By Karthik Parimal
"Balanced yet intense, ruthless in his need to succeed, and always contributing to his team's cause. It takes a lot of courage and commitment to maintain a high standard for a long period, to endure many upheavals and to be a regular in all forms of the game" - Peter Roebuck
Kumar Sangakkara is among the rare breed of players who are expected to perform every single time they walk out to the middle and, yet, rarely disappoint. He is like a messiah, who comes to Sri Lanka’s rescue almost unfailingly with classy elegance and undying determination. It was his 211 in the second innings of the first Test at Abu Dhabi that saved Sri Lanka the blushes yet again and denied Pakistan victory. His innings underlined, yet again, the enormous value he brings to the side.
After being bundled out for a paltry 197 in the first innings and trailing by 314 in the second, it takes character to fight and save the Test. The influence of Twenty20 cricket has diminished the importance of spending time at the crease to ensure that the bowlers toil for wickets. Nevertheless, Sangakkara and Prasanna Jayawardene did it in style. This is familiar scenario for Sangakkara, who he has pulled Sri Lanka out of troubled waters in the past.
Sangakkara has been a symbol of consistency. In the recently-concluded home series against Australia he played a key role in helping Sri Lanka fight back in the remaining two Tests after beaten comprehensively by the visitors in the first Test. He scored 223 runs in three Tests at an average of just under 45, thereby becoming the second highest scorer for Sri Lanka in that series, behind Angelo Mathews.
In the last 12 months alone, Sangakkara has amassed three centuries and three fifties. He played 10 Tests and scored 848 runs at an impressive average of 53 – just below his career average of 56.45. He has also been the highest run-getter for Sri Lanka and the sixth highest run-scorer overall in Tests during the last one year.
Sangakkara is a natural leader, and the way he dexterously handled the Sri Lankan team after taking over the captaincy from Mahela Jayawardene bears testimony to that. He continues to inspire even after he relinquished his post as a skipper and handed over the mantle to Tillakaratne Dilshan.
When Sri Lanka toured England a few months ago, they were bundled out for a paltry score of 184 in the first innings of the Third Test. England posted a decent 377 for eight in reply. At the end of Day Four, Sri Lanka were 112 for three, and were staring at an innings defeat in tricky conditions. But Sangakkara stepped forward and scored his first-ever century in England and inspired night-watchman Rangana Herath to defend his wicket in the trying circumstances. Herath became a thorn in the flesh of the English bowlers by scoring 36 of 72 balls under damp conditions on the final day.
Sri Lanka, it may be recalled, had conceded an innings defeat to England under similar circumstances in the first Test after being bundled out for a meagre 82.
Sangakkara didn't have a good record in England prior to Sri Lanka's tour earlier this year. However, one got the feeling that a determined Sangakkara would be hungry to prove a point and succeed in England. One important trait of a quality player is that he learns from his mistakes, and Sangakkara did exactly that. He scored a ton in what could probably be his last tour of England.
“When I first came to England in 2002, I was a bit at sea and tried to make adjustments, but was not getting anywhere. I just kept getting out. The second time around I had two opportunities but couldn’t capitalise. Coming here from the IPL, it was again a case of adjusting this time. Not just technically, but also mentally. It took me a bit too long to do that,” Sangakkara said. More importantly, he succeeded in his endeavour.
Sri Lanka was confronted with a similar situation in the first Test of this ongoing series against Pakistan, and yet again, it was Sangakkara and Prasanna Jayawardene's heroics that helped Sri Lanka avoid a defeat. Credit must be given to Prasanna Jayawardene for making a tremendous comeback in the second innings after scoring a duck in the first.
Sangakkara has been a source of inspiration to many, and his calm and collected approach to high-pressure situations is something extraordinary. This approach is probably the reason behind the tremendous success he has attained over the last few years. If he carries this form into the remaining Tests and obtain a little support from the remaining batsmen, Sri Lanka can dominate this series.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)