Call Sanga out of retirement!


Kumar Sangakkara passes his portrait at Lord’s on Friday during Surrey’s County Championship fixture against Middlesex and went onto make 114. (Picture credit: The Times/Graham Morris)

by Rex Clementine


On a rainy day, popular television host Brian Thomas was anguish as the guest he was supposed to interview for the famous Cricket Show hadn’t turned up. NCC stalwart Ranjit Fernando suggested that Thomas should look for an alternative.

"There’s this interesting young chap whom we have got down from Kandy for this season. Perhaps you should speak to him," Fernando said.

"What’s his name?" Thomas queried.

"He’s Sangakkara," Fernando replied.

The Thomas in the Bible doubted things. So did our Thomas.

"Can the bugger talk English?" Brian asked. That was a fatal mistake.

Thomas was astounded as Sangakkara quoted Cardus and CMJ on cricket and Donne and Dryden on literature in his maiden interview. For the rest of his media career, Kumar Sangakkara was Brian Thomas’ favourite interviewee.

Not just for Brian, for most cricket journalists Sangakkara remains their favourite for he gives you plenty of stuff while batting and plenty more after batting at the post match media briefings. Since Sanga retired, covering cricket has become so easy as you don’t have to spend hours transcribing his press conferences.

On a serious note, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) should take a note of the form Sangakkara has been in this season for English county Surrey. Now that they have put in so much effort for the Champions Trophy, they should extend an invitation to the former captain to be part of Sri Lanka’s Champions Trophy campaign.

The national cricket team has been in total disarray in the last six months. Sri Lanka were whitewashed 3-0 in Tests and 5-0 in South Africa and then suffered a humiliating maiden Test defeat at the hands of Bangladesh two months ago.

Since Sanga has been piling up runs for Surrey this season, SLC should convince him to take a break from county duties and put on the blue jersey for one last time in a bid to help Sri Lanka’s chances in the Champions Trophy.

This is Sanga’s last season for Surrey in a three year deal. It was Graham Ford, Surrey’s coach in 2015 who urged the county to sign the Sri Lankan as their overseas player. In his first season, Sanga helped Surrey to earn promotion to Division One. In 2016, they finished strongly and this season they are top of the Points Table.

Sanga’s stats in 2017 has been Bradmansque.

In 11 innings, he has accumulated 793 runs for Surrey with four centuries at an astonishing average of 88. In April and May, usually bowlers dominate and batsmen struggle in England. Sanga has defied the odds. From June onwards when the sun comes out, batsmen tend to excel. So Sanga is yet to produce his best for the table leaders.

His latest century was against Middlesex on Friday at Lord’s.

Of Sri Lanka’s three first round matches in Champions Trophy, two will be at Sanga’s home ground The Oval. There’s nothing to lose for SLC to ask Sanga whether he would take time out and represent the national team. He has however signed up a two week deal to do commentaries during Champions Trophy.

Statistically, Sanga is Sri Lanka’s greatest batsman. He retired as the country’s highest run getter in both Test and ODI cricket. He averaged 57 in Tests and 42 in ODIs. No other Sri Lankan averaged 50 in Tests and in ODIs, apart from Sanga only Angelo Mathews touched an average of 40.

As captain, he took Sri Lanka to new heights. He had a no nonsense approach as skipper and demanded commitment from all players. Those who failed to rise up to the demands were kicked out. Under him, Sri Lanka reached new heights. In 2009 the team reached the finals of the World T-20 in England. There was a first ever home series win over Pakistan in 2009. In 2010, Sri Lanka recorded their maiden series win in Australia when they overcame the hosts 2-1 in an ODI series. A year later Sri Lanka reached the finals of the World Cup.

As captain, he achieved much. Sadly, his captaincy lasted for less than two years. The political culture at that time probably prompted him to quit early. He flatly refused to entertain the political fantasies of Nishantha Ranatunga and Mahindananda Aluthgamage and became a targeted man. Sanga was actually lucky he was playing cricket. Other sportsmen suffered harsher fates.

In order to discredit Sanga, his opponents cooked up a big lie. They claimed that he was in secret talks with the US Embassy in Colombo and was going to be the Common Candidate in the 2015 Presidential Election.

A few years ago, he wrote a strong-worded letter to SLC’s then Director Cricket Operations Carlton Bernadus.

"All I can deduce is that you and all concerned including Nishantha Ranatunga and Mahindananda Aluthgamage tried to intentionally cause me embarrassment and tarnish my reputation in the public arena as part of a shameful and corrupt attempt. This is reprehensible but not unexpected from characters such as they," Sangakkara said in his e-mail.

Had he been given a free hand and an extended run as captain, Sanga would have been able to put in place a strong base for Sri Lankan cricket.

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