Sanga, A Cricketing Man to have beside you, on the field and off the field — Mark NicholasAugust 20, 2015
Mark Nicholas in ESPNcricinfo.com, http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/910883.html — where the title is “Made in Sri Lanka, adaptable everywhere”
Arjuna Ranatunga was the first to tell me about Kumar Sangakkara. We were at the Beach Wadiya restaurant in Colombo. He said there was this boy who had amazing hand-eye coordination and a determination beyond the norm. He added that he was bright and well read, though he could not have predicted that words would become almost as much a Sangakkarra currency as runs.
England first saw him in Galle in 2001. Batting at No. 3, he made a fifty and kept wicket skilfully. His movements were almost feline. The match was ill-tempered and Sangakkara was no innocent bystander. You might have called him feisty, arrogant even. The same messages came through during the next game in Kandy, a riveting and controversial Test match that England won to level the series. In the second innings Sangakkara fell five short of a maiden Test hundred, but he had made his mark.
In the final game at the SSC, England overcame the odds to take the series, thanks in part to a magnificent first-innings hundred by Graham Thorpe. On a dry and turning pitch, the battle between Thorpe and Muttiah Muralitharan was the stuff of champions and a tremendous challenge for the 23-year-old stumper, who came through it with colours.
He is among the first you would take with you to the trenches and reckon to get out alive, having taken a prisoner or two along the way
Even then, his interviews were different from the others. He spoke intelligently about match situations and his own contribution to them. He never followed a party line. A decade later he was to give the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s and delight the audience with his beautiful use of the English language. From it came deep insights into a complex game, withering attacks on administration and impassioned reflections on the history of his nation and the story of its cricket. Arguably, and alongside Bishop Desmond Tutu’s animated and thought-provoking recollections and ideals, it was the best of a very good collection of lectures driven by the MCC’s Spirit of Cricket initiative. In fact, thinking about this further, you could say that these two men advanced the spirit of the game by taking it out of its own self-centred space and using wider social and political examples to its benefit.
Until you visit Sri Lanka, it is impossible to understand what the cricketers represent. The island is small and has, of course, been divided by civil war. It is a place of highlands and coastlines, of various religions and of tribal discord. Colombo is a wonderful capital city that retains elements of the colonial age without bowing to its instruction. Kandy, the town in which Sangakkara grew up, is distinctively beautiful.
Sri Lankan people smile as a matter of course. The sun shines or the rains come and flood vast areas. The humidity can be thick and overbearing. But still they smile. The soil and fauna are rich. The fields and forests are lush. The tea plantations are dramatic. The food is beyond wonderful, especially at the Beach Wadiya, or was in those days. Nowadays it faces competition from the seafood restaurant owned by Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. In so many ways their destiny has been together.