One of the greatest cricketing mysteries of the twenty first century would be as to why Kumar Sangakkara, after leading his side to a Cricket World Cup final, turned his back on the crown a few hours later and decided to abdicate.
Yes, we have listened to reasons touted, but none of them are plausible. The truth is yet to arrive, but we at this end do not want to hear it.
However, what he did during the last year of international cricket is still yielding results on an individual basis. A few days ago Kumar, who is big enough to say that he still takes batting tips from his father and seeks the wisdom of his school coach Sunil Fernando, was named the ODI Cricketer of the Year for 2011 during the ICC Awards ceremony in London. He also won the ICC People's Choice Award, capping a memorable evening for him. Yet ironically, the Lankan senior cricketer could not make it to London as he was part of the Lankan contingent looking to beat Australia in the final test at SSC, which incidentally is his one hundredth Test outing.
All these accolades went to a Lankan cricketer who openly admits that while at Trinity he was just another run of the mill cricketer, and really blossomed while playing at NCC and seeing real competition. This is where character comes in, when you are in a very competitive surrounding, amongst better known players, and still break the general norms and surface, and then go on to claim the highest accolades. This depicts what you are made of.
Talking about the People’s Choice Kumar said, “The yardstick of a cricketer’s success is his popularity, but it should not be cheap popularity, but, what one has accumulated through doing the right thing.”
Kumar believes that most Test matches are won in the first innings and sides should put a lot of emphasis on that aspect. He is clearly disappointed that during the first two Tests his team could not do that.
But speaking about his century of appearances in Test cricket Sangakkara said, “It is a privilege to be a part of Sri Lanka Cricket for so long. In the past few years, we have been playing at least ten Test matches a year and we have not played as many Test matches as we should have, so it is a very important milestone personally, but it is a Test match and it does not matter whether it is your first Test or your hundredth test, you are looking to win.”
Kumar Sangakkara puts Test cricket above all other forms of the game. He contends that at the end of the day one will not remember how much a cricketer was auctioned off for at the IPL, but what his contributions to Test cricket were. “Test cricket without a doubt! I do not think that anyone is going to talk about how much you went for in an IPL auction. But, they will talk about you if you have thirty plus hundreds, if you have scored ten thousand runs or more or if you have helped your side win Test cricket matches. Then your name is going to be in the record books for a long time. IPL is the year-end bonus to most of the players. I think players will consider Test cricket to be the pinnacle of their profession.”
Talking about players and their roles in certain positions, Sangakkara said that each player in the team knows exactly what his role is in a given game. He said that in the last ten years he has been batting in the position of No 3 and he is aware of his contributions while playing in this position; likewise each player should be aware of why he has been chosen to the team and what his role should be. However he also reiterated that there can be certain occasions where a player has to move out of his comfort zone and play a different role according to the need of the team and the moment, but, generally the positions were static.
When asked if he was under pressure to do better at present, Sangakkara answered, “The pressure always should be in a player. The player should have the adrenaline building up inside you before a game. He should be thinking about what is going to happen in the coming game and how he should tackle a certain bowler. That keeps you going and keeps you growing in the game. Even now when we are traveling to games in the team bus we keep talking about the impending match. The day that the adrenaline stops flowing inside you, one must consider retirement.”
Sangakkara also feels that one’s personal contributions during one’s career are also very important to any given cricketer. “When one finishes his Test career he should know where he will stand in the ladder of success among the other Lankan greats. It should be important to any cricketer because it is the yardstick of your contributions to your team and country,” Sangakkar concluded.