It was Kumar Sangakkara’s own Leaving On A Jet Plane moment the morning after his retirement. The car trip to the airport and a long flight ahead to London were all in tune with that soulful John Denver number. The sentiment was for a young family, the finality of an international cricket career signed off in tears and overwhelming goodwill the previous afternoon reserved more for philosophical reflection.
It has helped that Sri Lanka’s record run-scorer has been kept in the perennial work-in-progress mode by his father, who began coaching his young son in the backyard of their Kandy home. It not just infused the passion for cricket, the inquisitive boy has kept redefining his game and himself as he has gone on to great heights. Like a true father, Kshema does not find perfection in what he sees. That helps his son to stay grounded.
Not that it takes much effort in Sri Lanka. The boy-next-door image stays on for ever. All those batting feats couldn’t shake teammate Thilan Samaraweera’s belief that his forward defence was ugly.
The 37-year-old’s work ethic, the constant chiselling of his batting that helped produce some sensational innings, like the 192 in a Test in Australia, or four ODI centuries in a row at the World Cup this year. One of the most articulate of contemporary cricketers is already the game’s brand ambassador. And if he gives his nod, he could soon be his country’s high commissioner to Britain. A day after signing off at the P Sara Oval, the former Sri Lanka skipper gave his take on a few things cricket and more to HT.
How does it feel the day after ending a wonderful career?
The end always comes sooner than you expect, so it does feel a little strange and unfamiliar being part of the ex-cricketers’ club. It’s obviously sad to be leaving the dressing room and I will miss all the fun and banter. However, I am excited about the future and looking forward to spending more time with my family.
How have your priorities changed from, say, two days ago?
My priorities didn’t really change. Since giving up captaincy in 2011, my focus has been scoring as many runs as possible for Sri Lanka and that continued until last Monday. Now my focus will be scoring as many runs as possible for Surrey CC and Hobart in the Big Bash.
How difficult do you think will it be to motivate yourself to continue playing?
I love playing cricket and have really enjoyed playing for Surrey this summer. There has been no motivation issue at all because like all the guys in the dressing room, we want to go out there and win matches. The Big Bash is going to be a big challenge for me too. I’ve wanted to play in the tournament for a while and I hope I can help Hobart Hurricanes have a really successful season.
You extended your career to help young Sri Lanka players find their feet. What promise do you see in them?
There is a lot of promise. The talent is there and the guys have an amazing future if they work hard and are given the right guidance and support. Sri Lanka does not need to worry about the future as long as we look after and prepare our players properly.
You have said you will play on for a couple of years. That won’t be possible if you become the UK high commissioner?
Iwas surprised like everyone when the President offered me the post. I will speak to him about that.
Will you be completing your law degree?
I am not sure. It’s something I had always wanted to do. My father thinks it will be a waste of time but it’s an option. I still have a couple of years of cricket though and studying while playing cricket will be unrealistic.
What is your personal high and low as a cricketer?
There were many high moments, including the World T20 final last year (which Sri Lanka won) and our performances in various ICC events. Losing the 2011 World Cup final and the 2012 World T20 final (at home) were both very disappointing.
You twice reached the World Cup final, but lost. Which one hurt more?
They both hurt. The World T20 final was especially hard as we had such a strong grip on the game before Marlon Samuels went berserk. It was also our third defeat in a final.
Sri Lanka have never won a Test in India. Is there any regret you couldn’t achieve that?
We have not played that many Tests in India in recent times. I think touring India is a challenge. This is now an ambition for Angelo’s team and I am sure they will achieve it at some stage.
What are your interests beyond cricket?
I love my reading, enjoy art, watch a lot of TV. I have various business interests and charitable causes that keep me occupied. And I love spending time with close friends, and of course my family.
Where do you see Test cricket go from here?
Test cricket has a bright future as long as we get the scheduling right. I am interested to see how the day-night experiment goes and would like to see a Test championship to give context.