Kumar Sangakkara’s long journey to world’s leading batsman


This gentlemanly cricketer is humble and unassuming. He always sports an enchanting smile, which so sufficiently mirrors the culture of this paradise. He is a great, inspiring leader. He is an LLB graduate of the University of Colombo, following in the footsteps of his illustrious father, LLB graduate and Attorney-at-Law from the University of Peradeniya. He is a brilliant orator, who can hold any forum spellbound. He is a fine human being.

Today, he leads the Sri Lanka national cricket team with distinction. He possesses sound judgment and a fine cricketing brain. He always leads from the front. In short, he is a charismatic leader, who inspires others. His full name is Choksanada Kumara Sangakkara - an ornament to Sri Lanka cricket.

He has been shortlisted as the Best Batsman of the Year by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Congratulations Kumara. Your success story is fascinating, like a fairy tale. It is a story of the highest discipline, determination, commitment and courage.

According to the ICC rankings in 2007, Kumara Sangakkara SL wicket keeper-batsman, upstaged Rickey Ponting from the number one spot in the ICC player rankings for the Best Batsman.

In a family of four children, his father gave him an uncommon first name, ‘Choksanda’, which means ‘Clear Voice’ in Sanskrit.

Trinitian Kumar Sangakkara, has played in 91 Test matches, accumulated 8016 runs, at an average of 56.85 with 23 hundreds and 33 fifties. In keeping wickets he has taken 163 catches and made 20 stumps. In 276 ODIs, he has scored 8510 runs with 10 hundreds and 58 fifties, accounted for 271 catches and 69 stumpings. In 28 T-20 matches, he has scored 733 runs, held 12 catches and effected eight stumped. His highest Test score is 278. In ODIs, it’s 133.

Nothing came to him easy. It was a long journey to the top.

He never started off as an outstanding cricketer while at school. In his age group, there were many highly talented contemporary cricketers from other schools, such as, Mahela Jayawardane, Avishka Gunawardane, Thilan Samaraweera and Nimesh Perera, to name a few. It was his determination, commitment and hard-work that took him to the top. Kumar Sangakkara, the elegant left-hander believes, it was a "Long Journey", where lots of coaches contributed to his success. Nothing came easy to him. It was sheer hard-work.


Family background

Kumara Sangakkara’s father, Swarnakumara, is an Attorney-at-Law. He hails from Matale. Later, he and his wife, Kumari Surangana, settled down in Kandy. Kumar had a wonderful childhood. He grew up in Kandy. The best part of his life was the time he spent with his family. The parents did the hard-work and four of their children lived in comfort. They inculcated in them the value of education. The parents were Peradeniya graduates. His father was very keen that all of them must take part in sports. His elder brother played for Trinity College as an off-spinner. His eldest sister, Thusari, did a Psychology Degree at Peradeniya. She too took part in sports.

His other sister, Saranga, was the biggest inspiration for the entire family. She won the National Tennis title at the age of 15 and became the number one tennis player in Sri Lanka. She was a star. Kumar Sangakkara was a mediocre cricketer in the school circuit. In short, Sangakkaras are a sporting family.


Trinitians are one family

"You are a Trinitian? What is Trinity?" I asked him.

"In recent years, I visited my alma mater several times. The history of the school, the majestic buildings, the children, staff, speak volumes. The students at Trinity become productive citizens and always contribute to the development of the country. They adjust into society well. Interact well. Our motto is ‘Respice Finam’ – Look to the End. It’s our driving force. Trinity, I consider not an ordinary school. It is the best school of all.

"There was never any discrimination at Trinity. It is a great Anglican school. I am a Buddhist. I am proud to say, there is no caste, creed, religion or colour at Trinity. Even if you are an old boy of Trinity, you are considered part of the extended family of Trinity. Students, teachers come and go. But the spirit of Trinity continues there," stated the Sri Lanka skipper.


Sporting Ambassadors of SL

Two year ago, as an Interim Committee member of Sri Lanka Cricket, I accompanied the Sri Lanka team to Australia and Zimbabwe. I am so happy to state that the behaviour of the SL team, on and off the field in these two countries, was excellent. Nishantha Ranatunga as manager did an excellent job in Zimbabwe.

They were a disciplined lot and fine sporting Ambassadors of Sri Lanka. Mahela, Kumar and Murali motivated the young players. They learnt a lot from these senior players.


Rugby – key sport at Trinity

At Trinity, rugby is the key sport. When I questioned why he did not take to rugby, Sangakkara stated as follows: "Number one. I was not big enough to play rugby. All my friends were ruggerites. They were six footers, very strong. Among them were Suranga Amarasinghe, who played for Kandy. Then, Prasanna Jayawardane, wing three quarter, Kaushalya Weeraratne, no one knows, was a top class player, who was a winger and scored lots of tries in the Bradby. He played for the Sri Lanka cricket team before me. If you played cricket, they look in a different way," stated Kumar Sangakkara.


