Kumar Sangakkara – A look beyond the oomph of his magical numbers

The epic struggle Sanga has made his body go through

With age, however, Sangakkara’s wittiness dwindled. Whether wittiness gave way for wisdom or whether experience supplanted his innate sarcasm is a substratum for deliberation. Be that as it may, truth be told, his wittiness is still extant, only that it has become pedantic with a plethora of prudence – as the erstwhile secretary of Sri Lanka cricket would have known.

If mentally disintegrating the opponents was an art he mastered in, physically disintegrating himself to improve his skills both as a keeper and a batsman was a modus operandi he cherished embracing. “There are somethings that you don’t like doing. But there are somethings you have to do”.

“It doesn’t matter whether you like something or not. If you have taken the responsibility of doing it, you have to do it. That’s the commitment you must have. There are certain things that you like doing and they are easy. But the real test of character is to try and do the hard things as well, things that you don’t like”, he said in a TV interview.

He is always the coach’s last preference to throw balls at during drills for the whole of Sri Lanka knows that the veteran is not going get tired of facing balls. At times you suspect whether he is a masochist, given the amount of onerous excruciation he puts himself under during practice. Or sometimes you wonder whether he is a strict adherent of Jainism so as to see torturing himself as a way to moksha.

The man who never believed in luck

When talented batsman who had ability gifted by birth were dominating cricket and filling the almanacs, Sanga rose like a sculpture that carved itself out of a rock. He was more of a cricketer made than a cricketer born. Have you ever seen him looking up at the sky after scoring a century? No. That’s because, he does not believe in luck. Nor does he need divine interventions to help him accomplish his goals. Passionate hard work is all what he believes in.

The only thing that can overshadow his predisposition for hard work is his penchant to focus on the ultimate goal. In the Test against Bangladesh when he scored 319, his highest score in Test cricket, soon after hitting the ball over midwicket to get to the magical 300, Sanga took off his helmet, acknowledged the crowd and was marking the guard again even before the bowler was ready to bowl his next delivery.

There were no NBA styled high jumps, or the rugby styled fist pumps in the air. A scrupulous compilation of 300 runs was capped off in the most unassuming way.

Sanga never believed in looking up at the sky

He is so self-effacing that at times he forgets to cherish his own milestones. Braving the Kiwi pace attack in Wellington in 2006, Sanga was rendering a pugnacious test innings to help Sri Lanka garner as many runs as possible with its tail exposed. “And I remember Daniel Vettori had come on by this time, I swept him and the ball went for a four. I went at the other end and everyone started clapping. I asked the non-striker what was going on and he said that was my hundred.”

An example of how we should lead our lives

His batting is so systematic that you can design an algorithm for an android humanoid batsman just by watching him bat. To be a tad philosophical, Sanga’s batting is an epitome of self-management. Whether it’s the worst ball he has ever faced or the best ball he will ever receive, his approach doesn’t change – an example of how we should lead our life. Just since we manage to earn something easily does not mean you can sit back and relax. Still you have to do what you have got to do.

After notching up 3 consecutive centuries against Bangladesh, England and Australia respectively in the recently concluded world cup, Sanga was up against the Scottish attack. After being in such a good form, one would have expected him to flash his blade at everything bar respect.

But what happened was otherwise. He started his innings in his usual nonchalant manner – trying to read the pitch and the bowlers.

“No matter who I am playing, my approach is the same. I don’t take Bangladesh lightly and I don’t give extra emphasis to Australia. I respect whoever is bowling to me.”, he said in an interview in 2004.

What stokes his proclivity for such an approach is his passion for the sport – the passion that was given life after watching Asanka Gurusinghe and Arjuna Ranatunga massacre Kenya in Kandy, in 1996. However many runs he scores, however many centuries he scores, his gluttony will never fade away.

That passion is the fuel for his consistency.

“Consistency is not about being the same tomorrow as you are today, because tomorrow the benchmark will go higher. Being consistent actually means improving constantly”, opined Sanga, perhaps the most consistent batter of the modern times. His will to evolve and fetish to improve are the reasons why no bowler has ever managed to completely dominate him.

When Sanga leaves the field

Albeit, he is a prized prince of Sri Lanka, it is a mystery as to how he manages to keep such a low profile. When cricket gives him a holiday, Sanga can be spotted shopping in the supermarkets and shopping malls just like any other ordinary citizens. In the face of being the chief architect of many Sri Lankan victories, he still attempts in vain to implicate another player as the sole reason for a win.

Perhaps the Chinese proverb, “The taller the bamboo grows the lower it bends” is better suited to Sangakkara than anyone else. Being an international star does not matter to him, a trait which he has inherited from his family. “There’s never a brouhaha about the fact that I play cricket (in my family)”. Like ripened paddy he is humbleness is saccharine.

Unlike many sports stars his life is very simple. For someone who is adored throughout the nation, there are not many banners, placards or advertisements that signifies his territorial dominance. The only inference that can be made is that despite being a public figure he prefers a live of normalcy.

“I have an idea as to how I want to live my life. I have received many offers for endorsements in the last four years but have refused all of them so far apart from the ones I need for my bat and equipment. I simply did not see myself in the particular role that I had been asked to do. I believe the endorsements were simply not me.”

His simplicity and humility, however, are not parlayed into his public speaking skills. He has a rasping tongue and club with that his lilt, his oration can question authority and topple governments – something the last regime of Sri Lanka unsuccessfully tried exploiting. He has been Sri Lanka cricket’s unofficial spokesman long since his debut.

