Kumar Sangakkara, the gentleman genius from the island nation

  • Jatin Sapru, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 18, 2015 13:56 IST

A tear drop on the Indian Ocean. In terms of geographical appearance on the world map, this is an ideal description for the tiny island nation of Sri Lanka. On a cricketing atlas, however, it would be quite different, for Sri Lanka's story hasn't been of sorrow but a tidal wave of joy.

For a nation to win the World Cup merely 15 years after receiving test status still remains an unprecedented achievement. Although they participated in the inaugural cricket World Cup in 1975, Arjuna Ranatunga lifting the trophy in Lahore in 1996 was the breakthrough moment for the nation. Football and rugby took a back seat, cricket became the dream sport. A dream which still continues to inspire generations.

But there is a Sri Lankan era coming to end with this eleventh edition of the World Cup. The era of a genius - Kumar Sangakkara.

It'll be an arduous task to find even the most reluctant cricket fan not mesmerised by Sanga's batting genius. But for me what stands out is Kumar Sangakkarra, the gentleman away from the cricket field.

My very first television assignment as a reporter for (then) ESPN StarSports was the Asia Cup 2008 in Pakistan. Straight out of college there I was on the field with heroes of my cricketing dreams. With very limited broadcast knowledge and an international crew around me, I used to struggle to hold the mic without a few seconds of trembling. And on the night of the final when Sri Lanka or, shall we say, Ajantha Mendis defeated India, out comes Kumar Sangakkara for a post match interview.

We often get only two to three minutes with the player. After the customary introduction, while I'm revising the flowery introduction I'd prepared, my director tells me that the tech team needs a few minutes to get the interview ready.

I somehow muster the courage to convey this message to the left handed genius almost sure that he will refuse to wait. (Damn, my first interview with Sanga is going kaput). Instead what I got was that broad smile and 'That's fine, No Worries' in that unique but endearing accent. It calmed my nerves, but I was still awestruck and at loss of words. Perhaps he sensed it, perhaps he was just humble enough to start a conversation.

"Have you just joined the network? Haven't seen you before this."

For a nobody like me it mattered a lot. He patiently heard my Dream Job story, congratulated me and wished me luck for the journey ahead. Gladly, it's been a journey where interactions with him have been a constant.

In 2011, while covering the World Cup in Sri Lanka, I was lucky enough to visit his residence on the outskirts of Colombo. It was for an interview and we were a crew of four.

While we set up the interview, checked frames, checked the mics, a sight made us drop our jaws in unison. Sanga walked through the kitchen door with a tray carrying four glasses of water. Yes, it was him. There were house helps, maybe they were busy, maybe it's the way of life in Sri Lanka, or maybe it was just who Sangakkarra is. He clearly didn't mind serving his visitors and although we were just a TV crew, we were treated like guests. And post the interview, he hung out with us over coffee and cakes.

Over the years I've had various interactions with Sanga. Not once has it been without that smile, that intensity in the eyes, that eloquent speaking style. A broadcast to him has never been a formality, but perhaps a responsibility. Over hundreds of interviews I may have conducted with cricketers from across the globe, his have never been disinterested, as if they are mere media commitments. They have always been thoughtful, clear and of tremendous value, as if he owes a responsibility to those watching.

They say one should retire when people ask why, not when. Having whipped off the bails much to the surprise of many a batsman on the field, the lawyer in Sangakkara has equally stealthily surprised us all with his bail application from cricket too.

Imagine a cricketer retiring right after scoring four hundreds in four games (a first in cricket) and an average of nearly 60 in his last international season.

Perhaps like everything else, Sangakkara is setting an example for others to follow. If one compares his last few innings to those of other modern greats, the numbers are staggering

I sincerely hope there are three more games left in Sangakkara's ODI career. But even if it was to end with the quarterfinal against South Africa tomorrow, these numbers will remain immortal. Six hundreds in his last fifteen innings, five away from home. two against England, one against New Zealand, and one against the most potent Australian attack of recent times.

And remember, this 37 year old is also the most successful wicket keeper of all time. With 501 dismissals and counting, there isn't a parallel to this gloved genius.

Through his career, fellow cricketers, broadcasters, journalists and fans have lauded Sangakkara's intellect and many think he should bat on. The Trinity college alumnus has now put forward a contradictory argument in the courtroom. To retire in such prime form is hard to understand, but he's the true judge of his body and mind. And just like that delicious cover drive, let's appreciate his judgement.


Jatin Sapru, sports broadcaster, StarSports

(*The article was written before Sri Lanka played South Africa in their 2015 World Cup quarter-final in Sydney)

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