I was a below average cricketer at school - Sanga

Road to 100 Test Matches (1)



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by Rex Clementine


It’s been an outstanding week for star batsman Kumar Sangakkara. At Pallekele, he played his part to help Sri Lanka save the second Test and then he was named as the ICC ODI Cricketer of the Year and won the ICC Peoples’ Player of the Year Award as well ahead of Indian captain M. S. Dhoni. On Friday, he will become the fifth Sri Lankan to play 100 Test Matches.


The former Sri Lankan captain, looking back at the past decade where he rose from a mediocre wicketkeeper batsman to the rank of world’s best batsman ahead of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting, has some interesting points to make.


Then for two years while leading the country passionately, he sledged South Africans and Australians mercilessly giving them a taste of their own medicine. His press conferences were the most sought after for the sheer brilliance of the use of the English language by him. This year the MCC invited him to deliver the annual Lord Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture and the speech brought him a standing ovation.


The mood at Lord’s that day was summed up by Master-of-Ceremonies Mark Nicholas, who at the end of the speech said; "You are a hard act to follow, Sir. Many congratulations. We are all struck by the immense pride you have in your land and of your people and we are humbled by the brilliance of your language and your use of it. We are struck by your messages. Archbishop Desmond Tutu received a standing ovation (here) and you have matched it."


Here Kumar Sangakkara talks through the early days, the highs and lows, the purple patch in his batting that lasted for two years between 2007 and 2008, what it means to win the ICC Peoples’ Player Award, the influences of Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva on his career, Sri Lanka’s struggles in the current series and a host of other issues.


Here are the excerpts.


Question: What does it mean for you to win the ICC Peoples’ Player Award?


Sangakkara: I think it’s very special since the fans have voted for it. I am very grateful for their support right throughout the career and voting me for this award, by both Sri Lankans at home and abroad and all the other fans all over the world.


Question: What do you look forward to do in your 100th Test Match?


Sangakkara: Hopefully do well and help the side win the Test Match and square the series 1-1.


Question: What do you think has contributed to Sri Lanka’s failures during the ongoing series?


Sangakkara: It’s the big first innings score that has been lacking. We used to get that big first innings score at home usually. Very rarely did we miss out. This series it has been just one of those rare occasions. Unfortunately the Aussies have made us pay every time we have fallen short. We have to make over 350 or 400 to dominate a Test Match. That’s where we’ve got to consolidate.


Question: The same side did quite well against England a few months back. What did the team do right in England and lacks here?


Sangakkara: English bowlers were very difficult on those wickets and almost on every Test Match we had a centurion. Unfortunately, here with the wickets being slightly slower, the Aussies have planned out their bowling very well and their field setting areas where they are going to limit our batsmen. All what they have done is to set straight fields and bowl straight and wait for the ball to reverse or nip off here and there and just dry us up until we make a mistake. They have done really well and we have to counter that.


Question: School cricket gives people a fair idea as to which cricketer will excel at international level. In your case, would you agree that you were average at school level?


Sangakkara: Probably less than average compared to the other brilliant school cricketers around that time like Mahela, Thilan, Avishka or Upeka Fernando. Cricketers like that were coming through the rank. School cricket is certainly cradle of Sri Lankan cricket, but I think that’s for a period of time and from thereon the players need to graduate to the club level and fine tune their ability to the ‘A’ team and national level. I was actually as you said an ordinary, run-of-the-mill cricketer when I was playing school cricket.


Question: What did you do differently to others to get to where you are now?


Sangakkara: I have always believed in hard work, doing as much as I can. It has been a lot of hard work since I played under-19 level at NCC and ‘A’ team. Even after I got into the national side, it was hard work to stay ahead of the game. Your first year in international cricket is probably the easiest and then it gets harder and harder as bowlers get used to what you do and try and outsmart you. In my case, there has been no substitute for hard work.


Question: Do you work with anyone on your batting?