“Sangakkara speaks English better than the English”, said the Guardian in 2001. 10 years later, the stalwart would stand in front of the erudite members of Lord’s and discourse a speech drunk with endearment, frustration, hope, pain and affection.

“Only those with empires to protect will resent his words. Only those blighted with the curse of nationalism will deny him his voice. He spoke as a patriot, a higher calling altogether”, uttered late Peter Roebuck. His oration took the government by storm and Sri Lanka cricket would debar him from speaking publicly.  Michael Roberts, a celebrated Sri Lankan scholar, would go on to draw comparisons betwenn Sangakkara and King Ashoka.

But the influence of his words were far reaching. It had already impaled the hearts of the Sri Lankan youths that their hearts were drenched in patriotism. His words became the most quoted monologue in Sri Lanka. Such was the impact of this man replete with wisdom that Ministry of Education of Sri Lanka decided to include an excerpt from his speech in the compendium for English Literature for GCE O/L students.

An excerpt from Sangakkara’s speech in the English Literature book for GCE O/L students.

Sanga the leader

As a captain, you could never doubt him. He was a tactician extraordinaire. He had been vociferous about Tharindu Kaushal’s inclusion in the Test team, right until he picked up a five wicket haul just in his second Test. He was the first to call Chandika Hathurusinghe as the best coach way back in 2010. Now, the coach has helped Bangladesh come of age in world cricket.

He is an avid learner who does not mind emulating youngsters. “I think a great example in modern day cricket was Virat Kohli in England. He didn’t have a great series but every time he walked in to bat he looked confident and looked the part. For whatever time he spent at the crease, he showed intent and exuberance, and that was great to watch”, he said in an interview with BCCI.

His activities to enlighten the youth and his impermeability to extortion and corruption have irked the government sponsored reprobates in the past. A government media accused him of match fixing in 2011 after the world cup final defeat.

In 2013, when Sanga requested the selectors to allow him to play a warm-up fixture to return to cricket after an injury layoff, the selectors waited until he reached the stadium in Matara before naming a starting XI not featuring his name. Countless matches has he played, without a guaranteed payment, thanks to the political influence that left the board bankrupt.

The ex-secretary of Sri Lanka cricket tried executing his personal vendetta on Sangakkara. Sanga was publicly abused and called a mercenary. But like a parent who forbears an abusive spouse for the betterment of the children, Sangakkara tolerated the bouts of allegations that was barbed at him for his fans.

“Fans of different races, castes, ethnicities and religions who together celebrate their diversity by uniting for a common national cause. They are my foundation, they are my family. I will play my cricket for them. Their spirit is the true spirit of cricket”, Sanga stated firmly in his much-vaunted Cowdrey lecture.

The one true Sri Lankan hero

In an island that saw endless violence in the form of pogroms, riots and wars, the youth of Sri Lanka needed a hero to unite fervently under. Who could have we looked upon as our hero? The various fallen ‘martyrs’ of the unsuccessful insurgencies? The overfed politicians? Or the self-professed guardians of the nation?

In the country that was marred by Sinhala nationalism and transnational Tamil nationalism, Sanga stood as an ecumenical nationalist. “With me are all my people. I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan.”

He was a key cog in helping the kids of the war torn return to normalcy after having journeyed through the tsunami-wrecked cost to provide relief to the victims. He is an icon adored by people of all walks of life.

ICC probably recognized his cricketing intelligence that it appointed him as a representative of the current players. His authentic personality and genuine conduct needs no clarifications.

Walking away with head held high

In 2004 Sanga said, “I would like to be in a position, at some point, to walk away from the game at a time of my choosing – when I realise that the contributions I can make to the team have reached their peak. I don’t want a selector deciding when my time is up. Cricketers come into the game on their terms, and they should also leave on their own terms.”

11 years later he will back his own statement, saying “I’ve been told if I play another year or two years, I could score another 1000 runs. I might be the second highest run scorer, or I might be able to break the Don’s double-century record. But if you really think about it, if that’s the only reason you want to prolong your career, then it is really time to say, ‘Thank you very much.”

He was an ideal team man who valued his contribution for his team more than his individual milestones. “I’ve always prided myself on performing well for the side as an individual, but at the end of the day I want to be able to look my teammates in the eye and say I went out there because I really wanted to do well for the side, and it was nothing to do with individual records.”

Kumar Sangakkara was a chevalier who was a fortress for Sri Lanka in the batting line-up. He could batten down the hatches to hold out enemy incursion and at the same he was somebody who could shapeshift himself into a para-commando to launch a malevolent attack on the oppositions. He has been a specialist batsman, wicket keeper, captain, mentor and more importantly a father figure in the team.

The youngster who walked out to open the innings would stutter, struggle, confront and then unleash rampage on the South African side. As the wickets tumbled at the other end, he held one end up being the lone warrior for his side – many of such would be repeated in the future as well.

On 98, however, a deplorable decision from the umpire sent him back to the pavilion, also bringing the Sri Lankan innings to close. His will to fight and aversion to giving up would characterize his meteoric rise in world cricket.

He preached the world that a man sans talent but with will filled with passion can gradually push all his limits, transcend all constraints and be the man he wanted to be. Very recently, a photo of Sanga giving an animated sermon to the Minister of Sports made rounds in twitter.

From being a sharp-witted young renegade, Sanga now, with silver hair shimmering from his sides, oozes the nonchalance and sagaciousness of a seasoned statesman. His political entry is a far-cry for the time being, but if he does his classiness and astuteness will only bedeck the democratic estates of Sri Lanka.

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