‘Happy that I did retire when I did’ — Sangakkara


By Staff Writers | January 15, 2017

In the second and final part of our fan-interview with Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan cricket legend explains Chaminda Vaas’s omission from the 2011 World Cup final side, and he also talks about the timing of his retirement, if he would consider a career as a coach, his childhood and more

Kumar Sangakkara took on questions from cricket fans recently. © CPL

Click here for the first part of this two-part interview

Arul Anushan from Batticaloa, Sri Lanka asks: When you were the captain during the 2011 World Cup, unfortunately Angelo Mathews got injured. In the final of that World Cup, why didn't you pick a fast-bowling all-rounder instead of a spinner? Why didn't you picked Chaminda Vaas? If the conditions suited a spinner, why didn't you pick Rangana Herath?

Kumar Sangakkara: The question about the 2011 World Cup final selection has been one that has been asked quite a lot from me. The fact of the matter was that, during that entire World Cup campaign, Angelo Mathews was the one player that balanced us out completely. He was a brilliant finisher even at that young age and an important bowler in most conditions, a bowler we could use with the new ball and a guy who had a happy knack of taking important wickets. He was an absolutely vital cog in the team.

Unfortunately, in that semi-final against New Zealand, Angelo was just about to go off the field to get some treatment on his quadriceps because he said that they felt a bit tight. However, before he went off, he turned to chase a ball that was a guaranteed boundary and the quadriceps tore badly.

We were then left with a huge selection problem for the final and we needed to work out how to balance the team. Suraj Randiv was not in the main squad, but he was one spinner who had done very well against India leading up to that World Cup. Initially, we were thinking we should just play seven batsmen with two spinners and two fast bowlers. Eventually, we decided to be positive and play a 6-5 combination, where we play an extra bowling all-rounder because Randiv had done well and his batting was at that time slightly better than the rest.

We were also conscious of the possible dew factor and therefore knew we had to have fast bowling options. Once we got to that 270-run mark, we were pretty confident that we had a very good chance, especially when we got rid of Sehwag in that first over and then a few minutes later got rid of Sachin.

In hindsight, could we have played another spinner? Could we have played with only four bowlers? Should we have chased? All these questions ran through our minds once the game was over, but at the time we made the selection we were confident that taking that the gamble of playing the extra bowler was worth taking.

We didn't pick Chaminda Vaas because we had three fast bowlers already in Kulasekera, Thisara and Lasith. Maybe we should have played Rangana Herath or Ajantha Mendis even though the Indians have played Ajantha very well leading up to that World Cup.

India definitely batted very well once those two wickets fell. Unfortunately, we had a vital chance off Gautham Gambir that went begging which might have turned the tide. So it was bitterly disappointing but, like I said, selection is always a matter of opinion. We try and make the best selection thinking of winning the match. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Charith Nandasena from Sydney, Australia asks: You've never been part of a side that won a Test against Australia. It was the only blip, in an otherwise stellar career with World Cup wins and Test wins against all nations. Were you not tempted to play another year of Test cricket to take part in this year's home series in Sri Lanka against Australia?

KS: It was quite disappointing never to have won against Australia. We had our chances in 2004, when we had a lead of almost 100 runs in every game we played against them in Sri Lanka in the first innings, but the side that they had at that time, with two specialist spinners in Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, made it very hard for us in the fourth innings.

Regarding retirement, there were a lot of things that people asked me when I was about to retire: ‘Would you like to play another year or two,’ ‘What about getting some more runs and getting closer to 15,000 test runs?’ They talked about other records, including winning against Australia, but my mind was made up at that time and I was not going to think of reasons that were quite selfish. Because, in my view, when you know it is time to go, no matter what is in front of you, you have to make a decision and stick to it. Also, my thinking has always been that no matter whatever you do when you're playing cricket for your country, or any other franchise team or wherever, you have to be contributing well enough for the side to win. I thought that if it were just personal records that I had to play for instead of looking at the team winning, then that was definitely why I had to retire.

So, yes, I am disappointed that we never won against Australia but I am pretty happy that I did retire when I did.

Nafeez Nazeer from Kandy, Sri Lanka asks: Will you ever consider a career in coaching?

KS: I have been asked if I'd consider a career in coaching. I might at some point. I like talking batting with different players. I enjoy working with batsmen. I'm not sure whether I will make a good coach at the moment but I am definitely open to it. But, at the same time, coaching does take up a lot of time and it is a huge commitment. So, maybe in a year or two, I'll be in a better position to answer that question more fully. But, for sure, I love working with young players talking all things cricket. So, it's not something that I have completely put out of my mind but time will tell.

Virandi Wettewa from Kandy, Sri Lanka asks: The eloquence with which you speak is truly impressive. As an educationalist, I would like to know how you learnt to converse so fluently and what tips you could give to those who wish to speak in a similar manner.

KS: The way I speak has a lot to do with the grounding I got at home. I was encouraged to read at a very young age, especially by my father, who used to give me a book when I was about seven or eight years old and he would say: ‘Read that and at the end of the week I will ask you question.’ So I ended up reading books on various topics throughout my childhood. At the same time, I also had a great education at Trinity College in Kandy. We had some great teachers who instilled a lot of confidence in us. I think confidence and hard work is both critical parts of being able to speak well. I would like to thank you for the compliment that you paid me in your question, saying I speak well, but it is not something that just comes easily. It also takes a lot of practice, it takes hard work, it takes confidence, and it also takes a lot of reading, listening and observation. All of that goes into a proper structure, getting your thoughts in order in the correct form to get your point across in a manner that fits your audience. All this is important and I have been lucky that I had that grounding.

Daniel Alexander from Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia asks: What are your thoughts of day-night Test cricket and what needs to be done to protect Test cricket?

