Pakistan v Sri Lanka, Asia Cup final, Mirpur March 7, 2014

Can Sangakkara rise for the final?

Kumar Sangakkara's form in Bangladesh this season has been sublime. But his record in ODI finals has not

People in Bangladesh have got used to watching Kumar Sangakkara bat long and bat often this year. He has been insatiable in these conditions against all sorts of bowling, but in the Asia Cup final against Pakistan in Mirpur, Sangakkara will have something to prove. Sri Lanka need him to play a defining innings, which has largely eluded him in tournament finals.

Sangakkara has scored 931 runs in 10 matches - two Tests, two Twenty20s and six ODIs - in Bangladesh this season. His aggregate is third on the list of runs in a season in a particular country away from home: Viv Richards scored 1045 in England in 1976 and 1057 in Australia in 1984-85.

Sangakkara's delight in batting at the moment was evident in how he made 76 against Afghanistan. He was getting beaten outside off stump by Mohammad Nabi, and for a while he looked like any other left-hand batsman. However, any other batsman might have gone after little-known Nabi out of pride, but Sangakkara was able to show the bowler the respect he deserved at the time, and then move on to succeed.

He seems to bat without an ego, a quality every aspiring batsman should cultivate, but sometimes Sangakkara needs to lose that habit and play with a bit of arrogance. It could give his proficient game another gear. Something like what Aravinda de Silva used to shred India in the 1996 World Cup semi-final.

Since 2009, Sangakkara has either played second fiddle in finals that Sri Lanka won, or he wasn't effective enough to win his team the game. Among the 38 batsmen who have more than 500 runs in ODI finals, Sangakkara has the 15th highest average. For a batsman of his stature, the fourth highest run-getter in ODIs, that is an anomaly.

In 26 finals, Sangakkara has scored 1023 runs at an average of 40.92. He does not have a hundred. In 13 of those games that Sri Lanka won, he top-scored in only three innings. He is missing a big score in finals, the sort of innings Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva, Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan have played.

The first final Sangakkara top scored in was in 2004, against Pakistan in Lahore. His 68 took Sri Lanka from 35 for 2 to 181 for 4. The second was in 2006, against Australia, when he made 83 in the first final of the VB series. Sri Lanka lost the next two. Three years later, against Bangladesh in Mirpur, Sangakkara made 59 off 133 balls in a tri-series final. Chasing 153, Sri Lanka were 6 for 5 but he steadied the innings before becoming the seventh wicket to fall, with 39 runs to get. Muttiah Muralitharan finished the job.

Sangakkara's ODI career is 14-years old and illustrious, but there is a gap he might like to fill. He has another chance on Saturday.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • raj on March 8, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    Sanga is a great batsman with an average second to none in modern day cricket. However, his inability in finals is a concern. Hopefully, he will do it here and shut the doubters!

  • U on March 8, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    Numerical analysis here is faulty. Sanga may have the 15th highest average of players who has played finals, but his average in finals is same as his overall average (40.92 for finals vs. 40.58 overall). he just has a lower ODI average than his peers, thats why he is 15th in that list.

    It is true that he has not singlehandedly won finals for SL; however, his playing, for most of his career was not about wining games singlehandedly (like Jayasuriya or Afridi). Best of luck to him to SL and to the Pakistanis as well.

  • Android on March 8, 2014, 7:31 GMT

    believe me.... Mahela will FIRE today!!!!

  • c on March 8, 2014, 7:29 GMT

    Mohammad Isam writes some sensible stuff and keeps it short and simple. I like that. Just one small response to what Sanga needs to do and should not do: we are talking about the ICC's International Player of the Year in ODI's correct? : )

  • Nick on March 8, 2014, 7:09 GMT

    With Dilshan out of the tournament, Thirimanne has stepped up to the opener's spot very confidently. His excellent hundred in the first match vs Pakistan set up the win for SL, and will be fresh in the memory. Mahela will probably stay at 4 and Chandimal at 5, where runs will be needed if SL is to win. But watch out SL, if power-hitters Afrida and/or Umar Akmal stay in for any length of time, a first-at-bat score of 300 plus, or successful Pakistan run chase, is on the cards.

  • Janaka on March 8, 2014, 7:07 GMT

    I think Mahela should open with Kusal Janith. It will boost both players up. And, one down for Thirimanna, two down for Sanga, three down for Chandimal, four down for Mathews, five down for Thisara.

  • Priyantha on March 8, 2014, 6:20 GMT

    maiden century or anything , Sanga needs to play big role today to clinch the finals , Sanga and Mahela would do needful today with the support of Anjalo

  • Raman on March 8, 2014, 5:43 GMT

    This article mention about the 1996 world cup semi-final and also give a link. Thank you the writer for mentioning it. It was one of the Glory match of SL cricket where our team defeated more than an opposing team.

  • Nick on March 8, 2014, 5:42 GMT

    Finals are there to be won, and SL can not always rely on their superstar batsman Sangakkara to win it for them. Here is an opportunity for Kusal, Mahela or Chandimal (if selected) to rise to the occasion. Same for the bowlers - Malinga won it for SL last time against Pakistan and Mendis has been terrific all tournament - whose turn will it be today?

  • David on March 8, 2014, 5:15 GMT

    Very good analysis by Mr.Mohammad Isam.