Started cricket at Under-13

Kumar started playing cricket at the age of 13. His first coach was Upananda Jayasundara. "I still remember on the first day Jayasundara sir, asked us, who likes to be a wicket-keeper. As there were no others, I raised my hand. That’s how I started my career as a wicket-keeper."

"Kumar, why did you want to keep wickets? With my experience, I know what a difficult job wicket-keeping is."

"Sir, I knew, if I keep wickets I will not be dropped from the team. I will keep my place in the team," stated Kumar Sangakkara.

He is ever grateful to his coaches like Upananda Jayasundera, Bernard Perera, Sunil Fernando (Murali’s coach at St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota) Sonny Yatawara and Bertie Wijesinha. They all shaped his technique and his character. "They are all wonderful men. Having said all this," he said, "my final coach is my beloved father. He is the final authority as far as my batting is concerned and advises me what I should do," said Kumar Sangakkara.

As a schoolboy, he inculcated the good habit of Mangala Sutta, "Puja ca Pujaniyanam" – Respecting the Respectable. Some men, when they get into high positions, have a tendency to forget their teachers. But this world renowned great cricketer, paid a glowing tribute to his teachers and coaches at Trinity. Further, he respects elders, speaks to them with respect. He never forgot his roots and remembers those who helped him with gratitude.


Dream was born


"Did you have a dream to play for Sri Lanka one day, and captain the Sri Lanka national cricket team?"

"The 1996 World Cup came. Arjuna Ranatunga and his wonderful cricketers revolutionized cricket in Sri Lanka by winning the World Cup. Watching and listening to you, I thought, this is what I love to do for Sri Lanka, one day, play for Sri Lanka and hopefully win a World Cup. That was where my dream was born. In 1999 I got into the "A" side, did well in the club circuit. I was picked to play for Sri Lanka in the year 2000."


All eleven should be leaders

"To captain Sri Lanka?" "No. I never had that dream. It was not a driving ambition in me. I thought that you don’t have to be a captain to be a leader. I thought our target is to build ‘Eleven Leaders’, who walk out on to the field and captain themselves. Everyone should be leaders, think like captains and contribute to decision–making, offering their share to bring credit and glory to our country. It is not for the sake of a ribboned coat or for the sections that you play. Put the country before self," stated Kumar Sangakkara.

"Kumar, you stated about the 1996 World Cup victory. Now you have a big challenge in 2011. You are leading the Sri Lankan side. So, what is your ambition?"


World Cup 2011

"First thing is discipline and commitment. We must do the right thing at the right moment. Train well. Fine-tuning. Fitness levels must be strong, physically and mentally. We have eight more ODIs – three in Australia and five against the West Indies in Sri Lanka. If we win those two tournaments, that will help up to build our confidence. I have never seen so many talented cricketers competing for their places. We have a lovely mix. If we can believe and trust each other, I think we will win the WC in 2011. That is our target.

"How did you balance your studies and sports? You had the proud distinction of studying to be an Attorney-at-Law in one of the leading universities – at the University of Colombo."


Amma – my guiding force

‘I must tell you it was not my choice. It was mainly because of my beloved mother. I never liked studies. But I had no choice. In school, you have to pass exams. Sports was much more fun. My father used to say you must do sports, but not to neglect studies. He used to say, whatever you do, do it well.

‘It was a constant battle at home. One day, I had a history lesson. I cut that and was playing in a house match. My mother came and picked me up. "putha, I don’t care about this house match. You have to do your history lesson. My friends were laughing at me. Sometimes, a pull in the right direction helped a lot. You must never outgrow your beloved parents."

"I personally feel that this is a strong message for all young up and coming budding school cricketers."


University days "What do you think about your university career?"

‘To begin with, I have heard about the wonderful days that my father and mother spent at the beautiful University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. I really enjoyed my stint at the Colombo Law Faculty. I met some of my life long friends. We interacted very well. There was no "Ragging" in the Law Faculty. It was a great experience in life. I understand that the free, relaxed life in the university has deteriorated now. It’s sad. The spirit of universities has faded away. But the greatest thing in a university is the their students and academics," stated Kumara Sangakkara.

How I joined NCC – wonderful club

He stated that he joined the leading club Nondescript (NCC) on the instructions of former Sri Lanka leg-spinner, present elite test umpire Asoka de Silva.

"It was a lovely club. I really enjoy playing for NCC. Here, I was coached by that fine gentleman Ranjit Fernando, a live wire of NCC and Sri Lanka test bowler and wonderful man Rumesh Ratnayake. It was a nice club" said Kumar Sangakkara. "I am sad for one thing. Closer to my age there were three cricketers who should have played for Sri Lanka. They did extremely well for NCC. But they could not get their Sri Lanka caps. They were highly talented cricketers. They are Anil Ridigammanagedera, Sanjiva Jayaratne and Asela Pathirana. I am very close to them. They could not realize their dream. They were amazing cricketers, without luck in their favour" stated Sangakkara.

