Things like ‘best’ and ‘greatest’ almost always boils down to an opinion, and statistics don’t always paint the real picture.
It would be unrealistic to look at a batsman’s career stats and determine if he was the greatest batsman ever, or even the greatest batsman produced by any one nation.
For example, when you look at career statistics, it doesn’t tell you right off the bat that a batsman was good against all the best bowling sides of his time; it sure as hell won’t tell you how good a batsman was when confronted with a bowler-friendly wicket.
Statistic can, however, help differentiate quality batsmen from the average ones. Fine tuning the statistics based on certain key elements that contribute in the making of a great batsman can help us identify the best from the rest.
For example, we understand that a great batsman should have very few weaknesses, and short pitched bowling or seam and swing should not be a hindrance or weakness.
We can’t expect Bradman like consistency from everyone; consider the sheer number of matches played these days compared to the months in between series in Bradman’s era.
Isolating a player’s average in conditions in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa will help us understand who amongst the Sri Lankans have been successful in conditions that do not favour batsmen.
To be fair, Sri Lanka’s past greats who did not have the opportunity to tour the above named nations – due to no fault of theirs – have not been considered.
The most successful Sri Lankan batsman in Australia (qualifications – minimum three Test matches):
KC Sangakkara – Ave: 65.16 (3 Test matches)
The most successful Sri Lankan batsman in South Africa (qualifications – minimum three Test matches):
KC Sangakkara – Ave: 39.20 (5 Test matches)
The most successful Sri Lankan batsman in England (qualifications – minimum three Test matches):
MS Atapattu – Ave: 50.16 (4 Test matches)
The most successful Sri Lankan batsman in New Zealand (qualifications – minimum three Test matches):
KC Sangakkara – Ave: 66.80 (4 Test matches)
Lets now unearth the batsmen who has been successful against the best Test bowling sides (qualification – minimum 3 Test matches).
Highest average against Australia: PA de Silva – Ave:47.23 (12 Tests)
Most centuries against Australia: AP Gurusinha* 2 centuries (8 Tests)
*Three batsman were equal with two centuries apiece. Guurusinha had the better average.
Highest average against South Africa: DPMD Jayawardene – Ave: 70.09 (12 Tests)
Most centuries against South Africa: DPMD Jayawardene – 5 centuries (12 Tests)
Highest average against England: DPMD Jayawardene – Ave: 65.87 (16 Tests)
Most centuries against England: DPMD Jayawardene – 6 centuries (16 Tests)
Highest average against Pakistan: KC Sangakkara – Ave: 77.29 (10 Tests)
Most centuries against Pakistan: PA de Silva – 8 centuries (21 Tests)
Already we begin to see the names of some of Sri Lanka’s finest batsmen cropping up. I believe, if we take the list of names from above and now compare their career averages to determine who has been consistently prolific throughout their Test careers against all teams, we can identify the greatest.
Kumar Sangakkara (Career Average/Test 100s): 56.85/23
Mahela Jayawardene (Career Average/Test 100s): 54.06/28
Aravinda de Silva (Career Average/Test 100s): 42.97/20
Marvan Atapattu (Career Average/Test 100s): 39.02/16
Asanka Gurusinha (Career Average/Test 100s): 38.92/7
According to this calculation, Kumar Sangakkara tops the list making him the greatest Test batsman Sri Lanka has produced. Rightfully so too. Sangakkara is perhaps the only Sri Lankan batsman who has the technique to negotiate the moving ball on seamer friendly conditions anywhere in the world. He also plays the hook and pull with ease. This non complex formula shows that Sangakkara has thrived against some of the best bowling attacks in the world and in conditions that batsmen from the subcontinent usually struggle to cope with.