Farewells can be tedious affairs, especially when they follow a script designed for television audiences. It is a moment for the commercial world to exploit the sentiments of fans and give them what they 'desire'.
An excess of sentimentality does no harm, as inherent in the drama of saying goodbye is a sense of loss, a feeling that we will never see this man on a cricket field again.
When the greatest of them all, Sachin Tendulkar, retired, we had endless mournful celebrations (I don’t know how better to describe the excess of emotions). It all concluded with a speech, which in years to come will have an immortal archival value to it.
Kumar Sangakkara, the genial, self-effacing Sri Lankan, no less a batsman than Tendulkar and in many aspects equally great, if not better, finally stepped aside from the arc lights, appearing before the cameras one last time as a playing member of his team. It speaks of the man and what he stood for – as a player and as a person – that despite his phenomenal batting average, he walked into the sunset without too much of a fuss.
Yes, there were presentations, an adoring home crowd and a speech as well. But the farewell was not as grandiose or as emotionally draining as that of Tendulkar’s. Sangakkara’s own speech was reflecting the personality of a man who seemed to be thanking his destiny more than his own efforts and skills, for the cult status he has achieved in his country.
What do we remember of Sangakkara? Statistically, he is a marvel, almost as good as the best. Having played 66 Tests fewer than Tendulkar, Sangakkara is not too far behind him in the number of runs scored. Where he obviously is too far behind is in the longevity of his career, which falls a decade short of what Tendulkar managed.
This piece, however, is not about a comparison between the two, not in the least. The point being made is that Sangakkara’s achievements are probably less highlighted and it is only when you look at his records you realize how great a player he was. And just to remind everyone, that for a large part of his career, he kept wickets as well. It is a burden which not many can bear, more so if they happen to be the number one batsmen of their team as well.
What strikes one is that Sangakkara’s batting, unlike most of his peers and past greats of his country, was not built on muscular strength. Much like his teammate of long standing, Mahela Jayawardene, he was light on his feet, nimble in his movements and played strokes with soft touches. There was no trace of brute force behind his elegant strokes. It was just like his public persona – under-stated, yet so effective that the end result always left a deep impact on the fortunes of his team.
His last few years have been so outstanding that he is just behind the Great Don in the number of double hundreds scored. Not that statistics alone can decide the quality of a player, but in Sangakkara’s case, he stood the test of any scrutiny – be it the quality of his elegant strokeplay, his iron-willed temperament and his appetite for runs, and centuries.
It’s not just his flowing strokeplay, Sangakkara has also been a model ambassador for the sport and the fitting epitaph for him would be (with due apologies to Shakespeare): Here was Sangakkara! When comes such another?