Education on Sanga – MAIRJ23

The moment a subcontinent batsmans greatness is mentioned, the first issue that most people question is his ability to score away from home conditions.This article is brilliant analysis of Sangakkara’s performances and should at least for now put to rest any doubts about his ability and class.

Sangakkara’s collective batting average of 42 in Tests played in Australia, England, New Zealand & South Africa (Quali; over 1000 runs cumulatively) is also the highest ever by a Sri Lankan batsman of all time and the collective 5 Test hundreds he has scored in Australia, England, New Zealand & South Africa is also the highest of all time by a Sri Lankan batsman in Tests. Sangakkara’s bating average of 49 away from home (and neutral venues) against the major Test playing nations (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) is also the highest of all time by a Sri Lankan batsman and the 11 Test hundreds he has scored against these teams away from home is also the highest of all time by a Sri Lankan batsman. Sangakkara’s 2nd innings batting average of 53 is also the highest of all time by a Sri Lankan batsman and also happens to be the 3rd highest of all time in the history of the game behind Kallis and Border (qualification; more than 3000 2nd innings Test runs)

Kumar Sangakkara’s astonishing and phenomenal Test batting average of 70 in 62 Tests when playing purely as a batsman is 2nd only to the great Sir Don Bradman (qualification; 5,000 Test runs or more) in the history of the game. Take a look at the comparison between Sir Don Bradman’s career stats in Test cricket and Kumar Sangakkara’s stats when playing purely as a batsman. The similarities are uncanny.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
                                    Matches     Runs    Average    200s   100s   50s
Sir Don Bradman         52           6996       99.94       12         29      13                                                                                   
Kumar Sangakkara     62           6681         70            8          23       27                                                                                                                                                         

Kumar Sangakkara’s 12 second innings Test match hundreds is 2nd only to Sachin Tendulkar’s 13 in the all time list but Sachin has played 76 Tests more than Sangakkara. Sangakkara’s 8 Test double hundreds are 3rd in the all time list behind Brian Charles Lara who has 9 and Sir Don Bradman who has 12. Sangakkara’s average of 71 in matches won by Sri Lanka (against the major Test playing nations) is by far the highest by a Sri Lankan batsman who has scored more than 2000 runs in Test wins and also happens to be the 4th best Test batting average of all time in Test match wins by a batsman (2000 Test runs plus in Test wins and excluding those against BD and ZIM) behind Bradman, Inzamam and Sobers.

Kumar Sangakkara also has had the biggest impact in matches won away from home (away from the sub-continent) in places such as Australia, England, South Africa & New Zealand collectively, amongst all Sub-Continental batsmen in the 7 year period since 2005 with an average of 75 and two match winning hundreds which is more than what any other sub-continent batsmen has managed in the said period.

Kumar Sangakkara’s scores in his last four innings in Australia read as 77, 66, 57 & 192. India won Tests against the Aussies last decade and drew a few as well. However, none of those wins or draws were achieved against an Aussie team which had McGrath and Warne playing together. SL was the only team from the sub-continent to achieve what was deemed impossible back then when they drew a Test against the Aus in 2004 and that too an Aussie side which McGrath and Warne playing together and playing at their very best.

The man who made that seemingly unfathomable task possible was none other than Sanga who batted almost the entire 5th day of the Test absorbing the immense pressure and everything else that the Aussies threw at him and ensured that a draw was possible. No other sub-continental batsman has managed to achieve this against Aus (which had McGrath and Warne playing together).

Sangakkara’s 192 against Australia back in 2007 to-date remains the highest 4th innings score by a visiting batsman in Aus.Tendulkar’s 4th innings average against Australia in Australia is 20 in 15 Tests.

What makes the likes of Sangakkara and Inzamam so special is that they have and are playing out their careers having never had the luxury of being a part of a star studded batting line up of 7. These guys played almost all of their careers being a part of fragile batting line ups with the onus of their respective team’s batting fortunes resting entirely on their shoulders thus batting under an incredible and unfathomable amount of pressure every time they walked into bat. Despite this these guys delivered day in day out for their respective teams. Sangakkara batting at number 3 often found himself in to face the new ball within the first 5 overs of the innings as Sri Lanka never had a settled opening batting pair in Tests. Delivering under pressure was Sangakkara’s special ability and he did so with alarming consistency for Sri Lanka in Test cricket and none proves this more than his Wisden honours earning achievements last year.

2011 was one of the most prolific years for Sangakkara with the bat thus becoming the only international batsman to amass more than 2000 runs collectively in Tests and ODIs combined whilst averaging 50 in Tests and 51 in ODIs. What makes Sangakkara’s achievements in 2011 incredibly special is the kind of opponents and surfaces on which he scored his runs against and on respectively and also when you consider that he batted with such purpose, determination and brilliance in a year in which the SL cricket board did not pay Sangakkara and his team mates their monthly salary.

