Kumar Sangakkara: Gloves of destiny

Jaideep Ghosh

Sanga2Destiny is a strange thing. Often, one is left to reflect on how things may have been, had they taken the other path at a decisive fork in on the path of life. But then, for those destined to greatness, it is already decided. All they have to do is grab the opportunity.

So when Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara decided to grab the wicketkeeping gloves in junior cricket, when no one else would, he signed up to write one of the epic biographies in the world of cricket.

Sangakkara’s records are remarkable, any which way you look at it. He began his international career as a One-day International and Test player exactly 15 days apart, 15 years ago, at the same venue of Galle, against Pakistan and South Africa respectively.

Both careers came to an end this year. Once the man was decided, he was decided.
However, there were no great scripts stored for Sanga when he ended his tenure, either as an ODI player or in whites.

Both defeats were huge. In ODIs, South Africa decimated Sri Lanka, dismissing them for a paltry 133 at Sydney in the ICC World Cup quarter-finals. They went on to win by nine wickets. Sanga was still the top-scorer in that game, with a fighting 45 amidst the ruins. But before that, he had a tournament many people would die for. Four consecutive centuries, against Bangladesh, England, Australia and Scotland, sent Sri Lanka sailing into the quarter-finals.

ri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara, center, is greeted with an arch of bats as he enters the field for the last match of his test cricket career, the second test cricket match between Sri Lanka and India in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara, center, is greeted with an arch of bats as he enters the field for the last match of his test cricket career, the second test cricket match between Sri Lanka and India in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

So Sanga ended his last 50-over World Cup with 541 runs from seven innings, with the incredible average of 108.20. Not to mention his work behind the stumps.

But the Test career ended rather less impressively. Sri Lanka went down by a massive 278 runs to India, and Sanga fell to Ravichandran Ashwin, twice in both Tests.

Not every story has a fairytale ending. Sanga’s were more like horror stories. Till such time when you hear him talk about his last Test.

“It was an important game for me,” the ace said, “since my entire family, my father and mother, wife, children, sibling and all my friends were here to see me play.” So as it stands out, his last Test was maybe the best he ever played.

The rest don’t reflect a bad record either. Sangakkara has one of the best records as a one-down batsman, something that seems to have made greater stars of the likes of Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis. Few seem to remember that with over 11,000 runs at that slot, Sanga has the best record. Then there is the small matter of one triple century, ten doubles, a 199 not out, two scores of 192 and a grand total of 38 centuries and 52 half-centuries. A total of 12400 runs. Add to that 182 catches and 20 stumpings.

Then we come to ODIs, all 404 of them. Here the man has 14234 runs, 402 catches and 99 stumpings. The T20s have a small matter of 56 matches with 1382 runs, 25 catches and 20 stumpings.

Sanga1Sanga also epitomised the fluid class of a left-hander. That cover drive was something to write reams about, to contest those of from David Gower, Stephen Fleming, Brian Lara or Sourav Ganguly. But it wasn’t always just the poetry. Sanga came from a  school of Lankan cricketers who were coached in the “never back down’ school of cricket created by Arjuna Ranatunga, a philosophy that took the islanders to the 1996 World Cup crown. So Sanga was never short of a word behind the stumps, his oratory skills coming as good as his keeping credentials.

But that 1996 success wasn’t something Sanga tasted. Sri Lanka played finals in world Cups but never ever got their hands on the silverware, One thing that will be missing from Sanga’s considerable cupboard.

It never is easy being a wicketkeeper, batsman, senior statesman in the team and by far the most lucid and clear speaker. Nor is it easy being a normal mortal either, being a family man who needs to find time to acknowledge those who have stood by him in thick or thin, protected him in times of trial and applauded him in their hearts, even without being there physically. No wonder his voice broke as Sanga mentioned his parents and family at his farewell speech at the P. Sara Stadium on Monday afternoon. They are the people who are never in the headlines, not seen. They are his strength.

So as you see, they don’t make too many like Kumar Sangakkara. Many play the game, all try to do their best, but some are gifted beyond the ordinary, and even they do not know it for a long time. They just know to grab the opportunity that comes their way. The rest is history.