Sanga: T20 has attracted a cross-section of fans

Talking to Sportstar from Dubai, the 38-year-old Kumar Sangakkara said that there has to be "very good rapport and co-operation between the players and administrators" in order to take the glorious game of cricket forward.

Kumar Sangakkara feels that there must be a balance between representing the nation and playing in T20 leagues.   -  Reuters

Kumar Sangakkara is part of the Gemini Arabians team in the Masters Champions League (MCL) that begins in the UAE today. Talking to Sportstar from Dubai, the 38-year-old said that there has to be “very good rapport and co-operation between the players and administrators” in order to take the glorious game of cricket forward.


You have articulated your views on the game before, but as of now, where do you see the game headed?

The future of cricket has to be very well debated and very well thought out. There has to be a very good rapport and cooperation between players and administrators. There has to be balance between the three formats of the game, but also specially balance and understanding between franchisee opportunities and international cricket that you play for your country. These are issues that have affected teams at times and the future of the players who play for their respective countries, with respect to the West Indies especially.

So it’s a great responsibility the cricket administrators have at this moment and looking forward. I cannot look at the ICC or the Cricket Boards to come up with solutions, or the players themselves. They have to be involved in the debate that will enable one to play for his country and the Twenty20 leagues, but not all the leagues. It’s also a great idea for the print and other media to get into the mix of a healthy debate.

There will be questions about how to keep the fans interested, how to sustain Test cricket as the prime example or format of cricket, how to use Twenty20 cricket to attract more fans, how to sustain interest in one-day cricket (bilateral) and the ICC World Cup. The answers to such questions will provide the solution.

These days there are plenty of opportunities for active and retired cricketers. There is so much to look forward to in the form of the many Twenty20 leagues. What are your thoughts on that?

Yes, I think that’s one of the bonuses of all the franchise leagues that have cropped up around the world. When I first started playing cricket, there were lots of retirees who had finished with the game and had to get into jobs in administration, commentary, coaching and anything else that took their fancy, but they could not actively continue playing after their retirement from international service. But now after the IPL and then its off-shoots, I am playing more cricket than I am doing before. It’s pretty good for us now.

How do you see the MCL going forward in the context of attracting eyeballs?

The Masters usually will have a few retired internationals and quite a few who have basically retired or given up on their chances of playing international cricket. But you look at the sides at the moment, apart from internationals who have just retired, or a few years ago, the League also has quite a few current English county players in the set-up. So the quality of the tournament is going to be pretty good.

We also have legends like Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan), Brian Lara, Michael Vaughan, Jacques Kallis… players of this calibre coming back and playing. So there will be tournament appeal for television fans and fans who come to the ground. We have Virender Sehwag in the Gemini Arabians side and also Sourav Ganguly in the League. There is great appeal and hype around the League. At the end of the day, it would be always cricket that will count; with nostalgia thrown into the tournament as well.

The Twenty20 leagues around the world have really attracted a cross section of fans to the sport. That’s going to really sustain the sport in the future. Twenty20 is the real vehicle through which cricket can spread to other countries that are not familiar with it.

Such Leagues are born out of new ideas. Tendulkar and Warne have started the Cricket All Stars event…

I think it’s all about keeping cricket fresh and trying to spread the game, but more importantly trying to attract new fans, because without new fans taking to cricket and the game inspiring younger players to take up the sport itself, the future of cricket becomes a bit dicey. I played in the Big Bash recently and in one game at the MCG featuring the Melbourne Stars, there were 88,000 people for a Twenty20 game. Now that’s an incredible sight.

The Twenty20 Leagues around the world have really attracted a cross section of fans to the sport. That’s going to really sustain the sport in the future. In the other formarts, they are trying to get the pink ball in; there were 40,000 plus people watching the day-night Test match (at the Adelaide Oval in Australia). The ICC World Cup was very well received last year in Australia and New Zealand. But Twenty20 is the real vehicle through which cricket can spread to other countries that are not familiar with it. So it’s a lot of new ideas and a lot of fun. And it looks very good for cricket’s future.

So the days of off-season in cricket are over now?

It’s partly because of the Asian countries; there is always some cricket in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. I have played cricket throughout the year. And India being the largest contributor when it comes to revenue in world cricket, they will always look to play cricket all year around on a home and away basis. We have had this debate before where players have spoken about fatigue, having more contests and more defined breaks from cricket, but at the same time it’s got to balance out with the aspirations of some countries, the teams, the home boards and franchisees.

I sometimes think as a cricketer, you need breaks, that you need quality breaks, but this becomes a problem because you have to play international as well as franchise cricket. It’s very important to get your priorities right where national cricket comes first and of course the bonus of being able to play in the Leagues like the IPL, Big Bash and the Caribbean Premier League. And so it’s all a case of making sure that you get good time for recovery from fatigue and also injuries during these tournaments. It’s a work in progress probably, but’s workable getting the balance right.

You played the IPL from 2008 to 2013; did not feature in the last two in 2014 and 2015; any chance of returning to the 2016 League?

No, I have not put my name down this year (for auction). I am committed to Surrey where I will be with my family for six months. If I do put my name down and if do get picked by a franchise, I will miss quality time with my family. I think that part is pretty much done.

You had a fabulous career in both Test and ODI cricket. Very few batsmen are in the 10,000-run bracket in both forms of the game…that’s something to be proud of and for young cricketers to get inspired?

At the end of a career, that’s one thing you really hope would inspire young cricketers, that you have left the dressing room and game of cricket in your own country a little better and that you have hopefully enhanced the culture in the dressing room and also contributed to as many victories as possible.

Getting hundreds, many runs and milestones personally makes you feel very good, but at the same time, there has to be a process where that leaves a mark for other cricketers to follow and enrich the game after your retirement. Hopefully that will take root and that’s something I can be proud of in the future.

Do you have interest in the administration of the game ?

I don’t see myself being part of administration as of now, but maybe in the future. I am very much committed to contribute to Sri Lankan cricket, but I have to ensure that I also have time for myself and my family.

Many cricketers have gone into the media world. Any thoughts on that?

Doing media and commentary on and off is fine. Doing that as a full-time career is going to be very difficult at the moment. The travel and work schedules are pretty tough. So it will take some time to assess where I am at the end of this year.

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