learn good values.

Question: Obviously, President Maithripala Sirisena offered you one of the top diplomatic posts to be the High Commissioner of Great Britain. Why didn’t you accept that?

Sangakkara: I was flattered by that very gracious offer. I felt very humbled to be recognized by the highest authority of the land. I was very touched that they took the time off, the current President, the former President and the Prime Minister when they came and wished me well at my farewell Test. There were lot of others too. When I looked at the commitments I had and also my own experience with diplomacy which is required to do the job of a High Commissioner, I knew I was found wanting in many areas. I met His Excellency and thanked him for his offer. He also understood my commitments to play cricket and also that I needed more experience before I took up such an offer. They were very understanding and accepted the fact that this was not the time.

Question: SLC President Thilanga Sumathipala thanked you profusely for helping the board acquire the services of Graham Ford as Sri Lanka’s national coach. What exactly did you do?

Sangakkara: I didn’t do much to be honest. Graham Ford left with quite a heavy heart when he left Sri Lanka in 2014. He has been very public in his praise of Sri Lankan cricketers and the way we played the game. He was looking forward to having another tenure with us and he was very excited by the fact that he could work with all those talents. He was not disappointed that Mahela and I were retiring, but very excited that he could build on the team once we were gone. He had his plans. It was unfortunate that he left when he did. Even when I had my stint with Surrey, he always spoke how he would love to be back. I could understand that he was a bit cautious of coming back because of few things - with regard to his security when it comes to his future and his tenure as coach. When they asked me whether I could have a word to Graham, I said yes. I firmly believe that he is one of the best people to coach us. After Fordy left us the way he built Surrey was amazing. That was a tough job for any coach. He made it look quite easy. I spoke to Fordy and he had to make some tough decisions and we had to be thankful to him for making those tough decisions and accepting to come back. It might have upset a few people. He had just extended his stay at Surrey. But they were very understanding. There’s lot of things that happened allowing Fordy to come back.

Question: You will be 39 this year. Other than finishing this season with Surrey, any other playing commitments you are looking at.

Sangakkara: I have signed with Surrey, I have signed with Caribbean Premier League with Jamaica. I might try and go back to Bangladesh for their T-20 tournament. It was a very good tournament the last time I was there. Then after that the Big Bash in Australia and then reassess from there.

Question: Surrey are in top division now. Tell us about the experience to share the dressing room with someone like Kevin Pietersen.

Sangakkara: I have been playing county cricket elsewhere in places like Warwickshire and Durham before. Surrey had this reputation as being arrogant and snobbish and being not liked very much in the circuit. When I accepted to play for Surrey, I knew Fordy was there and that was some security. But back of my mind I had this preconceived notion of what these guys maybe like. I was surprised when I walked in because they were exceptionally good guys. Very humble and very keen to learn. We say that club cricket in Sri Lanka needs to be professional. Professionalism means the entire concept. The back room staff, coaching staff, administration, the way the tournament is set up and the tournament rules. All these things. The Surrey dressing room was one of the most enjoyable places for me in my career apart from the Sri Lankan dressing room. I was very impressed by the players. Someone very young as 17 year-old Sam Curran. Others 21 or 22 like Jason Roy and Steven Davis. Then Kevin Pietersen, who was trying to come back. It was an amazing mix of people. All of them had one driving force to play good cricket. They didn’t bother about egos and Stuff. Even when Kevin walked into the dressing room, it was refreshing to see him sit down and everyone treating him in the same manner they would treat any other person. He wasn’t the Kevin Pietersen the cricketer, but KP for them. They would make jokes at him and pass comments at him. Gareth Batty as captain played a huge role. He is a solid human being. Great lesson for all of us and the current captains in our side like Angelo, Chandimal and Lasith to accept the differences in your own team. Differences not in personality, but differences in opinions as well at times. You need to go beyond that and let the guys believe in each other.

Question:You are a selector now. What convinced you to accept that role?

