Opinion: If only Sangakkara could play forever

Blog Opinion

Some batsmen walk onto the international scene and it is already clear that they are going to be one of the greats. When the 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar walked out to bat in his first Test in 1989 he already had the aura of being special.

When AB de Villiers made his debut against England in late 2004 he already looked amazing. He was eight runs short of getting a hundred in each innings in his fifth Test. He hasn't missed a single Test since his debut over a decade ago.

Others have taken some time to achieve universal acclaim. When Jacques Kallis made his Test debut in 1995 he waited close to two years to record his first hundred. It was 17 innings and another 18 months before he scored his second. By the time he retired he was South Africa’s leading run scorer and century maker as well as being considered the best all-rounder since Garfield Sobers.

One of those that has taken the slow road to greatness is Kumar Sangakkara. His first few Tests were as a batsman, but he cemented his place in the side as a wicketkeeper. By the time he gave up the gloves in Tests in 2006 he was a class batsman, but he wasn't considered one of the greats of the game. At that point he was averaging 46.9 and had nine Test hundreds.

Since then he has scored 29 hundreds and averaged nearly 70 in Tests. His overall career average is now 58.7 and he has made 12,203 runs. Of those batsmen who have over 7000 Test runs, not one has a better average.

In fact, you need to go all the way down to Don Bradman’s 6996 career runs to find someone with a better average. Sangakkara is only bettered by Bradman in the number of Test double hundreds. It is not bad company to be in.

He has been no less impressive in ODI cricket, where he has 13,414 runs. He sits 4th on the list of all time ODI run scorers, and he is just 290 runs away from second spot.

There is every chance he will overtake Ricky Ponting and Sanath Jayasuriya at the upcoming World Cup. Then the only man with more ODI runs will be Tendulkar. Oh, and 2014 he scored an undefeated half century in the World T20 final to help his side win the event.

While in the past some have claimed that there is a way to use his away record, or flat Sri Lankan pitches, to in some way downgrade his achievements, their numbers have reduced and now only include those who are allergic to logic.

Sangakkara is one of the best to ever pick up a bat, and now the real worry is that he will stop doing it at some point in the very near future.

His great friend Mahela Jayawardene has already called time on his Test career, and the speculation is that Sangakkara will follow suit sooner rather than later. Sangakkara has said he will end his ODI involvement after the World Cup. That same decision in Tests is still up in the air.

It will happen, but when it does it will be a sad day for the sport. Not only does Sangakkara score lots of runs, he does it with elegance and grace. There is little as beautiful as his cover drive, perhaps just his perfect hair.

Sangakkara presents himself off the field brilliantly and is a fine ambassador for the sport. There is no better example of this than his 2011 Cowdrey lecture where he spoke with passion and eloquence about Sri Lanka’s cricketing past, present and future.

When the administrators have fallen short in their fiduciary duties Sangakkara has been at the forefront of holding them to account. More often than not, when Sangakkara has gone against those running the game he has come out the winner.

For all the retirement talk, Sangakkara is as good now as ever. In 2014 he was the leading run scorer in Tests and ODIs. He started 2015 with Test match double hundred number 11 against New Zealand.

There doesn't seem to be a cricketing reason for him to stop, but he could quite rightly think there isn't a lot left for him to do. Maybe it is time for him to spend some time at home with his family, but they may have to be in London to be with him.

It has been announced that Sangakkara will be playing for Surrey in county cricket. This won't be his first stint playing domestic cricket in England, but it could well be his longest. In 2007 he turned out for Warwickshire in seven first class games, and in 2014 he had two early season games for Durham before the Test series against England last summer.

While he has signed a two year deal with Surrey, how much he will be involved is up in the air. There is still not any confirmation of whether he will play in this season’s IPL, having sat out last year’s event. If Sangakkara is still playing Tests, he may well miss a chunk of July and August as the West Indies tour Sri Lanka.

No matter how much cricket he plays, those of us lucky enough to watch county cricket are in for a treat. Whatever decision Sangakkara makes, when he does walk away from international cricket the game will be poorer for it.

Peter Miller

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