Any heart-warming novel will have its final chapter. Any supremely impassioned movie will have its final minutes. A good rendition of mellifluous music will glide through a crescendo before petering out to a cathartic consummation.
Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara, the prince with the clear voice, is nearing the finish line of his career.
This is like a graphics package rendering a carefully designed, sophisticated art-work to give its final shape. The progress bar has the green slab filling it; it’s now almost complete and chock-full of green. But once it stops, it will not be the end. It would, instead, be the peak moment that will unveil the holistic effort of the artist in its full glory.
Sanga’s career will not end with his retirement; the crafty legacy of the left-hander will forever adorn the annals of cricket.
The silver-tongued Sri Lankan averages 41.97 with the bat in ODIs. He has 25 centuries, four of them manufactured back-to-back in his last four innings. Age takes a toll on any sportsman, but in Sanga’s case, it only seems to make him better. He is a diamond who is glinting more with every touch of polish.
This definitely drags any cricket fan to the front, shooting a stereotype question. Should he call it a day? Now, when he is playing better than he has ever done in his 15-year career?
The process of Sanga’s batting
Sangakkara is a perfectionist. His life is simple, and so is his batting. When other batsmen espouse the ramps and the reverse hits, Sanga nonchalantly unfurls the cover drives and inside-outs. His batting does not have the flamboyance of a Lara nor the sophistication of a Tendulkar. There is an algorith to the southpaw’s batting, which he executes every time he wields the bat.
He struts to the crease, chewing his gum. He marks the guard, aligns his feet and then holds the bat aloft – kissing the blade. Then he peeks towards the non-striker’s end, making sure his head is still and shoulder is perpendicular.
As the bowler approaches the bowling mark, his brain starts doing the calculation. A SWOT analysis happens within a fraction of a second. He is a prophet who can envision the consequences of his actions. He is a connoisseur who can grade every ball. He is a hunting feline in the wild, who accurately recognizes an opportunity to attack and expertly knows the time to crouch.
Sangakkara always knows what he is doing. He is not a batsman who thrives on luck. The systematic, methodical approach he has towards batting does not fail to function when it comes to making imperative life decisions.
He knows the best about himself. He knows exactly what the country needs, what the team needs and what he needs. So when he runs through a brainstorming session and arrives at a conclusion, you ought to accept it. No one knows better than Sanga does.
He is cricket’s marksman, for a marksman needs both the skill of remaining calm and patient, and the ability to choose the right moment. Running a bullet through an enemy’s head from kilometres away requires expert acumen. Whenever Sanga decides, he pulls the trigger. Who are we to interfere?
Leaving on a high
Very few players have bid adieu to cricket when at their peak. Muralitharan picked up eight crucial wickets in his last Test before bowing out. King Kallis made a century in his final Test. Aravinda de Silva was flicking the young quick Brett Lee for sixes over midwicket during his twilight; his final Test innings produced a double century. Mike Hussey’s retirement came as a bolt from the blue, at a time when the southpaw was ruling the roost in the Australian middle order.
But the common trait among all these greats was that despite them being fit and producing performances of grit and substance, their ability had dwindled with age. Kallis during the latter part of his career was not the Kallis he used to be seven years previously. Murali’s off breaks were not spitting as much poison as they had a couple of years earlier. Hussey and De Silva could come close to Sanga in a way that their best came during their twilight, but even they had started showing signs of decline.
But in Sanga’s case, his already stellar records are becoming even more stellar with age. He is like red wine; the more you wait, the better he becomes.
Right time to go?
Sanga’s batting is moving like an exponentially increasing curve on a graph. But the curve has come close to the limits of the X-axis; it can go no further. All that the fans can do is to extrapolate the graph and paint in their imagination what it would have been like were he to go further.
Sangakkara knows very well that cricket is a team sport and that no player is bigger than the team. Can he still score runs? Yes. Does the team still need him? Yes. Can he make the next World Cup? No.
If you are not going to make the next check point, then there is no point in making the journey only to stop mid-way. At the most he could play for another two years. If he is going to hog a spot in the team for two years, then the team’s chance of grooming a youngster at that spot would be that much delayed.
The great man has left no stone unturned in his career. He has nothing more to conquer. He has attained everything that a man could do in his life. Of course, he would be able to shatter a few more records should he proceed further. But is he a hoarder of records? Absolutely not. He is the perfect team man, who would brag about his contribution to the team rather than gloat about his personal milestones.
There are fans who call him a minnow basher and a flat track bully. But he is a batsman who was created rather than born. He explored his own weaknesses and nullified them over time. A good way to explain this would be to take a look at the way he has handled Trent Boult in the recent past.
Boult kept troubling Sanga in the Tests. Any batsman can have an aversion towards a particular bowler – Sachin, in his entire career could never figure out a way to play Jimmy Anderson. But what makes Sanga a different batsman is his approach to mistakes.
If you are bowler and you spot a weak spot in Sanga’s armour, you better not look to exploit it at every opportunity. That would be like an overdose of an antibiotic. The more you use it, the less effective it becomes. Boult looked to exploit Sanga’s weakness far too often. The veteran realized that, went back to his laboratory (alias the nets), and found a way to fix it. Testing and debugging over, the chevalier came back to score a double ton against the left-arm seamer.
Sangakkara’s average of around 44 in overseas Tests might deceive many. But touring overseas once in a blue moon and batting in a fragile batting order, often going out to bat in the first over of an innings despite being a number three, have made sure that Sanga failed to accumulate the numbers to do justice to his ability.
He was often the lone warrior in the Sri Lankan batting line-up. With a better set of batsmen, Sanga could have had more. The lack of overseas Tests also played a part in his unflattering numbers – Sangakkara played only five Tests in Australia in his 15-year career. Virat Kohli, despite being a youngster in comparison, has already played nine.
His first tour of South Africa unveiled the fighter within him. He essayed a sparkling 98 at Centurion, an innings that hardly ever gets a mention, in only his 6th Test match, while the veteran seniors competed in marching towards the pavilion. The next tour of South Africa would not come four another eight years.
He lacked the natural panache of Lara or the innate ability of Sachin. But Sanga embodies the athlete who makes up for lack of talent with an abundance of passion. Sanga showed the world that hard work and grit can atone for any apparent shortcoming.
The light flickers bright before it fades away. A good book will definitely elicit the feeling that it could have gone on a bit more. A good movie will have viewers gaping wonderstruck as the credits roll. A good piece of music will keep reverberating in your ears even after it completes its run.
The silence after the end will always tug at our heartstrings and make us gasp at what has just passed. But that is also the time you have to close your eyes, shed silent tears of joy and admiration, and move on.
The country is bigger than Sanga. The team is bigger than Sanga. Yes, his retirement will leave a huge hole in the team, but the hole can be filled only if Sanga vacates it.