Kumar Sangakkara never seemed possessed of the single mindedness of Sachin Tendulkar. Nor the absolute self-belief bordering on arrogance of Brian Lara. Nor the robotic style of Jacques Kallis. Nor the iron will of Ricky Ponting. His genius almost crept up on the rails, partially concealed by a smile and his place for Sri Lanka as a wicket keeper.
It wasn’t really until 2011 that Sangakkara announced himself as one of the leaders of the world game. His stirring MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture, delivered at Lord’s that year, made headlines the world over and made people take him seriously. Not that they hadn’t before, of course, but that evening was certainly a moment that went a long way towards establishing his revered status.
The jovial façade had dropped and the thoughtful, measured Sangakkara emerged. He spoke engagingly about cricket in Sri Lanka and the unifying effect it has had on a country that has been savaged in its recent history by a brutal civil war.
He also spoke of the moment that changed the course of cricket in the 21st Century and the moment that led to him being asked to deliver such a prestigious speech; the 2009 Lahore terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus whilst the team toured Pakistan.
He also took aim at the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, the point that made most headlines about his speech. “We have to aspire to better administration,” said Sangakkara. “The administration needs to adopt the same values enshrined by the team over the years: integrity, transparency, commitment and discipline. Unless the administration is capable of becoming more professional, forward-thinking and transparent then we risk alienating the common man. Indeed, this is already happening.”
With Sri Lankan cricket so inextricably linked to Sri Lankan politics, it was a brave move. Yet it also needed saying and Sangakkara used the most vocal platform that he could, to say it.
Kumar Sangakkara delivering the 2011 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s
Yet Sangakkara’s cricket was equally as spellbinding as his public speaking. A natural off the back foot, his cutting and pulling were standout shots in an altogether impressive armoury. A 134 Test career yielded 12400 runs at a remarkable average of 57.40.
That makes him the fifth highest run scorer in history, with only Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis and Rahul Dravid above him. It is remarkable to note that his first 48 Tests, as wicket keeper, yielded 3117 runs at an average of 40.48 with seven centuries. Upon the insistence of the Sri Lankan selectors he reluctantly gave up the gloves in 2008 and went on, in the following 86 Tests of his career, to score 9283 runs at an average of 66.78 with 31 centuries.
His average is the 10th highest the game has known amongst those to have had anything resembling a career. Bradman, Pollock, Headley, Sutcliffe, Paynter, Barrington, Weekes, Hammond and Sobers are the only names above him. To drop such illustrious names is to emphasise the scale of what Sangakkara achieved. To take things further, taking this century in isolation, no one has scored more runs than Sangakkara. He is the fourth highest century maker the game has known, too, with 38.
Yet his greatest achievement is undoubtedly that he represents to Sri Lanka so much more than just a cricketer. Since 2011, he has represented to the world, so much more than just a cricketer. He will be sorely missed; as much for his stylish run scoring as for his diplomacy, grace and class.