On a humid afternoon in August in the year 2001, a 23-year-old youngster was seen addressing a handful of journalists after he had scored his maiden century in test cricket against India. The knock turned out to be a match-winning one and ended up cementing Kumar Sangakkara’s place in Sri Lanka’s playing 11. The experts were pretty sure that this lad from Matale, a small village in Sri Lanka, would one day become the backbone of the Sri Lankan batting line up.
The 42-year-old Kumar Sangakkara is widely regarded as one of the most polished stroke makers in the modern-day game. An elegant stroke maker, a reliable wicketkeeper and an astute thinker, all of these qualities have been the prime reason behind Sangakkara’s success across all three formats of the game. His memorable knock of 192 against the Aussies in Hobart in 2007 confirmed his place as the mainstay of Sri Lanka’s batting order. His splendid show with the bat made him earn the number 1 ranking in test cricket in 2007.
Sangakkara’s arrival on the cricket field was quite sensational. A blistering 156 against the Zimbabwe A side in 2000 was enough to convince the selectors of his ability. His batting abilities were ornamented by a temperament which was way beyond his age. Sangakkara began scaling new heights under the leadership of fellow teammate Mahela Jayawardene. A splendid counter-attacking century against the kiwis on a lively green batting strip in Wellington in 2006-07 threw ample light on his skill to crack open the opposition’s bowling attack on any surface.
Kumar Sangakkara happens to be one of the very few batsmen who own the stupendous record of scoring 10,000 runs in both Tests and ODIs. Given the responsibility of leading the side after the resignation of Mahela Jayawardene, Sangakkara was instrumental in guiding the Lankan side out of troubled waters time and again. The Lankan southpaw guided Sri Lanka to the World Cup final in 2011.
He led his side to thumping wins in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Sangakkara stepped down from captaincy following an agonizing loss against Asian rivals India in the 2011 World Cup final. He confirmed his place in the pantheon of greats when he became the joint-fastest to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket alongside Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. In the holy quartet of Sri Lankan cricket, if Arjuna Ranatunga was the Creator, Sanath Jayasuriya was the Destroyer, Mahela Jayawardene was the Redeemer, then Sangakkara was certainly the Protector.
An elegant left-hander, Sangakkara could play a wide range of strokes. Right from the classical pull in front of square to effortless flicks over square leg, he had all of the conventional strokes in his armoury. A Sangakkara cover drive that went whistling past extra cover was an absolute delight to watch. When he got going, he used to make batting look ridiculously easy.
He has scored more than 14,000 runs in the limited-overs format of the game. Kumar Sangakkara’s hunger for runs grew with each passing game. He became the first batsman in the history of the game to score four consecutive centuries in World Cup cricket. He achieved this feat in the 2015 World Cup. Ultimately, his heroics went in vain as the Lankans went down against South Africa in the Quarter Final.
It was after this shocking loss that the then 38-year-old announced his retirement from the limited-overs format of the game. Kumar Sangakkara played his last Test match against India.
His life away from the cricket field
Off the field, Sangakkara’s generosity ended up earning him a lot of fans. He was known for his breathtaking batting displays, but even more so for his friendly and jovial nature. At present, he is seen in the commentary box. During one of his interviews with Anne Cohen for Talk Asia, he threw light on the atmosphere of fear that had engulfed the island nation during the three-decade-long civil war.
People remember him for the runs he scored and the catches he took, but his fans remember him for his on-field persona and jovial nature. Not once did he bring the game of cricket into disrepute. Kumar Sangakkara will always be remembered as the wolf who lived for the pack.