All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
As the two paladins of Sri Lanka cricket bow down from their illustrative careers, it is hard holding back your urge to obsess retrospectively on what they have given not only to cricket but also to Sri Lanka.
It takes a partnership to concoct a great product. Ernesto Guvera had Alberto Granado alongside him in his famous motorcycle journeys. Steve Jobs was accompanied by Steve Wozniac as they built the circuits for the Apple computers. When Google was born in a garage in the USA, it was two men- Larry Page and Sergey Brin who were smirking at what they had sired.
Unlike ends attract each other. Opposite charges stick together. It was the alliance between two dissimilar people from similar backgrounds that helped Sri Lanka both as a cricket team and as a nation find its true national identity.
Mahela was already the vice-captain of the team when Sanga pushed out Kaluwitharana as the national side’s wicket keeper in 2000. The right hander was from Nalanda College- one of the two biggest Buddhist institutions in the country. Kumar was from Trinity College- one of the many missionary schools built during the British rule.
Both of their families were affluent and erudite. Mahela was a prodigy even during his childhood days. His games for his school filled stadiums to the brink. Sangakkara, on the other hand, had interests that ran the gamut. He was a violinist, a national badminton champion at under 15 level, a national tennis champion at under 15 level and his school team’s wicket keeper batsman.
In the face of being the uncrowned princes of Sri Lanka, both of them had a morbid teen-age. Mahela lost his younger brother Dishal to brain cancer that would leave a lasting scar in his cricketing career. His partner in crime in cricket was no more. May be that is what made him bond so well with Kumar Sangakkara to compilea brotherhood the cricketing fairy tales never saw.
Sanga grew up among riots and violence. The JVP insurgents in the central of Sri Lanka ripped through the lives of innocents trying to have the gigantic hills of Sri Lanka under the control of bullets and guns. The highest run scorer for Sri Lanka’s home became a sanctuary for refugees and was accommodating everyone despite the dire situation and the risk involved.
Perhaps, it is that experience of death, riots and violence that helped both the stalwarts empathize with the war ravaged land and help them heal. They were never distant from the ordinary people of Sri Lanka despite the lack of media attention the celebrities in Sri Lanka receive. They were one of the firsts to set on an expedition to provide reliefs when the gigantic waves from Indian Ocean turned the eastern and southern costs into debris. It was they who ran first to the north to help reconcile when the tentacles of war and violence was finally expurgated.
Different personalities with different gameplans
As far as cricket was concerned, Mahela was the most talented. He was a free flowing, instinctive flair filled batsman. Sanga on the other hand was bereft of any talent but worked passionately harder towards cricket. Mahela was like a brilliant student who could score effortless hundreds in examinations with hardly any revisions, whereas Sangakkara was a hardworking student who would answer all the past paper questions, write down probable questions and try answering them before walking in to an exam hall.
The elegant right hander was completely Sri Lankan in his batting. Always trying to attack, always looking to dominate attacks, listening to his heart and playing by his instincts. The south paw was completely un-Sri Lankan in his approach to batting.
The team had been almost akin to a family to the duumvirate. Sanga was more patronizing. He was the patron who would silently observe his juniors. He was distant and aloof, smiling sarcastically during crunch situations as if he could foresee what would happen. The eloquent cricketer was always severe when relaying advices. The glower and fingers pointing at you almost reminds you of your father’s advices. That was not a harsh act, instead an act of endearment. The love for the juniors and the care he takes, turns into his penchant to harbour and harness them that end up in long lectures during the middle.
Mahela, meanwhile was more like a matron. Never shy to run up to a junior, clutch and ruffle his hairs and shake his shoulders going overboard in his discourse of encomium. He had a very good pair of eyes in spotting talents. You always get a lesson on how to groom a youngster when you see Mahela batting with a youngster. It is the very brotherhood that he engendered with the youngsters that made the team call him Maiya, a portmanteau of Mahela and Aiya, the latter meaning elder brother.
