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Lone fighter Kumar Sangakkara gives fans 10,000 reasons to applaud

December 26, 2012

James Faulkner, in The Australian, 27 December 2012

Sanga ct WADE--gettyIN A season of sterling catches it was fitting that yet another screamer was the only way to end Kumar Sangakkara’s Boxing Day masterclass. When, horror of horrors, Sangakkara mis-hit a Mitchell Johnson bumper, Matthew Wade ran at least 30m almost to the foot of the sightscreen to clutch a remarkable catch on an extraordinary day. Wade’s catch rivalled those taken this summer by Alviro Petersen, Nathan Lyon and Johnson himself, with the viewers no doubt delivering the final verdict later in the television season.

Before Wade’s moment of brilliance Sangakkara (58 from 98 balls with eight fours) stood tall and lonely as the wickets tumbled all around. His three hours of defiance soaked up more than a third of the balls faced by his side and his runs comprised more than a third of the total. The standing ovation when he posted his 10,000th Test run – the equal fastest in history to reach the milestone – was the most moving act of the day. This Melbourne crowd knows its cricket and loves a champion.

He reached the mark in 195 innings, the same as Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar and one better than Ricky Ponting. Sangakkara’s straight back was a rod for the Australian bowlers who threw all they had at the No 3 only for it to come back, with tax.

His trademark step to the offside before delivery seemed to dare the bowlers to try their luck in his hitting zone. His elegance belied the mental toughness needed to play an innings of such steely resolve. His 10,000th Test run and 43rd of the innings came with perhaps the best shot of all, a cover drive cracked so hard the noise penetrated the enclosed press box.

Sangakkara ICC awardsCricket is of course all about the numbers and while the Sri Lankan might have brought up his 10,000th Test run, his scalp was Johnson’s 200th in Tests. But while Sangakkara’s 58 pales alongside his 30 Test centuries, this knock came on the biggest stage and in his nation’s hour of need.

More’s the pity then, that his teammates did not follow his lead to at least extend the innings to that allotted to sides batting in ODIs. Sri Lanka was dismissed in 43.4 overs.

“He was just patient,” Johnson said of Sangakkara after play. “He was leaving very well but he was also going after his shots; if it was there to hit he was hitting it. He’s an unbelievable player. He just knows how to play Test cricket. He played some pretty good shots off me that I thought were decent balls. That’s just the player he is. But I’d rather be driven down the ground than cut or pulled.”

Sangakkara was especially fierce on Johnson, opening his boundary account with a slash behind point and following immediately with another four thanks to a Lyon misfield at mid-off. At other times the Sri Lankan was not to be tempted by the capacious gap at cover, making the pacemen bowl to him by ignoring anything even marginally wide of off stump.

Johnson was bowling at a good clip, averaging almost 140km/h but Sangakkara strode so far forward to defend the Australian was made to look like a medium pacer. He took 15 runs from the first four balls of Johnson’s seventh over, comprising two straight-driven fours, a slash through gully and a three tucked through square leg.

Yes, perhaps it was unwise to hook Johnson when the quick’s tail was up, but Sangakkara had barely mistimed a ball until then.

vlcsnap-997060As if he had not done enough for his side and his country, the champion was forced to reprise his keeping role when x-rays revealed that Prasanna Jayawardene’s right thumb was broken by a Johnson ball that also claimed the Sri Lankan’s wicket.

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