Before the start of Sri Lanka’s international season in May 2011 it was clear that the ensuing 9 months was easily going to be the most arduous phase in SL cricket history since entering the big leagues back in 1982 as we were set to face the four best bowling attacks in World Cricket; Eng, Aus, SA & Pak (all but Aus away from home as well) If that was no enough we also had 8 ODIs against Australia and India (4 each against each side, well actually 7 against Aus as we played the finals too) coming up in Aus as well. So in total it was a period that saw Sri Lanka play 12 Test matches against Eng, Aus, Pak and SA (9 of them away from home) and a total of 31 ODIs against Eng, Aus, Pak, SA & Ind (26 of them away from home). I said that at the end of this phase we will learn a hell of a lot about our cricketers especially how tough they are when playing back-to-back series against tough opponents away from home in alien conditions.

The man who came out head and shoulders above the rest in this most arduous phase in Sri Lankan cricket history having turned in so many brilliant performances was none other than SL’s greatest ever Test batsman Kumar Sangakkara.

In England, when SL were staring at certain defeat in the 3rd Test it was Sanga who dug in and played one of his best knocks ever batting the 4th and most of the 5th day against the best bowling attack in the world in conditions ideal for swing bowling and batted all but nearly 90 overs (which is close to what was the longest time the entire famed Indian batting unit managed to last in 8 attempts against the same attack) and saved the Test for SL. David Hopps of the Wisden wrote "The Hampshire weather, both on the fourth evening, when Sangakkara closed on 44, and on the final day, when his 119 took Sri Lanka to safety, was grouchy, and the crowd far from entranced. But Sangakkara was attuned to the task. He pushed an occasional circumspect drive and tucked the ball effectively off his legs, but it was his judgement of what to leave alone against an England seam attack revelling in favourable conditions that was striking".

Against Pak in the first Test in Abu Dhabi SL began their 2nd innings nearly 200 runs behind and with two days to go and the daunting prospect of facing the world’s best spinner in Saeed Ajmal. Once again defeat was all but certain for Sri Lanka. Sanga though as he has often done for SL would once again rise to the occasion and showcase his incredible and unfathomable ability to absorb pressure and bat and bat and bat and bat. That is exactly what he did for he came up with yet another heroic 2nd innings effort batting almost two entire days and scoring a monumental double hundred his 8th which not only saved the Test for SL but even set up a target for Pakistan to chase on the 5th day. Sanga would go on to score another fine hundred in the 3rd of that series as well and as many Pakistani fans put it that series was not between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, rather it was a series between Pakistan and Sangakkara for the latter went on to amass an unprecedented 512 runs in the 3 Test series.

In South Africa after Sri Lanka were ambushed in the 1st Test many had remarked that South Africa should consider playing some of their ‘A’ team players against this Sri Lankan side and rest their senior players for Tests against stronger competition. They were not entirely wrong to make such comments as Sri Lanka did look completely out of sorts in the 1st Test. Come the 2nd Test though they were a different team and on the back of yet another masterful 2nd innings hundred by their greatest ever Test batsman, Kumar Sangakkara Sri Lanka went on to make history and register their first ever Test win on South African soil.

What makes Sangakkara so special is that seldom do his stellar performances in Test cricket come in a losing cause. Albeit one of his finest ever Test knocks; the backs to the wall 192 against Australia in Australia (the highest 4th innings score of all time by a visiting batsman in Australia) came in a losing cause but that was not due to his doing but rather a blatant umpiring decision which cut sort an innings referred to by Ricky Ponting as the greatest he has ever seen by an opponent in Australia, an innings which seemed to have one destination the way Sangakkara was going and that was to over-haul a record a chase of 501 for victory with Sri Lanka falling short by 90 runs in the end. Had it not been for that terrible umpiring decision that day easily could have been a day that saw some seemingly unassailable records broken. Such was the sublime touch Sangakkara was in.

I rate Sanga and Kallis as the by far the two best Test batsmen in World Cricket at the moment. I would rate Sangakkara slightly higher only because, un-like Kallis, Sanga is not fortunate to be surrounded by world class batting talent in the form of Smith, Amla and AB, three of the very best batsman in Test cricket at the moment. Sangakkara has Jayawardena but one look at his away record and that too against the better teams and you will note that the onus was entirely on Sanga almost every time he went into bat. Such is the pressure he has to deal with on a day in day out basis outside of the pressure of the game itself. Even in the on-going series against Pakistan, the formula for Pakistan is very simple; Get Sanga out early and they give themselves the best possible chance for a win. Sanga was and is an all surface player at home and away and against pace and spin. His back to back N.O 100s against Shane Bond at his very best in NZ was monumental.

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