KS: I think day-night Test cricket made a fantastic debut in Adelaide and you had a huge amount of people, 40,000 or so, who came to watch that first day's play. It was also a really interesting Test match between New Zealand and Australia. Of course, there were some teething problems, but the feedback has been exceptional about that, especially that particular Test match.

More and more countries now are starting to trial day-night games at First Class level and also at Test level. I think it's great for the game that this experiment has had some good success.

The feedback of players and fans is very important to the future of Test cricket. The performances on the field and the appreciation of those performances by spectators, which then goes on of course to ensure there is enough TV network money coming into Test cricket to make it sustainable and ensure that it keeps its status as the prime format of this game.

Of course, players themselves have to keep on talking about Test cricket and play Test cricket with great enthusiasm. There is no doubt that players at international level these days care a lot about Test cricket because this is where reputations are created and where history is made. Any person who wants to play for their country has the ambition of putting on the Test cap and walking out onto the field.

In addition, facilities around the world need to be upgraded. Families need to be encouraged to come and watch the sport so that children can have an idea of what Test cricket is all about and get that first-hand experience, which will then inspire them to go on and have an ambition to represent their countries at Test level. Maybe the reality is that Test cricket may never be the commercial cash cow that T20 cricket is and that maybe it is wrong to try and build it into something like that. Perhaps the money from T20 cricket can help sustain Test cricket long into the future. But I think the final say will be with the spectators and the TV networks, because without the spectators coming and watching, the players don't have that platform to display their skills on.

And, of course, without spectators and a paying public, the money that is required from TV networks then dries up. I think more discussions will take place in the future, more ideas will be brought forward, but at the end of the day there has to be a balance. Not just between formats but also between the expectations of players, administrators, the public and also the TV networks. So how and when we'll find that balance is going to be interesting. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.

Sarangi Liyanage from Homagama, Sri Lanka asks: Who is your childhood inspiration and how did you get inspired through him/her?

KS: I had many childhood idols. My first one in cricket was probably Sir Viv Richards until Brian Lara came along. I always admired Aravinda de Silva. Then there's Arjuna Ranatunga, who captained us to a World Cup win.

As a young child, I was more interested in tennis to be honest. So I was a great fan of Boris Becker right throughout, when he won his Wimbledon as a teenager, and he had this great rivalry against Stefan Edberg. But I think the greatest influence in my life has been my parents. Both my father and my mother in very different ways. The right morals and values they inculcated in us from a young age. But they were also very liberal, they gave us a lot of freedom to make our own decisions. My father always gave me the advice that, whatever you do, you have got to try and do it extremely well, especially if you're devoting a lot of time and you're taking something very seriously — you have to put in the hard work to ensure that you are actually trying your best to do the best job possible.

It was always never about competition at home. I never had to be better than anyone else. All my parents wanted me to be was the best that I could be and they ensured that I had most things that I wanted or needed to ensure that I had a fantastic childhood. They worked very hard to provide all of that for myself and my three siblings. My mother was very adamant that I had to ensure I did my academic work at school very well. My father, at a young age, always promoted sport saying you needed to have balance and you needed to do both academics and sports very well at school. They also encouraged us to make good friends.

Our house was always open to all our friends to come and visit at any time. We had lots of great conversations at home about various subjects from a very young age. From simple things to mature subjects. It was always very easy to talk to each other. I think looking back, they were the formative years of my life and I was very lucky to have such great parents who taught me all the right things, who gave me a sense of self-worth. Even now, to this day, whatever I achieved on the field or off it, I'm still their son. It's not about the cricket, it's not about the runs, it's not about the wins; it's always been their son coming back home to see them. They'll come and talk to me and still give me very frank and honest advice. They never let me get too big for my boots. They always told me the importance of being grounded and staying simple. I am very grateful to them. I think, without a doubt, that influence has stood me in the best of stead in good times and bad.

Shafee Rameez from Kandy, Sri Lanka asks: When you are about to face the first ball of the match, what is going on in your mind for the first five seconds?

KS: It's a funny thing. No matter how long you play or how experienced you are, you always get those nervous butterflies in your stomach while waiting to go into bat. It could be the day before the match, or it could be just before you go in to bat waiting in the dressing room.
I've always been seated and a lot of thoughts run through my head: ‘how are the bowlers bowling?’ I try and look at the TV to see if there is any swing or turn. I see how the pitch is playing and I try and make up a plan as to how I would approach my innings. There are times when certain negative thoughts would run through your head: ‘Will I get out? Looks a tough wicket! What might happen?’

I remember famously going into Lord's to bat in my last Test series in England and I was thinking with all the hype built up: ‘Will I get a hundred at Lord's finally?’ And I was sitting in the dressing room watching Dimuth and Kaushal Silva bat and I was thinking: ‘Wouldn't it be funny, on my last Test match I walk out at Lord's and get out for a duck?’

You have all these thoughts and plans in your head, but as I walk out of the dressing room and onto the field, I focus on what I have to do at that moment in terms of what does the side require of me at that moment? I walk to the wicket, take my guard, and then take a deep breath to try and relax as much as possible, because those first few deliveries are when you are tense, you hold the bat a bit tight, and that is also the time that you can make a mistake. I try and relax as much as I can and I tell myself: ‘Stay balanced, watch the ball.’

I remember Marvan Atapattu. When he was going to bat, he was very nervous, and that was one of the reasons he said that he started opening. He didn't want to wait in the dressing room to go out and bat. He'd rather go out as an opener and face the first ball and go about it that way.

Everyone has different methods of dealing with how to curtail these thoughts and I have my own methods and I am pretty happy that at most times they worked.

Click here for the first part of this interview

© Island Cricket

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