Sangakkara: My father has coached me since I was 13. Mr. Sunil Fernando and Mr. Bertie Wijesinghe, who oversaw my cricket since I was 13 until I was 19 and Mr. Bernard Perera. All these people have kept a close eye on how I have developed as a batsman. Even now I go to Mr. Sunil Fernando whenever I need to talk on my batting. Every time I am in Kandy or he is here, we try to meet up for a chat to see how better I can improve.


Question: At which point did you take up the sport seriously?


Sangakkara: Probably when I was 17 or 18 and when I stopped playing other sports. The two years I spent in Colombo playing for NCC and trying to get to the ‘A’ team. It was lot of fun playing for NCC with all the great cricketers at the club and one option was to become good enough to get into the ‘A’ side.


Question: Your first ever Test series for Sri Lanka against South Africa was Arjuna Ranatunga’s last as well. What was it like to share the same dressing room with him?


Sangakkara: Everyone has grown up watching Arjuna and the way he led the team especially since the 1996 World Cup. I enjoyed my time with him in the dressing room. I was very fortunate to have him as a senior in my first outing in Test cricket. It was always nice to talk cricket with him because his knowledge was so vast. So were guys like Aravinda, Marvan, Sanath, Vaasy and Murali. It was a great privilege to have all of them around.


Question: There was a period between 2006 and 2007, where, of your eight hundreds, three were double hundreds and four were scores of over 150! Would you agree that that was your peak that brought you the official recognition as the best batsman in the world ahead of Ricky Ponting?


Sangakkara: Up to now probably. Batsmen as they mature, as they find a bit more about themselves, they tend to have those purple patches. It’s about trying to score as consistently as possible. I have been lucky to score a hundred in every series I played since 2008 up to now.


Question: Of your knocks in Test cricket, the double hundred in Lahore helped Sri Lanka win the Asian Test Championship. The 156 at Wellington also came in a winning cause. Then there was the 192 at Hobart (where Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist appealed successfully for caught behind after the ball had hit his shoulder) and more recently the 119 at Southampton which enabled Sri Lanka to save the Test. Which one would you consider as your best?


Sangakkara: Southampton was very tough because it was to save a Test Match. The Hobart hundred too was when we were trying to save the Test Match but we ended up with a glimpse of victory at one point. All hundreds are special to me, but scoring a hundred against Australia was something I always wanted to do. In Australia, to go there, score a hundred and if possible beat them has always been a dream. We couldn’t win a Test, but at least to score a hundred against them was one of the most satisfying things I have done.


Question: Friday would be your 100th Test Match. How far do you think you will go?


Sangakkara: I would like to play as long as I can. I don’t know how far that is. It depends on how well I am doing. It’s always nice to keep scoring 100s and keep getting runs. Hopefully I would be able to score 10,000 runs in each format and hopefully in Test cricket I will get 35 hundreds. These are quite realistic (milestones) now and just keep contributing to the team. Test cricket is the real testing ground where you make the mark and make a name.


Question: You became the first Sri Lankan to lead the team to a series win in Australia. Talk us through that tour?


Sangakkara: It was actually a tour that when we started on it, it was strange. The dressing room feeling even at practices was that we were going to win this. I don’t think there was any doubt in the minds of any of the players that we were going to lose that series. We won everything, even practice matches except for that final ODI in Brisbane. That’s been a very rare experience for me in Australia where we had ups and downs. There were peaks where we scored 340 and I remember once against the Australian ‘A’ team where we were all out for 67 and played the second innings as well before the lights came on. We have had those tough moments and we have had great individual performances in Australia. Sanath in Sydney has always been great. Once he got out of the plane and the next day scored a hundred. We have had those moments, but never been able to win a series. To take a team, play a six - five combination with a batsman short and to do that was very satisfying.


(To be continued)


 


 


 


Southampton was very tough because it was to save a Test Match. The Hobart hundred was when we were trying to save the Test Match but we ended up with a glimpse of victory at one point. All hundreds are special to me, but scoring a hundred against Australia was something I always wanted to do. In Australia to go there score a hundred and if possible beat them has always been a dream. We couldn’t win a Test, but at least to score a hundred against them was one of the most satisfying things I have done.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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