Maiya was a great captain. On field, he was like a chevalier marshalling his troops. He never let pressure get onto the rest of the team. When Malinga was being humiliated by Kohli at Hobart in 2012, Mahela kept throwing the ball to him despite clearly knowing the destiny, since the Slinger’s confidence would be paramount for the team for future assignments.
Sangakkara was a great leader, often leading by example. He was exceptionally good with the media and was the unofficial spokesperson of the team long since. He was diplomatic and always knew how to reverse any psychological disadvantage. Mahela’s on field astuteness and Sanga’s off-field sagacious leadership, ensured Sri Lanka cricket was tactically an impermeable fortress.
As they retire, it is not just their batting that would be dearly missed. It is their colossal presence, the confidence they ensue in the fans knowing that there are two superstars in the top-order who could always hurl the team from any kind of trouble.
The duo know each other well. They could read each other’s mind from their end as if they had mastered the science of telepathy. They have had on-field arguments just like any friends who can switch from tirades to compliments instantly. Yet, they were never shy to celebrate each other’s success as if it were their very own.
You ask Sanga, who the better of the two is and Sanga would predictable say Mahela, postulating his own theory to vindicate his choice. Mahela will have his own way of arguing to say why Sanga is the best. At times they might push the fans to the brink of their patience with their overtly saccharine eulogies for each other. As, Andrew Fernando once wrote, it is these un-upmanship that makes you feel like punching them on their faces.
Retirements, a bigger loss than the WC exit
The whole of Sri Lanka was mourning, not because of the World Cup exit but because they will never be able to espy both Sanga and Mahela. It is their absence that would hurt the emotions of the Sri Lankans more than the World Cup defeat.
The country had lost 2 world cup finals in a row. Two WT20 finals went begging, but the nation didn’t lament, since they believed they could turn it around the next time. The similar feelings emerged, only to come to terms with the reality that there would be no Sanga and Mahela the next time the Lion nation fields their XI for a game of cricket.
The way they loved the country and its people and the way they single handedly united the nation through cricket- a panacea that heals all social evils, will always adorn the folklore of the country. Their story is no less-sacred than the stories that bedeck the hallowed pages of Mahavamsa- the second oldest written history in the world.
They were rebellions who always stood up against injustice, often questioning authority while bowing down to the law. Through each and every contract dispute that plagued Sri Lanka cricket, both Sanga and Mahela manifested their protest by not signing it and playing without any guaranteed payment. Not even at a single stage, did they threaten to quit playing, even when the franchises all over the world were ready to afford any amount of money to get their services. In fact, it was the board that threatened to axe them.
Sri Lanka cricket will definitely miss their guiding arms. The shots they played and their mannerisms will always live in our memory. Growing up amidst war and violence, they both gave us the best childhood memories. It is said that teen age is the spring of life and we are lucky to have had our spring overlap with Sri Lanka cricket’s spring. We can only joyously shed tears that our best time coincided with Sri Lanka cricket’s best.
In a country without a viable cinema industry, it is in the Sangawardene combo that we found romance, passion, emotions and drama. In that night in Dhaka, when the twin towers grabbed each other’s hair to knock their heads together, we found romance. When from behind the stumps, they vociferously appealed we expereinced passion. As the Sri Lankan side collapsed in front of the home crowd against West Indies in 2012, we encountered drama in the glum faces of Sanga and Mahela. Emotions were replete, when the duo last batted together in a T20I match in Dhaka. There was a huge sigh from the fans as Mahela mistimed a slog to the short mid-wicket fielder.
The current generation is destined to narrate the story about their bromance to their grandchildren just like how older generation now speak of Sir Don Bradman, Viv Richards and Gary Sobers.
We will always yearn to watch these two play again. Those hot Sunday afternoons, where we sip king coconut, ogling at them grind a huge partnership in Galle or SSC while listening to the Papares will never come.
Inevitably, our eyes will search for the names of Sangakkara and Jayawardene in Sri Lanka’s scorecards. That is how we grew up. That is how we knew Sri Lanka cricket. It is almost instinctive as putting your arm around the seat next to you, only to find your best friend is no more with you. Life will never be the same. The television sets will never look the same. When we paint our face in blue and yellow and wave the lion flag in a cricket stadium, the feel will never be the same.
