Believing in self-realisation

“It is important for the players and the officials to safeguard the primacy of Test cricket, which I believe is still the No. 1 format that really tests the character and class of any cricketer,” says Kumar Sangakkara in a chat with V.V. Subrahmanyam.

Whether on the field or off it, he has class written all over him. Kumar Sangakkara, the former Sri Lanka captain and now skipper of Deccan Chargers in IPL-V, stands out from the crowd for his ability to speak his mind in a very articulate manner and with a touch of warmth.

In an exclusive interview, the 34-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, who is one of the elder statesmen of Sri Lankan cricket, having played 108 Tests (9382 runs, average: 54.86, 28 centuries) and 325 One-Day Internationals (10,472 runs, average: 38.21, 13 centuries) spread over 12 years, shares his thoughts on contemporary cricket and his own career.

Question: How do you look back at your career so far?

Answer: Well, honestly, it has been a great journey; a huge learning experience, both in cricket and in life. Importantly, I am not the same cricketer that I was at the start of my career. My game, technique, personality and attitude have all changed a lot. But I still love to do a lot with the bat — score runs, centuries and help my team win many more matches and championships.

You have achieved so much. What achievements do you think you can look back at with a sense of pride? And what new goals have you set for yourself at this stage of your career?

I look at it this way — you have to set new goals, targets and then find ways to achieve them by working hard. Playing in the Sri Lankan team that was unbeaten in 10 Test matches was a great feeling. Drawing the Lord's Test against England under Sanath Jayasuriya was another special moment. All my double-hundreds are memorable.

Coming to my goals, beating India in India — which we have never done — or beating Australia in Australia or even South Africa and England is what we should do consistently. That is beat the best sides on their home soil consistently.

What has been the defining moment of your career?

Well, the first Test hundred I got against India. I was close to that mark quite a few times before, but once I scored the century, I got a feel of what it means and since then I have always valued my wicket that much more.

What makes you feel special about being a Sri Lankan cricketer?

The tough cricket we played, especially the way we won the Test match in South Africa recently. The great thing about Sri Lankan cricket is how we keep challenging ourselves as a team and try to keep improving.

How difficult is it for you to keep yourself motivated for so long?

Well, to reach this level I really worked hard. Fighting through the hard times was one of the major challenges. Personally, it's good that they did not last very long. The greatest thing that I believe in is self-realisation. You have to ask yourself first before someone raises questions about your ability.

Do you think your life has changed somewhat after your memorable Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture at Lord's?

Not really. No doubt, it was a great honour to deliver that lecture. I am happy that many people appreciated it. Everyone has ideas, opinions, but they are not always on the right side. But I must say that I got to say what I believed in. That's it.

What do you think of the future of Test cricket?

It is important for the players and the officials to safeguard the primacy of Test cricket which I believe is still the No. 1 format that really tests the character and class of any cricketer. It is really good that there are lots of Tests that end in a result of late because of sporting wickets. But we have to keep working hard to ensure that Test cricket survives for it is this format that leads to the longevity of the game itself.

Do you believe that it is often taxing to play in all three formats (Tests, ODIs and the T20s)?

I don't think so. If someone is a good cricketer, he can be good in any format. But again, you have to strike a balance. Schedules are tight. See, India plays a lot of cricket — many teams will love to play so because of the financial benefits they get. Even Sri Lanka plays a lot at home and away. Whatever said and done, Test cricket is the ultimate form of cricket. That's why I believe there should be a minimum of three Tests in a series.

There are quite a few instances where big names are forced to choose between two formats. What's your take on this?

It should not be the case. I always believe that the home contract (with respective National cricket boards) should take precedence. Even IPL recognises this by insisting on NOCs from respective boards. It is important to get a fair deal.

Does the 2011 World Cup final loss to India in Mumbai still haunt you?

Definitely. In fact, we had three bites at the World Cup in the recent past and all away from home. That is what I mean — winning away from home consistently is a habit that we have to cultivate.

What hurts you the most?

Losing a game. We always take pride in winning by fighting till the end. There can be no worse feeling than losing a contest, for I feel that as a player you are responsible not only to your team but also to the millions of fans. Though it is the nature and beauty of cricket that some matches end in thrillers, a defeat is one that hurts me badly.

There have been quite a few wicketkeepers in international cricket in the last 15 years or so who have been quality batsmen too. Your comments?

I look at this as a necessary evolution in cricket. This new feature of wicketkeeper doubling up as a quality batsman has set up exciting selection challenges too. Fortunately, back home I was asked to hand over the gloves to Prasanna Jayawardene who, I feel, is the best against spin bowlers and very adept with the bat too. We are very lucky to have him in our side. So, a wicketkeeper who is also a good bat lends perfect balance and edge to the team.

Were you surprised by India's slump from No. 1 in Test cricket?

I think it is an interesting word to use. But I don't look at it that way. It is just a drive downhill. India has many cricketers capable of turning things around. Here I would like to stress that a lot of credit should go to Sourav (Ganguly) who instilled passion, steel and strength amongst many cricketers. It was an amazing transformation he brought to Indian cricket. And I am sure India will be the side to watch again once they are on the comeback trail.

If you are asked to name a couple of youngsters who can step into the shoes of some of the big names set to retire in Indian cricket, who would they be?

I think one of the most impressive youngsters I have seen recently is Virat Kohli. What hits me is his attitude — always trying to give everything he has on the field. A tremendously exciting cricketer who is showing a lot of maturity too of late.

What do you think of the view that T20 means slow death to traditional cricket?

See, the players are aware what is expected of them from the pressure-cooker atmosphere. It is a format that requires you to think quickly and correctly. Everyone is enjoying playing in IPL which is only getting better and better for there is glamour, glitz and financial rewards too. And I believe that each format has its own slot in international cricket and amongst the fans too.