Commitment is Sanga’s key to success
Former captain fastest Sri Lankan to 10,000 runsFebruary 18, 2012, 6:26 pm
by Rex Clementine
Sacked Sri Lankan coach Geoff Marsh in a recent interview summed up Kumar Sangakkara in the following manner. "He puts the pads on at the start of training and doesn’t take them off until the end. If there’s half a net available, he’ll go in there and work on his game. The thing about Sangakkara is his total concentration and focus when he practices."
On the eve of his 100th Test Match, ‘The Island’ asked Sangakkara whether he agreed with the assumption that he was an average school cricketer. His answer, as always, was interesting. "Probably less than average compared to the other brilliant school cricketers around that time like Mahela (Jayawardene), Thilan (Samaraweera), Avishka (Gunawardene) or Upeka Fernando," he said.
"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," he further said.
As he was not spectacular while playing school cricket, his sudden arrival to the international stage in year 2000 at the expense of the popular Romesh Kaluwitharana probably angered the common man. His wicket-keeping in the initial years was sloppy and with the bat in the first four years, Sangakkara averaged less than 30.
Despite constant heckling by Sri Lankan supporters, those who mattered in Sri Lankan cricket, like the then captain Sanath Jayasuriya, coach Dav Whatmore and the selectors persevered with him and Sangakkara has emerged as one of the leading cricketers in the world and one of the most respected voices in world cricket too.
On Friday, he reached another milestone becoming the tenth man to reach the milestone of 10,000 runs in ODI cricket and the third Sri Lankan to achieve the feat with others being Sanath Jayasuriy and Mahela Jayawardene. Sangakkara is also the quickest Sri Lankan to 10,000 ODI runs having got there 32 innings less than Jayasuriya while Jayawardene took 37 innings more than Sangakkara to reach the five-figure mark.
Equally impressive Test record
Sangakkara’s statistics in the last six years in the longer version of the game has been astonishing. It was with much reluctance he gave away wicket-keeping in Test Matches, but nevertheless, it was the right decision as Prasanna Jayawardene is the best wicket-keeper in the country and when playing as a specialist batsman, Sangakkara has been rock solid.
He was the fastest batsman to 8,000 Test runs reaching the milestone five innings lesser than Sir Gary Sobers. He broke the record held by Sachin Tendulkar, who had reached the landmark in 154 innings. Sangakkara got to 8,000 runs in 152 innings.
More recently, he became the fastest batsman to score 9,000 Test runs getting there in 172 innings, four innings less than Rahul Dravid. Currently, Sangakkara has 9,347 runs in 179 innings and unless he goes through an extended bad patch, he is sure to break Brian Lara’s record as the fastest man to score 10,000 Test runs. Lara got there in 195 innings.
A notion among overseas cricket followers is that Sri Lankans’ style of play is better suited for ODI cricket. Sangakkara is a certain exception to that notion. Another notion popular among overseas fans is that the Sri Lankan team don’t travel often and do well outside their shores. The recent tour to South Africa, where he notched up a Test hundred in Durban and an ODI hundred in Johannesburg disproved that point too.
Impressive record away from home
Generally, Sri Lankan batsmen like the slow wickets at home and struggle away from home on wickets where there is pace and bounce. Sangakkara has been the opposite of that. He has an average of 39.29 away from home in 209 ODIs compared to 34.77 in 105 ODIs at home.
Any batsman is conscious of the fact that he is judged by his overseas record, but what he does to improve that is the question. Hard work and speaking to people who know about the conditions and who have excelled in those demanding conditions has been something that has worked for Sangakkara.
He has enjoyed a purple patch in the last four years or so. A closer look at the statistics would suggest that since his stint with English county Warwickshire in 2007, he has been unstoppable.
"When you are playing as an overseas professional, the responsibility always is on you to score runs. They don’t look at anyone else," Sangakkara once told ‘The Island.’
"They don’t accord you immediate respect just because you are an international player. They only respect you if you go out there and fit into the team environment really well and if you are a contributing member to that team culture, and if you perform. I was very fortunate to get my county cap for Warwickshire. That responsibility, that experience of playing on those wickets was important for me. It’s unfortunate I couldn’t go to Lancashire two years later," he added.
Some journalists in the last four years or so have asked him whether this is the best phase of his cricket career and on each of those occasions he has said, ‘I hope not.’ When asked why, he explained that if this is the best phase of his career, then it’s going to be all downhill from now onwards.
What he will end up with when he retires from international cricket is exciting to think. But with over 10,000 runs and with almost 400 dismissals as a wicket-keeper, he will be considered one of the two leading ODI cricketers alongside Jacques Kallis, who has over 11,000 runs and 250 wickets in the shorter format of the game.
The only major criticism against Sangakkara the batsman is that he fails to finish games like what he proved in Johannesburg in the recent tour of South Africa.
Sanga had done all the hard work making a century, but failed to take Sri Lanka beyond the finish line as he threw it away with the side still needing 37 runs to win the fifth ODI.
Short stint as captain
It’s a pity indeed that Kumar Sangakkara’s reign as Sri Lanka’s captain lasted for a mere two years. Apart from leading the side in an exemplary manner, he also ensured that the players who were picked gave nothing but 100 percent. Sanga the captain stressed a lot on discipline and gave importance to preparation and anyone who didn’t fall in line, lost his place and those places were given to other talented youngsters. Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera are examples for such youngsters.
He also fought vigorously for those who were within the team whether they were team-mates or management staff. He ran into massive problems with the board for going out of his way to get Chandika Haturusinghe, whose ability he respected much, back into the side as the Assistant Coach.
It was to his credit that he continued as captain of the national cricket team for two years and became successful as that was a near impossible task with the D. S. de Silva and Nishantha Ranatunga run Cricket Interim Committee that time being more interested in politics than cricket.
If not for his strong resistance, Sanath Jayasuriya would have been a member of the Sri Lankan ODI squad in last year’s World Cup at the age of 41. As captain, he was also responsible in ensuring that the contracted players didn’t end up playing cricket round the clock and had to forego a stint with English county Lancashire.
"I asked the selectors to bring in a rule to say that until the World Cup was over, no player was going to play abroad. That was to safeguard players from injury which meant that I had to give up my Lancashire contract. No regrets there," he once told a media briefing.
‘Sunday Island’ also reliably learns that when SLC thought of a replacement for Tillakaratne Dilshan as captain, Sanga was a strong contender along with the incumbent leader, but a powerful politician, who had issues with his Lord’s speech was against his elevation as the new captain. The politician’s ego is Sri Lanka’s loss.