Representative of Sri Lanka

Kumar Sangakkara got his one day cap first in the South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Tri-Nation Tournament.

He played his first test against South Africa.

His most memorable test was against Pakistan at Lahore, Pakistan were he scored his first "double century" in the Asia Test series in 2002.

"There pace attack consisted of Shohib Akthar, Waquar Younis, Mohammed Sami, Abdul Razak. This pace attack was pretty strong. Marvan Attapattu was caught, first ball to Waqar Younis. Then had to do the repair job. Sanath Jayasuriya was at his best. He dispatched two consecutive fours off Shoib Akthar. As Sanath was scoring so freely, that calmed my nerves. The following day I got my double hundred."

In 2007, Sangakkara had been enjoying a purple patch with the bat, having given up wicket keeping in Tests. The Kandy Test was the fourth consecutive match in which he had scored over 150 in an inning. It’s a magnificent record. He was named "Man of the Match" for his efforts in Kandy. It was also the farewell Test for Sanath Jayasuriya and the 100th for Chaminda Vaas, that brilliant and the best left arm fast bowler that Sri Lanka produced.


Batting with Sanath-fairy tale script


What is your experience of building partnerships with Sanath Jayasuriya?


"There were never partnerships when batting with Sanath. You watch from the other end. I will never forget the 200 runs partnership of Sanath Jayasuriya and Dilhara Fernando. Dilhara’s contribution was 12. It was an amazing, wonderful experience to bat with Sanath. Undoubtedly, he was one of the greatest batsmen in the world. Everyone is caught up with Sanath. He was a marvellous batsman. I have enjoyed every bit with Great Sanath Jayasuriya," stated Kumar Sangakkara.

"In the World Cup of 1996 our cricketers, raised from being mere dark horses, to become thorough breds. In this World Cup Sanath Jayasuriya was elected the ‘Most Valuable Player’. We are proud to be Sri Lankans. This was our graters sporting victory."


Grateful to Ian Healy


Kumar Sangakkara is very grateful to one of the leading wicket keepers in the world, Ian Healy of Australia.

"I was very fortunate when I toured Zimbabwe with the Sri Lanka team under Marvan Attapattu. Ian Healy was the TV commentator. One day, I had a chat with him and with prior permission from the Sri Lankan team management he taught some of the ‘Finer Points’ in wicket keeping. I was not a born wicket keeper. But, I believed that keepers can be made. At the beginning of my wicket keeping career, when I kept wickets to Murali, so many times, I looked like an idiot. I watched Mahes Gunatilaka and Romesh Kaluvitarane and learned. Prassanna Jayawardane is presently one of the best keepers in the country. The real change came in me, when I met commentator Ian Healy. I am really very grateful to him", stated Kumar Sangakkara.


Tips for up and coming keepers


The great Ian Healy played in 39 tests held 116 catches and 2 stumps in his Test career.

"He Ian Healy gave me certain tips which changed my entire wicket-keeping perspective. He advised me and proved that if I trained in the proper way, I will enjoy keeping and it is not a difficult job."

"For two weeks, I underwent ‘wicket keeping drills’ under the world’s best wicket keeper in recent years. Powerful leg movements, correct body and head position and you need not think about your gloves. They will follow, your body and hands. You must not try do spectacular things as wicket-keepers. Number one, is to catch that ball. Diving is the last resort."

Further, Shane Duff, assistant to John Dyson, and Paul Farbaca also helped me in wicket keeping.

Apart from cricket, Kumar Sangakkara plays tennis and golf. I can remember when we went to see "World wonder" Victoria Falls at Zimbabwe, both Mahela and Kumar skipped going to see Victoria Falls as they have seen it several times. They played Golf at Harare. I must thank Peter Chingoka, the president of the Zimbabwe Cricket Board, who arranged a charter flight to visit Victoria Falls, the marvel. Their media man that lovely person Lovemore Banda and our good friend Abid Hamid of the Zimbabwe team accompanied us. We had a "cruise lunch" in the River Zambizi. It was a life time experience for all of us. Nishantha Ranatunga the manager and I accompanied the team to see the great Marvel – Victoria Falls.

Kumar Sangakkara is happily married to yahali. They have twin daughters, Swari is elder to son Kavith by four minutes. They tied the nuptial knot in 2003 and they were blessed with two lovely children in the year 2009.

Captain has to be about half a dozen men, all rolled into one. He has to have the nerve of a scientist, the poise of a financier, the human understanding of a psychologist and the patience of a saint and leadership qualities and be a man for all seasons. Kumara Sangakkara possesses all these ingredients and qualities.

Kumara, may you go from strength to strength and leave a name that will be remembered. Wish you good luck.

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