Sangakkara: It was quite a late call. Ended up quite late at the cricket board. It was mainly due to a request made by Aravinda de Silva. He has been the best selector I have worked with. When it comes to cricket strategy and when it comes to understanding combination he was very good. A very personal request from him as well. He said it doesn’t matter whether you are able to do it, It’s a time where you are needed for this period of time. I had to think long and hard. Then I accepted it for a brief period. Not that once we come in we can do miracles or whatever. We can offer players a bit of our expertise like the combination we need to play. The previous selectors would have had a plan how they would approach selections. We need to work on that frame work and support the team. The previous selectors had made plans for two years and it’s important to have continuity. After this World Cup, hopefully the administrators will look at long term selectors. They address the selection committee the same manner they address the team. They work long term. A 15 member national squad and a 15 member ‘A’ team that could work for a period of two years is good. You don’t have a situation where 40-50 players play in the ‘A’ team in a year or 25-30 players play in the national side in a year. There has to be an understanding between the administrators, selectors, players and the press. So that when players look at themselves, they realize that they are not there for a tournament, but for year and a half. That’s not a long time, but a time long enough for everyone to settle in. That will help them to decide whether these are the players meant for those roles without making hasty decisions after two games or a few months. That kind of long term planning would be great. Then streamlining our First Class cricket is important too. There’s a wonderful proposal that has come in from Mahela. A proposal we had worked on and spoken about for a few years. There are so many aspects in that if we can implement and fine tune our First Class cricketers. The implementation of that is vital.

Question: How do you look at Sri Lanka’s chances in the World T-20?

Sangakkara: This is probably one of the toughest assignments our team has had. It is going to be extremely testing. I retired from T-20 cricket two years ago. It would have been nice to have a settled team from then to now maybe with two or three changes coming in and playing together for that extended period of time. But having said that, the greatest strength of Sri Lankan cricketers is to adapt. To go through hell and come on top. We have South Africa and England and when you look at their T-20 performances, they have been exceptional. Only two teams qualify. So we have to beat minimum of two teams out of the three big teams to qualify. So it’s going to be a tough battle. The job of the team is to be prepared for a tough time. If they put too much pressure thinking we are the defending champions, then it’s going to be tough. Play the best and smartest cricket you can and give your best. If that’s good enough we will win. We have the variety in our bowling and we have the batting to put up decent totals on the board. We have to settle down with the idea of having a long term team. Where we plan thinking of the next World Cup. Things are not going to happen soon, but it will happen. The selectors, press, public and everyone need to be patient. Guys like Chandimal, Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis and Udara Jayasundara all these guys have the talent to surpass all the records set by us without a doubt. They just need the opportunity.

Question: Many of our leading past cricketers like Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and yourself, speak highly of Lahiru Thirimanne. But in five years of international cricket, he has failed to achieve what you or Mahela achieved in your first five years. What’s so special about him?

Sangakkara: It’s been a tough ride for Thiri. When I look at Thiri, I see what he has to offer us. He has a cool head. He has good technique. The best thing is his temperament. Even a player like Chandimal what he hasn’t had is a settled environment around him. Where they are allowed to make mistakes. Allowed to fail but still given the support and the confidence to keep learning and keep getting better. When you back a player you need to back him for a period of time where he has some security. These two and other young players like them can’t perform if they are constantly worried about being dropped so they keep looking over their shoulder. Doubting themselves and the intentions of others.

Question: Since 2007, you have been prolific as a batsman. After 2007, you have averaged 63 in Tests and 46 in ODIs, which are above your career averages of 57 in Tests and 41 in ODIs. What was the biggest turnaround in your career?

Sangakkara: Biggest turnaround was that I found myself leading up to 2007. I found out what worked best for me. The attitude of complaining about people other than myself for bad performances. I took responsibility for my mistakes. It doesn’t matter whether the wickets are ready or not when I wanted to go and bat. Find another way do your training. If I did two hours of training with the national team and if there were some doubts, find the time to work on your game. Speak to a coach and take someone along and get your practice done. Come to terms with the fact that you are going to get out. If you are going to play cricket without getting out that’s not going to work. Make right decisions and make sure your mistakes don’t repeat. That kind of learning was crucial. Understand the fact that this is a game and if you get a good ball you will get out. You can’t go to the dressing room and moan for two days. You will have to make some adjustments. Make sure you know who you are. That was my change.

Question: What’s your biggest regret as a batsman?

Sangakkara: Maybe I could have got another double hundred. At the end of the day, if someone says that I don’t have any regrets, that’s not true. We all have our regrets. If you had done things with a clear conscience for your team, that’s the most important thing. You will have regrets, but you can’t go back and change them. What you can do is to help others to make a solid impact. In Sri Lanka when I look at the boys, I am proud of all these guys who play for four days in the hot sun for very little return. They sustain all the other players who play at the top level. You have to admire the club professionals. In Sri Lanka if you don’t make it to the national team, you will not make a living out of the game. The responsibility of the administration is to make sure that these guys are healthy and fit and well taken care of. We have the financial resources to do that. That’s something that I look forward to see happening in Sri Lanka.

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