Curtains on the firm of Sangawardena!

One of the great double acts in the game, Sangawardena will play together no more. An era has ended. By Suresh Menon.

In the end, they got their sums wrong, and picked the wrong strokes to play. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jaywardena showed that sometimes there are no second acts in cricketing lives. One of the great double acts in the game, Sangawardena will play together no more. An era has ended. Like the ordinary fantasist, players too dream of finishing in a blaze of glory, but sport can be cruel. In 2007 (Jayawardena) and 2011 (Sangakkara), they led Sri Lanka to the final of the World Cup. Sanga will play on till the final Test series of the year, but with Mahela it is the final goodbye.

Somehow ‘Sangawarden sounds right, conjuring up a relationship where it is difficult to separate the two players who have been friends since their schooldays, led Sri Lanka, and made over 10,000 runs each in two forms of the game. In all three forms put together only ‘Dravulkar’ (Dravid-Tendulkar) made more runs. Only Sachin Tendulkar has made more runs than Sangakkara in one-day cricket; of batsmen with over 10,000 runs in Tests, Sangakkara has the highest average.

Jayawardena is the older by exactly five months; both will be 38 later this year. The media have tried to portray their partnership as a coming together of opposites. Left-hander versus right. Aggression versus calm. Efficiency versus style. Yet, what they have in common is more interesting and will be of more lasting value to cricket, especially in Sri Lanka. For one, they are agreed that there is a Sri Lankan way of playing the game which is too valuable to be lost in the by-lanes of excessive coaching. Not only must we win, said Sangakkara at the 2011 World Cup, but we must win playing like Sri Lanka.

No other country could have produced Muttiah Muralitharan, Sanath Jayasuriya, Lasith Malinga, each unique, and each successful while being unique. Young Sri Lankans aren’t embarrassed about being different; it is a philosophy endorsed by their most successful players. In some ways, Sangawardena represented the two strains of Sri Lankan cricket. Jayawardena is in a straight line from the naturally correct, moving coaching manuals that can be traced to the likes of Sathasivam and Gamini Goonasena. Sangakkara is a successor to Aravinda D’Silva whose correctness was leavened by originality.

Few modern batsmen made the scoreboard irrelevant, keeping us focused at the manner of scoring rather than the volume of runs scored. India’s V. V. S. Laxman had that magic touch. So did Jayawardena, a batsman incapable of an ugly stroke yet modern enough in his thinking to play the long innings, make the triple century. Sangawardena’s partnership of 624, the highest in a Test, was built on the left-hander’s 287 and his partner’s 374, still the highest individual score in an innings by a right-handed batsman.

Their impact must be seen in psychological terms, for the combination of instinct and fire that they brought to the team. It was the street fighting skills of Arjuna Ranatunga refined by the greater breadth of knowledge. Sangakkara could sledge with the best of them, especially from behind the wickets, but he could also deliver the Spirit of Cricket Lecture at Lord’s bringing to the oration a sense of purpose and a line in humour that invited a standing ovation, one reserved only for Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu before him. “He spoke the truth,” wrote Jayawardena in a tribute to his friend, “when it might have been more convenient to mouth platitudes.”

When C. B. Fry and Ranjitsinhji were putting bowlers to the sword in their time, rival supporters often said, “Ranji is not out and Fry is not in,” as if there was no hope for the opposition. Over the years, the sentiment has remained, only the names have changed: Ponsford and Bradman, Kanhai and Sobers, Miandad and Zaheer Abbas, Dravid and Tendulkar. Sangakkara and Jayawardena take their place in that list by right. It wasn’t enough to get one of them out, both had to be dismissed before a bowling side could breathe again. Now they are out, and there is little joy even among opponents.

(The author is Editor, Wisden India Almanack)