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Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena... bidding adieu to one-day cricket. Sangakkara will turn out in Test matches for some more time.-AP

Sri Lanka will miss its cricketing gladiators and the two meanwhile will catch up for a meal, crack jokes and keep playing a part in the diverse fabric of their nation. You don’t get players and individuals like Jayawardena and Sangakkara anymore, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

There are no fairy-tale finishes in sport. But when Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara played out their final act in ODIs — a soul-sapping defeat against South Africa in a World Cup quarterfinal in Sydney on March 18 — the overwhelming feeling across the cricketing universe was that they deserved to go in a better fashion. Such is the goodwill the duo enjoyed and such is the sheer respect and regard that team-mates and rivals share in equal measure for the two greats.

Bonded by friendship, elevated by batting greatness, united by their acute awareness of the game’s gift of hope to an island nation slowly coping with the after-effects of a devastating civil war, Jayawardena and Sangakkara have been fine ambassadors for the sport and also for Sri Lanka. Their off-field tandem extends into business as well with the lovely Ministry of Crab restaurant in the old and elegant Dutch Hospital complex in Colombo, being a further reiteration that be it runs or rupees, the two cannot be split. There may be differences — in their physical stature; the way they talk… Jayawardena’s a sing-song exposition of thoughts, Sangakkara’s an accented and sharp delivery backed by his lawyer’s instinct; in their batting styles with Jayawardene being a right-hander and Sangakkara a left-hander, though their common thread was elegance and a hunger for huge scores; but above all they were one unit — always Mahela and Sanga!

Jayawardena’s exit marks a finality as he had already bowed out of the Tests and the World Cup was the permanent full stop unless he is sighted again in the various Twenty20 leagues around the globe, but Sangakkara still has some time, however fleeting it is, as he will relinquish his Test whites only after India’s tour of the Emerald Isle in August. Yet, as a batting combo that gave sleepless nights to bowlers, Sydney-2015 was the last sighting of the two Sri Lankan legends together.

Sri Lanka’s World Cup campaign may have ended in a whimper with the Proteas driving the final nail, but its two greats showed their class — Jayawardena’s in limited doses as evident in a hundred against Afghanistan and Sangakkara’s in ample measure as brightly reflected in four tons! Their overall numbers are staggering — Mahela has 11814 and 12650 runs in Tests and ODIs respectively, Sangakkara has 12203 (still counting) and 14234.

This overwhelming statistic shows that for a decade and a half, Jayawardena and Sangakkara were the pulsating heart of the Sri Lankan batting. Add to it their individual captaincy stints, Jaywardena’s catches, Sangakkara’s work with the wicket-keeping gloves and his smart one-liners that riled batsmen, and you still don’t get a complete grasp of their enormous significance in the Sri Lankan firmament and their incandescent chapter in the history of international cricket.

In Tests, Jayawardene and Sangakkara have added 6554 runs, second only to Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid (together 6920) and ahead of other celebrated pairs — Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes (6482), and Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer (6081). The prolific script extends to ODIs as well with the two 37-year-old icons with roots in Colombo (Jayawardena) and Matale (Sangakkara) sharing 5992 and occupying the second slot below India’s Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly (8227).

The numbers indicate the solidity that Jayawardena and Sangakkara bequeathed to the Emerald Isle in the willow game. And it wasn’t just solidity with the bat. There was assurance in their safe hands too and together they have snapped up 1003 catches across Tests and ODIs!

It isn’t just about their milestones or the money they are probably reaping in their shared business outings, it is also about their heart being in the right place. Many summers ago, this correspondent caught up with Jayawardena at a Bangalore hotel, and in a routine cricket interview gingerly strode into the internal strife in Sri Lanka. He paused and then said: “Every country has a little problem in its backyard.” Those words had perspective and also revealed a hope that all would be well soon.

Many years later, 2011 to be precise, in his epochal MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture at Lord’s, Sangakkara finished his wonderful speech with these lines: “With me are all my people. I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan.”

The above snippets just show that Jayawardena and Sangakkara never lived in a celebrity-bubble.

They were aware of the world, conscious about their palliative role in a fractured society searching for heroes and common dreams and they jumped into social tasks with gusto — their efforts during the Tsunami rehabilitation in 2004, along with Muttiah Muralitharan were inspirational.

Sri Lanka will miss its cricketing gladiators and the two meanwhile will catch up for a meal, crack jokes and keep playing a part in the diverse fabric of their nation. You don’t get players and individuals like Jayawardena and Sangakkara anymore.