It was outside the off and he recognized it was in the driving area, what followed next was something like this. Led by front shoulder into the shot he took a full stride towards the pitch of the ball, bent down a little to adjust his body weight to transfer it into the front foot, his bat came down from slip keeping it as close to his pad as possible, he kept his elbow high and bat straight (The makers were proud of the complete visibility of their logo), he lent forward a little more (in perfectly rehearsed manner), the bat seemed like just kissing the ball, which to play its part in the whole act raced away all along the carpet to the boundary. The follow through was majestic (and natural). Over his 15 years international career where Sangakkara has struck 3001 boundaries many have followed the above routine. He was unique, not because the way he batted, not because the way he kept wicket, not because the way he handled his troops when in command, but because of the fact that all this traits came in a package. An excellent wicket keeper who was the mainstay of his team’s batting for over one and half decades, and one of the most important brains behind the success of his nation in international cricket post Arjuna Ranatunga era. And yes there were occasional cover drives which mesmerized the age-old purists and the modern day T20 loving youth alike.
When he first broke into international circuit left handed batsmanship in Srilanka meant the destructive Jayasurya, the busy Ranatunga or careless Gurusighe. His first 9 test matches went past without a hundred. People saw talent in enormity but surely no one thought that that talent will convert into the numbers he boasts of today. Fans in Srilanka were probably looking for someone to fill Kaluwitharana’s shoes and not a replacement of any of the three mentioned above, bettering them was a far-fetched dream.
But he did that. He did that by following the basics found in coaching manuals but added a style of his own alongside. What epitomizes Sanga is the way he went about his business. Like the cover drive he tirelessly kept on repeating every other technically correct shots from the book. A very unique Sanga way. This made sure he not only scored hundred in test matches against each team but his average against any team was not below 40 overall.
There will be many memories from that illustrious career. In 2007 Srilanka were playing Austrlia at Hobart, and it Was Marvan Atapattu’s final match, but sanga took the centre stage with his innings of 192. It was not only one of the best innings in test cricket to watch and remember but also was significant for many other reasons. For starter it had almost chocked the mighty Aussies even after posting a mammoth 507 as target with 5 sessions in hand. And Sanga on his part after a clam and assured start decided to go ballistic when he realized he was the only hope left. The bouncer from Stuart Clark which hit his helmet before lobbing to Ponting and made Rudi Koertzen wrongly raise his finger ended the match for Srilanka. Sanga was furious with the decision and it took an apology from Rudy to calm him down. Such was his fierceness.
In all he is 5th in the all time run getters list in test matches. His average of 58 in test matches makes him the best amongst anyone who crossed 7000 runs. In the 52 matches won by Srilanka (in which he featured) he averages a Bradmanesque 74.58 (best after Sir Bradman himself by a long way) with 24 hundreds. The same is 71.66 in matches drawn (37 of them) and 35.21 in matches lost (42 of them) which clearly outlines the importance of his batting prowess and Srilanka’s dependence on him.
Looking at his batting style you would think he is better suited only for the longer format but Sanga was a learner throughout. His ODI average may not be as overwhelming, but take a look at the list .He is at number two amongst all time highest run getters (After Sachin Tendulkar) with the next 13 in the list having retired. Gayle is closest to him amongst active players but is almost 5000 runs short.
During 2014 T20 world cup in which Srilanka was the eventual winner Sanga had started poorly. He looked tired and out of touch. He scored only 19 runs in 4 innings and before the finals against India there were some section where doubts about his place in the side crept in. He compensated with a clinical 52 not out in the finals which won them the game.
His final limited over tournament – the 2015 ODI world cup saw Srilanka lose more than half the side to injury but Sanga stood firm throughout. While doing so he became the first batsman in the history of the game to score 4 back to back centuries in ODIs. What’s more, each innings seemed to be played with a mission to better the one before both in terms of number of balls faced, aggression and impact. It ended during quarter finals. Sangakkara failed to get going during a labored 45 of 96 balls and so did Srilanka.
The pain of not winning a world cup will remain in an otherwise very satisfying career. He will face India next for one more test match after which he will mostly be confined (perhaps fittingly)to the red ball cricket, in the birthplace of the game itself (England, where he has a 2 year deal with Surrey cricket club). We all cricket lovers would love to see him do well as according his own admission he will not make a good coach and hence we may have little chance to see him in the Srilankan dressing room again.