The championship clash between Middlesex vs Surrey at Lord’s in 2017 will forever remain in my memory for two reasons. The first, is that whilst marginally the worse for wear in the Tavern after play, I got talking a bloke called Nigel Henderson. Apparently, he ran a fan-based commentary service and fuelled with Dutch courage I said I fancied having a go. Always beware of talking to strangers in bars, you never know where it may lead.
The second reason is all about Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara. Stationed in the Bowlers’ Bar, next to the five-minute bell, I had spent most of the day studying his timing, poise and elegance as he cut and pulled with the style and panache one might expect of an ex-model and the incisiveness and precision of a lawyer, which he also is.
An effortless century in each innings of the match, demonstrated he had class above most of those around him. The left-handed Sri Lankan wicketkeeper batsmen this week joined Andy Flower as the second cricketing great celebrated in the Guerilla Cricket theme tune to be induced into the ICC Hall of Fame. He is also only the second Sri Lankan, following in the footsteps of Muttiah Muralitharan, to make it.
Sangakkara went from strength to strength across his 15-year international career. A T20 World Cup winner, two-time World Cup runner-up, and frequently No 1 in the Test batting rankings, he thrived in every format.
This week, with the start of the WTC final on Friday, Sangakkara has been comprehensively endorsing the credentials of both finalists and is looking forward to “glorious cricket” from both sides.
“India and New Zealand have both earned their place in the World Test Championship Final. I am looking forward to some glorious cricket from both sides and wish the teams the very best in this highly anticipated tournament finale,” he said.
With both finalists having stuffed England as their last Test opponents, India at home and New Zealand here in their two-match warm up, few would argue with Sangakkara’s assessment. Certainly not England that’s for sure, whose focus on white-ball cricket has led them to be mere spectators for the WTC crown in their own backyard.
As a ‘keeper he completed 678 dismissals for Sri Lanka, including a world best 482 in ODIs, but it was with the bat that he really made a name for himself.
Proficient on both the front and back foot, Sangakkara’s Test average of 57.40 was the best of any player to score more than 10,000 runs and he was the quickest player to reach the milestone in terms of innings played. With his incredible appetite for runs, he notched 38 Test tons, including 11 double-centuries. Only Don Bradman passed 200 more often.
In 2014 he set a record for the most international runs in a calendar year and in 2015, his final year for Sri Lanka, he scored four consecutive ODI tons. Not only is that the most consecutive tons in ODI history, but he did it at a World Cup.
In 2019, he was appointed to the role of President of the MCC, the first non-British person to assume the position since the club was founded in 1787.
He was the youngest person and the first active international player to deliver the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture, which was widely praised by the cricketing community for its outspoken but considered nature. The one-hour-long speech was based on the history of and corruption in the cricket administration of Sri Lanka.
In his speech, he said: “Accountability and transparency in administration and credibility of conduct were lost in a mad power struggle that would leave Sri Lankan cricket with no clear, consistent administration, and observed that these problems in administration had risen only after Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup victory. He also blamed “a handful of well-meaning individuals” who control the game, wasting the cricket board’s finances and resources.
Powerful stuff, from a man every bit as eloquent off the field as he was on it
Jingle by James Sherwood