When Russell Arnold was asked if he was to pick one out of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena, he choose Jayewardene. Explanation was, that other than being one of the most serenely gifted batsmen in world cricket today, temperament and intuition sets Mahela apart. The same statements have been echoed by ex-players and as ex-coaches quite a lot in recent times, the most zealous of cricket fans would have you know. This might well be true, but by god Sangakkara makes it hard for them.
He’s 211 in Abu Dhabi was one of the all time greatest knocks by a Sri Lankan batsmen ever (I mean that). Nevermind that Sri Lanka were trailing by 314, and lost Paranavithana off the first ball, or fielding for two days in the Abu Dhabi heat, the anxiety surrounding the Sri Lankan cricket team in recent times would have been pressure enough.
Sri Lanka has not won a Test match for the past one year and was humiliated by an intermediary Australian side at home, where they were thought to be invincible. The lack of belief in the side was evident yet again, with another spineless performance in the first innings.
The weight of burden on his shoulders must have been immense. A mere mortal would have crumbled and burnt, taking the easy way out. But quitting is not in the blood of the Sri Lankan number three. He, as the all great players would do, stood in front of adversity, faced it head on, and triumphed. With divine perfection, which would appease all who had the privilege of watching such a knock.
The way he acclimatized to conditions, and especially to situations, showcased a true master at work. He’s stroke play for each bowler was different. At no point during his innings was he ever troubled by any bowler. Every ball was treated with merit and a loose one with disdain. He never looked troubled, other than the two instances when the edged was found.
He always had the cover drives, the square cuts which makes so many chic lefthanders so pleasing to the eye. But what sets him apart from most of them is his capacity to carry out a set plan with supreme perfection. He would have had planned the arcs in which he will score and the percentage of strokes that should be played against each line, length and bowler. Even if he didn’t, it didn’t appear so. It was as if an architect was constructing a building fully made of glass in a desert. Subtle yet sublime, composed yet colonial.
This is his best innings, in my opinion. Some would argue the 192 at Hobart was the innings, that proverbial special one that we would compare all his knocks with. Of course, playing in Australia against a quality attack does have its appeal, but still I’m leaning towards the ’Abu Dhabi escape’. Even if the most valid and logical of arguments to the contrary would be made, I will still stand firm on my assessment.
But sadly, I’m not sure this innings would go down in the annals of Test cricket in its true place. Already, the match is being labeled as the one that got away from Pakistan, or the one they ‘dropped’. It is impossible to corroborate the reason. Maybe because no one really cares what Sri Lanka does in Tests any more, or the fact that all the media attention seems to be focused on two ongoing heavy weight bouts of India vs England and Australia vs South Africa.
But for the truly passionate cricket fan, this innings is a treat. Many of you might have not seen it; many of you might not even remember it after a year from now. But for those who braved the time and the stress of watching Sri Lanka in recent times, this innings will stand long in their memory.
Perfection, Achilles said, would make you soar in the realm of gods. Then Sangakkara, in Abu Dhabi, was truly divine.