Kumar Sangakkara’s technical and mental attributes enabled him to build lasting edifices outside the sub-continent, writes S. Dinakar.
His was a relentless pursuit of excellence. Kumar Sangakkara posed the toughest questions to himself. His introspection was followed by sacrifice as he punished his body during those countless hours of practice.
More testing the conditions, greater was his resolve. Sangakkara wanted to be bracketed with the best. Glory beckoned.
Sangakkara’s technical and mental attributes enabled him to build lasting edifices outside the sub-continent. When the ball moved and bounced, Sangakkara was the rock at No. 3.
The manner in which he blended solidity with enterprise underlined the Sri Lankan’s attributes. To the bowlers around the world, he was a formidable barrier.
Sangakkara’s away record of 4888 runs in 53 Tests at 53.13 is a worthy one. And in six Tests at neutral venues, the left-hander’s 632 runs came at 62.00.
These are very good numbers considering he was invariably targeted by the top bowlers of the world season after season. Video analysts would burn mid-night oil to find chinks but Sangakkara hardly had any.
His record in Australia, where lesser batsmen have been found out by lift and seam movement, was exceptional. In five Tests down under, Sangakkara had 543 runs at 60.33.
He picked the length early and was an outstanding back-foot player, getting into the right positions for the horizontal bat shots. When the pacemen banged it in short, Sangakkara cut and pulled with authority. Travelling back, he could also powerfully punch through covers.
He got on top of the bounce, kept the sphere down. When the ball was pitched up, the left-hander would drive through mid-off or covers. In fact, Sangakkara’s cover-drive was a riveting stroke. He would often go down on one knee to ease the ball to the fence.
Sangakkara’s top-hand grip was his great ally while driving straight or through off-side. The bottom-hand did not dominate, limiting his repertoire. Given his methods, Sangakkara never had to manufacture his shots. The ease and flow of his batting was hard to miss.
His back-lift was elaborate but the bat came down straight. Whether moving forward or travelling back — this depended on the length of the delivery — he was light on his feet. Crucially, Sangakkara never committed himself.
In fact, a lot was correct about Sangakkara’s batting. He was relaxed in his stance and moved with a still head. Subsequently, Sangakkara possessed a priceless all-weather, all-condition quality in batting — balance.
Sangakkara comprehended the art of building an innings. Though his range of shots covered every corner of the ground, Sangakkara had patience and innings building skills.
He could adapt to foreign conditions, absorb pressure, bat though sessions, and build the team’s innings around him. Sangakkara concentrated hard, grew in stature.
He has, on occasions, curbed his natural attacking instincts and shown exemplary judgment outside off-stump.
In England where the technique and footwork of a batsman is under intense scrutiny in conditions assisting swing and pitches providing deviation off the seam, Sangakkara has 862 runs in 11 Tests at a creditable 41.04. He did not go hard at the ball, played with soft hands and was largely secure on or outside off-stump.
Although the Sri Lankans had the gifted Mahela Jayawardene in the side, Sangakkara shouldered immense responsibility at No. 3. He relished the burden; it stoked his combative instincts.
He was versatile and read situations admirably. Sangakkara could blunt testing spells and accumulate runs by rotating the strike. The southpaw could also change gears effortlessly.
Like most great batsmen, he put the bad balls away, ruthlessly. The Sri Lankan had powerful wrists and any delivery on the middle or leg stumps would be driven, flicked or whipped. Sangakkara could also conjure some magical shots off good deliveries when his team needed him to.
And he employed the sweep shot to disrupt a spinner’s line. He chose his moments to essay the lofted shots against both pace and spin. Sangakkara had the ability to dominate attacks.
In New Zealand where the seamers often get the ball to dart around on juicy pitches, the Sri Lankan giant made 549 runs in six Tests at 61.00. His tight defence left the pacemen frustrated. When the seamers subsequently faltered in line or length, Sangakkara cashed in.
He might be disappointed with his returns in South Africa. The left-hander made 572 runs in eight Tests at a moderate — by his standards — 35.75.
Sangakkara had the game to succeed on the South African tracks but consistency eluded him. Perhaps, it’s just one of those things in a long career.
For most part, Sangakkara was at home away from home. A legend he certainly is.