By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The International Cricket Council (ICC) Awards 2012 was the Kumar Sangakkara show as the Sri Lankan batsman walked away with three coveted trophies. On a night where the last season’s top performers were lauded, it was Sangakkara’s aura that captivated the audience and completely dominated the proceedings. A player walking away with three awards – one of which was the “People’s Choice Award” – reflects his popularity, not just as a cricketer but beyond the limits of the cricket field. It was only appropriate that Sangakkara was honoured before his countrymen in Colombo.
On the field of play, Sangakkara is a fighter who gives his best for his country. Time and again, he has battled the odds and scripted epics that have made him the great cricketer he is. Also, his cheeky comments from behind the stumps are witty and distracting – but not vicious and abusive. Through all that he has maintained his integrity and has commanded respect. Apart from that, he seems to be someone who is intelligent and sensitive – which makes him an ideal role model for the younger generation.
The “Test Player of the Year Award” and the “Player of the Year Award” are rewards for his remarkable consistency on the field of play. The “People’s Choice Award” is something that is a real indicator of his stature. More so, because it has come ahead of Sachin Tendulkar – who is a global icon and commands a humongous fan following in almost all the cricket playing nations. While Tendulkar may not have had a very good year, he still remains that great figure everybody looks up to. Sangakkara beating him in the race is certainly a huge accolade.
If one needs a greater understanding of Sangakkara, one needn’t refer the record books or the number of hundreds he has scored. A look at his memorable Colin Cowdrey Lecture in 2011 would present a true reflection of the man himself. A passionate Sangakkara used cricket as a medium to describe the rich history of his country and the importance of the sport in bringing people together. His account of the war that ravaged his land for decades tugged the heart as it brought a perspective to life. In a nutshell, it was an account of his patriotism, passion for representing his country at the highest level and being an ambassador of his people.
Hashim Amla would have been the prime candidate to give Sangakkara some stiff competition in the race for the awards. The South African has been absolutely brilliant over the last year and his recent heroics against England all-but sealed the number one Test spot for his country. Amla has reinvented himself to suit the needs of the one-day game, but continues to play with a classical approach. If he maintains this extraordinary level of consistency, he would be very hard to ignore at the Awards next year.
Perhaps the most obvious winner of the day was Virat Kohli – who received the “One-Day International (ODI) Player of the Year Award”. Some of his stupendous knocks, which were great exhibition of one-day batting in the modern era, sealed the deal. India are lucky that his one-day form has spilled into the Test arena at a time when they are regrouping after the retirements of two stalwarts.
Kohli has scored 13 ODI hundreds in his career – eight of which have come in the last one year. With each hundred, one could see that he was maturing into a better player with an advanced understanding to his game. More importantly, those tons played the situation very well and approached it with simplicity. He didn’t go too far ahead of himself and backed his talent to perform.
The 183 against Pakistan at Dhaka was a major high. In a crunch game at the Asia Cup, against the arch-rivals his fantastic knock made the task of chasing a formidable score of 330 a cinch. During that innings, Kohli had to maintain a good tempo and last in the middle. Essaying good cricketing shots, he kept India on top by dominating the likes of Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Shahid Afridi and the deceptive Saeed Ajmal.
However, Kohli’s assault on Lasith Malinga at Hobart in February would be rated a touch higher than the knock against Pakistan. To stay alive in the tri-series, India had to chase down 321 inside 40 overs and his 133 not out made it look like a walk in the park. As India inched closer, he was severe on Malinga as the world’s best one-day bowler was treated with utter disdain. A bowler who can fire toe-crushing yorkers at will was absolutely clueless as Kohli flicked his way to joy. In one of the overs, Kohli dispatched Malinga to all parts of the ground – milking 24 runs off it. In a way Kohli had done something that was previously though impossible.
With these belligerent knocks stealing the limelight, his well-paced and sensible hundred in an ODI against England at Cardiff last year has been eclipsed. One can say that it was that innings that gave one the impression that Kohli was ready to work on his mistakes and adjust his game. He was going into that game at the back of three consecutive failures on a tour that had tested the Indian team. Batting with Rahul Dravid at Cardiff, Kohli timed his knock to perfection and unfurled an array of strokes after he spent some time in the middle.
For some time, Kohli was likened to Dravid and was touted to grow in his mould. Those beliefs may have been vindicated at Cardiff when the youngster batted with the legend. However, Hobart and Dhaka followed and suddenly Kohli was compared to Tendulkar simply because of the damage inflicted by those knocks. It is important to note that at the age of 23, Kohli is already the mainstay of the Indian line-up – something Tendulkar had achieved by the same time.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)