In contrasting settings, two men rallied towards personal landmarks but agonisingly fell short. Kumar Sangakkara’s 199 ended in bizarre circumstance while the young Alex Hales was bowled on 99. Nishad Pai Vaidya argues that the formats may have been different, but the agony of missing out on a milestone is indescribable.
In a sport that is obsessed with statistics, the three figure mark is a magical number with a mystic aura. Be it the great Don Bradman’s pursuit of the perfect hundred, or Sachin Tendulkar’s painful quest for the hundredth ton, the world had its eyes set on these men. The celebratory buzz that engulfs a ground when a batsman reaches a landmark is a touching moment and symbolic of an ancient tradition – that of a victorious gladiator waving his weapon to a cheering crowd. However, the great leveler that the game is, the batsmen may have to endure heartbreaking disappointments when on the cusp of history.
In two different formats, in contrasting settings, miles away from each other, two batsmen tasted the bitter disappointment of falling short of memorable landmarks. Under the hot and humid sun at Galle, Kumar Sangakkara was left stranded on 199 in bizarre circumstances in the first Test against Pakistan. On the other hand, Alex Hales was bowled out for 99 in a T20 International against West Indies at Nottingham. The situations were in stark contrast, but the agony of missing out was shattering.
An error on the scoreboard cost Sangakkara a possible ninth double hundred in Test cricket. Had he achieved it, he would have been tied with Brian Lara on the second spot in the list of the batsmen who have scored the most number of double hundreds in Test cricket. As it stands, Sangakkara would have wait for some more time to overhaul the number and become second only to Bradman.
Sangakkara’s effort deserved a double as it would have made the occasion very special and put cherry on top of the cake. Although Sri Lanka dominated the first day, Pakistan came back hard during the second. Saeed Ajmal in particular pulled things back brilliantly. Even on the first day, he asked the batsmen a number of questions and made the task a touch tougher for them. Coming around the wicket, Ajmal bowled few deliveries that troubled Sangakkara.
Even as the other batsmen stuttered, Sangakkara held firm and rallied Sri Lanka’s charge and marched towards the historic double. When he was on 182, Sri Lanka had lost their ninth wicket and it was a tricky time as he had to protect the tailender as well as aim for the double. The scoreboard showed that Sangakkara was on 194, when he danced down the track and lofted a huge six – prompting a spontaneous celebration. His teammates were quick to signal that there was a mistake and he was actually on 193 before hitting the big one. With one ball remaining in the over, he wasn’t able to get the important single, leaving the last man to face the music.
In a partnership that lasted just over four overs, No 11 Nuwan Pradeep faced just five balls – a fact that shows that Sangakkara had done well to farm most of the strike. As luck would have it, Pradeep’s woodwork was disturbed on the second ball of the next over. That shattered Sangakkara’s dreams of a double ton. He had done almost everything right and battled the conditions against a quality bowling attack.
The question is: Would his approach have been different had the scoreboard indicated 193? Would he have been a little more cautions and taken a single off the penultimate delivery instead of smashing a six? Even then, Pradeep would have been exposed to Ajmal for a delivery. In hindsight, one can draw different scenarios and as they say “those are all ifs and buts.”
Coming to Hales, his reaction on dismissal was of intense anguish as here was a youngster vying a maiden ton at the international level. Chasing 173 against a dangerous West Indies side, Hales was absolutely dominant and made England’s run-chase look like a cinch. Together with Ravi Bopara, he constructed a partnership that took England within touching distance.
The 23 year-old would have become the first England player to score a 100 in a T20 international. His knock couldn’t have come at a better time as England are looking towards a good build-up to their defence of the ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka later this year. The general opinion is that when coupled with Ian Bell’s performance in the One-Day International (ODI) series, Hales’ knock gives England tremendous hope in the wake of Kevin Pietersen’s shocking retirement from limited-overs internationals.
Hales was seeing the ball well and the two doubles he took moments before his dismissals indicated that he wasn’t in a hurry to get to the landmark. However, the moment may have got to him as he played across a straight delivery. Was it anxiety and all those years of dreaming about playing for the country that got the better of him? Missing a ton at his home ground was sad to say the least. Scoring a hundred in front of your home crowd, in a setting that is all too familiar is a great moment for any player. Some of the greatest players have taken time to notch a three figure at their home ground as the pressure is unique in it own way. All that anguish was visible when Hales walked back towards the pavilion and then sat in the dug-out with his head in his hands.
Be it the classical or the crude format, a hundred is a gem that is acquired through hard work and persistence. The Duke of Dorchester once said, “What is human life but a game of cricket?” Moments like these tell us that like life, there aren’t always happy endings in cricket.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)