Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Cricket: Sangakkara runs into exalted company

When Kumar Sangakkara joined what is now a first XI of batsmen to reach 10,000 test runs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Boxing Day, it raised the question about where the 35-year-old sits in cricket's pantheon of test greats.

He made the mark in a record 195 innings, equal with Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. His average of 55.80 is second only to Jacques Kallis' 56.92 (ahead of the New Zealand test series).

Yet somehow, even alongside an additional 151 wicketkeeping dismissals, he doesn't seem to get recognition on a par with that trio.

Sangakkara is the 2012 International Cricket Council Cricketer of the Year and, in 2011, became the only current test player to deliver the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord's, emphasising how much cricket has unified the country.

He has an influence in Sri Lanka comparable to Sir Richard Hadlee in the New Zealand game; major men performing for minor countries.

Like Hadlee, Sangakkara is one of the sport's finest all-rounders, surely worthy of mention in the same breath as Kallis and Sir Garfield Sobers, even if he catches and stumps the opposition rather than bowls them out.

Sangakkara can also make a case as Sri Lanka's greatest player.

There are other contenders. Arjuna Ranatunga's indefatigable leadership galvanised them through the 1995 Murali throwing controversy to triumph at the 1996 World Cup. Muralitharan's world record wicket-taking spin and Boxing Day tsunami heroics gift him a special place in the nation's heart.

Mahela Jayawardene, like Sangakkara, has made 10,000 runs and has few peers in mixing geniality with competitiveness as a captain.

Sangakkara's average is the highest by a Sri Lankan. Jayawardene is next (for those who have played more than four tests), at 49.41, ahead of the third test against Australia.

After Mitchell Johnson fractured Sangakkara's left index finger in Melbourne, he may never return to play tests in Australasia - the earliest opportunity is when New Zealand host Sri Lanka in 2014-15.

Sangakkara averages 'only' 48 against New Zealand in 10 tests after struggling in the recent series. Perhaps his most significant innings in this country was 156 not out as part of 268 at Wellington in December 2006 when Sri Lanka won the second test.

Making 59 per cent of a team's runs, as he did at the Basin Reserve, is rare, yet Sangakkara scored 100 not out as part of 170 in the previous test loss at Christchurch.

He was a pleasure to observe: checked straight drives, flowing arms cover driving, poise waiting to clip any balls drifting on to his pads, resolute defence.

From the vaulted ceiling at Kandy's Old Trinitians' Sports Club, a coat of arms draped from the roof reads Respice Finem (the Latin translation: "Look towards the end"). This is the motto of the club's alma mater, Trinity College, where Sangakkara was a pupil.

In 1996, when he was senior prefect (head boy), top scholar and sportsman, the country won the World Cup. He was playing international cricket in four years, driven by that 1996 team's emergence as a microcosm of how he wanted Sri Lankan society to be.

It was "players from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions sharing their common joy, their passion and love for each other and their motherland".

Sangakkara will now start to 'look towards the end' as he contemplates how long to continue his 115-test career. Against New Zealand in October, his batting lacked its characteristic poise, albeit with a slight reprieve in Australia.

When wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene was injured in the Melbourne test, Sangakkara's glovework lacked the sharpness of old.

Sangakkara has dealt with considerable political and social upheaval during his career. Monumental events like the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the Lahore terrorist attack on the team bus in March 2009 and the end to the Sri Lankan civil war in May 2009 have been threaded through it. In 2006, when Muralitharan took responsibility to organise part of the post-tsunami recovery operation, Sangakkara, Jayawardene and others drove around and helped in convoys, even observing warring factions coming together to help each other.

During the Lahore bus attack he took a bullet in the shoulder and a seat where his head had been moments earlier was also sprayed. He said of the incident: "It is strange how clear your thinking is. I did not see my life flash by. There was no insane panic. There was absolute clarity and awareness of what was happening at that moment."

Sangakkara now has to decide with that same clarity when it is the perfect moment to leave the game. He deserves to be remembered in Hadlee fashion.

- Herald on Sunday

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