Cricket often colludes to make sure that consummated careers will never look complete. There will always be those ifs and coulds in legendary careers. May be the cricketing gods understand it very well, that there is rhetorical beauty in incompleteness. Certain paintings during renaissance have been intentionally left unfinished, since the artists deemed completion would enshroud the beauty of the existing artwork.
Possibly, it is for the very reason the cricket denied Bradman an average of 100. A complete career for Bradman would not have given us those poignant memories of his, which in turn would have made us cold shoulder him as just another urban legend of the past.
In the case of Sanga and Mahela too, the delight of a world cup win would have assuaged the pain of bereavement. The pain we feel is because of our inability to witness the duo sign off on a high. Pain in the hearts of fans is the best valediction for any heroes. So cricket, one must admit, has played fair.
It is tough moving on without them. From the Dialog bill boards in the cities to the Coca-Cola banners in rural areas, they will all remind us of the epic partnership and the legacy they are leaving behind.
Is there a more poignant picture than that of Sangkkara walking off for one last time? May be the picture of Bradman’s last innings could come close. But the shower from the heavens as the man strode off one of the oldest cricket venue on earth is more histrionic and poignant than anything else. It it tough to avoid scenes from “Spartans” , where the Spartan king stared at destiny with rain wetting his body while falling down unceremoniously, coming to your mind. That picture of the paladin marching out would always be etched to the hearts of all Sri Lankans.
Memories won’t die
How could we ever forget Mahela scampering to ground his bat at the non-striker’s end as the ball flies to the boundary, compulsively. Don’t you ever think the memories of Sanga glaring like a hawk and moving his chin up and down to make sure his head is aligned properly will ever fade away. The way he would take his gloves off, tucking his bat under the armpit before drinks breaks will always be permanently emblazoned in our hearts.
Sanga’s concerned face with his arms folded and Mahela’s nail bites and blowing of cheeks can never be witnessed again. The “you know”s of Mahela and the “uhr”s of Sanga will always reverberate in our ears. The smiles that belies the pain after losing each world cups and the hands of Sanga that collide like cymbals behind the stump have all become lasting memories of our childhood. The shrug of Mahela and Sanga’s distorted mouth as he speaks impudently are all relics of Sri Lanka cricket.
It is tough to imagine Sri Lanka cricket without them. It is not the 26,884 runs or the 620 catches that would be missed. It is their presence that will be missed no end. The nation will never see their heroes again- of course Sanga would play a couple of Test series. They stood together duiring times of great sorrow and adversities. They celebrated success together. Now they are bidding au revoir together. They were our childhood heroes. Now, you clearly know that your childhood is over. We are officially adults now. The play time is now over.
They were the saviours of Sri Lanka cricket. Amidst various in-house plights they kept cricket in the island illuminating. They were the island’s torch bearers. Only as they retire, do you realise a decade has almost flown passed you fast.
Sanga and Mahela were Sri Lankan cricket’s identification. Just like how a cat identifies another by the scent, just as how the immune system identifies bacteria by the antigens the world identified Sri Lanka cricket by the two pillars. Sri Lanka cricket has lost its face.
Their debuts and farewells will always adorn the memories of Sri Lankans. Cricket in Sri Lanka without Sanga and Mahela would be like an India without Taj-Mahal, a France without the Eifel tower, a New York without the statue of liberty.
Home would not be home without your mom. A class room will never be the same without your best buddies. The sky will be bereft of romanticness without the moon. Cricket in the island would never be the same without Sanga and Mahela. The cricket in the emerald isle will for some time be like an orphaned child without its parents.
Perhaps, Mahela can be happy about the fact that he will have more time to spend with his benevolent daughter and Sanga can take heart from the fact that he no more needs to listen to his father’s tedious coaching tips. They can both be relieved as they no more have to tussle with the politically plagued Cricket board to haggle justice.
Fear no more the politics of the board
Nor the furious Medias’ rages;
Thou thy career hast done,
Home art gone and ta’en thy wages:
Great heroes and legends all must,
Like the pitch in Galle, come to dust.