Kumar Sangakkara played his last ODI match on 18th March, 2015. It was one of the most abysmal ends to what is one of the greatest careers. Sangakkara was out for 45 off 96 balls, the second-last man to fall in Sri Lanka’s paltry score of 133 against South Africa in the first quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup. The moment of Sanga walking away was picturesque, but far from picture perfect. It was raining, he had performed poorly and there minuscule chances of victory. One of the greatest exponents of the limited overs game, one who scripted records till the match before that, was leaving the field disheartened. As emotional as the moment was, there is one thing that I’m certain of, this image is not how his monumental ODI career should be remembered.
Sangakkara will be remembered as the second most successful batsman in ODI history, with 14234 runs, second only to Sachin Tendulkar, studded with 25 centuries, and the numerous records that he has created and broken in the 50-over game, becoming one of the greatest ODI careers in the last decade.
He should also be remembered as the most successful wicketkeeper, with over 500 dismissals (402 catches, 99 stumpings), beating the record of Adam Gilchrist, who is acknowledged as the best wicketkeeper-bat in cricket.
Wickets was not the only thing Sanga kept, he kept up the mood of the match from behind the stumps. We may complain all we like about his incessant appealing, but there is no denying that he was entertaining on the stump mic. Besides his Niyammai encouraging the bowlers, his sledging and mind games were amusing. From quoting Oscar Wilde’s quips to Kallis to the now iconic video of him sledging Shaun Pollock in a 2003 World Cup match, he managed to make most people smile with his antics.
Sanga should also be remembered as an astute captain on field and an inspirational leader off it. His captaincy figures of 1765 runs in 45 matches do not do justice to the impact he had. Despite his resignation following the defeat to India in the 2011 World Cup finals, he remains one of Sri Lanka’s most loved captains. In his final match as captain, he proved what it is to be a true sportsman in his post-match speech and conduct. No wonder, Sri Lanka received a hero’s welcome in Colombo despite defeat.
A national icon for his country, Sangakkara has always spoken about the problems plaguing Sri Lanka, going out on a limb against corrupt administrations. He led the team during the months where they were not paid by their Board and brought out the internal politics in public to ensure better functioning. His MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture in 2011 on ‘The story of Sri Lankan cricket’ is considered one of the most important speeches in cricketing history.
His on and off field achievements, lead to numerous awards, prominent among which is 2012 ICC Awards where he won three awards, including the prestigious Cricketer of the Year and Test Cricketer of the Year as well as the People's Choice prize, for the second consecutive time.
In limited overs cricket, his biggest achievement would be the 2014 Twenty20 World Cup, his only major World Championship trophy. For a player whose team had made it to the finals of the last four World championship trophies but always ended runners up, contributing to win a major title victory was a great achievement. His 52 off 35 in the finals, his last T20 match, earned him the Man of the Match and a fitting farewell in at least one format of the game.
Now for some of my personal favorite Sangakkara memories.
My earliest memory of Sangakkara is from his days as the long-haired, rockstar type days in the early 2000s. He made his ODI debut in 2000 vs Pakistan at Galle as a 23-year old, scoring 35 before he was run-out. In his debut series, a tri-series involving South Africa as well, which Sri Lanka won, he made 199 runs at an average of 66, and was the 4th highest run-getter. From then on, there was no stopping him from making his mark in the 50-over game.
My favorite Sangakkara ODI innings is one that came in a loss. His highest score of 169 is vs. South Africa and he has scored some brilliant tons against other teams as well. But the innings I enjoyed watching the most, came in 2006 against India in Jaipur, where opening the innings, he scored an unbeaten 138 of 147 deliveries. What entertaining stroke play it was, with 13 boundaries and 2 sixes! Unfortunately for him, his Indian wicket-keeping counterpart Mahendra Singh Dhoni scored 183 in the chase of 299 and India won that game by 6 wickets.
Another innings, again an unfortunate one, is the one he played against Australia in the 2007 World Cup finals in West Indies. Sri Lanka lost that game by Duckworth-Lewis method but Sanga scored a valiant 54 off 52 amidst constant rain. This image says it all about the conditions that day.
The above innings, was stitched along with his best mate and strongest partner, Mahela Jayawardene. Throughout their 15-year long careers, they have remained the mainstay in Sri Lankan batting, forming one of the best left-right combinations we have seen in recent cricket history. Known as Sangawardene, their partnership statistics of 5992 runs at an average of almost 42 over 151 innings tells the story of both their best partners in cricket. Best friends till the end, they both played their last T20 and ODI game together.
While Jaywardene was the classic wrist-flicker, Sangakkara was the stylish puncher. His trademark cover-drive, immortalized in so many photographs, is one of the most beautiful sights in cricket for me. Watching Sanga go down on his knees, put his weight behind the ball and slice the ball through covers, if seen in slow-motion, can be cricket’s version of porn!
This ‘pornography’ was in full force during his last ever ODI assignment, the 2015 World Cup. The number of records he made in his 7 matches of the tournament, were enough for everyone to question his decision to retire when in such sublime form. His captain Angelo Mathews even went on to say, “I have gone on my knees to beg him out of retirement, but at the end of the day, it is his decision.” He amassed 541 runs in 7 matches at an average of 108.20. He scored an unbeaten 105 against Bangladesh, 117 not out against England, 104 against Australia and 124 vs. Scotland to become the first batsman to record four consecutive hundreds in ODIs. Ironically, his only failure came in the game that needed him the most, and became his last.
But, in his own words, “Now that I am 37, the joints are creaking. I consider myself lucky. Sometimes, things just fall in place. Everything clicks. No matter how hard you try to find that one thing, it becomes difficult.” This was before that disastrous quarterfinals, but he was just as eloquent after it. “Disappointments are a part of our career, and you just take it on the chin and move on. Retiring from cricket is not about form. I feel that the time is now and it’s right, I’ve tried to give everything I have when I’ve played the game, the game goes on. You can’t hold onto it and people shouldn’t be too sentimental. I think a lot better players and greater players have gone, and the game has gone on and there are new players who take the mantle, and in my case it won’t be any different."
On that note, all I can say is Farewell Sanga, I for one will miss you.