Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Melbourne December 24, 2012

Sangakkara at the MCG on cusp of landmark

Kumar Sangakkara has the chance of joining the pantheon of greats on the biggest stage of all - the Boxing Day Test at the MCG

When Kumar Sangakkara strides into the hubbub of Test cricket at the MCG on Boxing Day, he may breathe in the moment a second longer than the others who take the field. He is the keenest student of the game in the Sri Lanka dressing room and, perhaps in that pursuit, his thirst is unparalleled among current international players.

Others have spoken of not being overawed by the occasion, but Sangakkara will not allow this experience to slip by so casually. It has taken him 12 years at the top level, 30 Test centuries and countless weeks as the game's premier batsman before he could take guard on cricket's biggest stage. And the chance to let 158 years of passion, grandeur and tradition wash over him will be irresistible.

He begins the match requiring 40 more runs to reach 10,000 Test runs and there is perhaps no more fitting venue in the world on which he should confirm himself as one of cricket's modern greats than Australia's most iconic ground. Sangakkara has often spoken highly of the "Australian way of doing things", particularly earlier in his career, and he has adopted ideals that abound most ostensibly in Australia: iron-clad resolve, an unrelenting emphasis on training and technique, and an uncompromising will to succeed.

At the beginning of his career, it was not uncommon to hear Sangakkara rattle away in the batsman's ear from behind the stumps, almost like a Sri Lankan Ian Healy. He has mellowed since, by his own admission, but his smug speech to Shaun Pollock in the Super Eights of the 2003 World Cup remains one of cricket's most memorable recent sledges, particularly outside an Ashes series. Men have sought to shake him by hurling words at him over the years, but they have quickly recognised the immutability of his focus, and opponents no longer bother.

Even among his teammates, Sangakkara will not claim to be the most gifted batsman. Mahela Jayawardene was a prodigy - almost a household name in Sri Lanka years before he made his debut -and the artistry he brings to the crease can only be innate. Sangakkara's success has not been so propelled by ability. Labour has been the sacrifice he lay at batting's altar, and he has been rewarded with a richer technique and record that many would have suspected him capable of when he first arrived in international cricket. As a senior, he now often has the privilege of facing net bowlers at their freshest at training, but even after his stint he hovers around in all his gear, scavenging a few overs here and there until the bowlers are sick of seeing his defence. In Jayawardene's own words, "Sanga bats and bats, and bats and bats."

As captain, he brought a ruthless edge to Sri Lanka that the side had not known before. Never shy of showing displeasure in his team when they fell short of his expectations, and a pest to umpires whom he felt had wronged Sri Lanka, Sangakkara would exhaust every avenue that might bring his side an advantage.

During in an ODI in Dambulla, Sohail Tanvir scampered an overthrow that had rebounded unintentionally off his foot - a single which he was entirely entitled to take. In a flash, Sangakkara was in the batsman's face, arguing furiously that the run should never have been attempted. Eventually Tanvir cracked and called his partner back. Sangakkara might have let slip a smile as he walked back to his mark behind the stumps.

Sangakkara is not always counted in batting's modern pantheon, but few arguments against his greatness can survive the torrent of statistics he has stockpiled in the past decade. He has played as a specialist batsman for well over half his career and averages 67.08 in those 66 Tests. He has hundreds against every Test team, and everywhere but in the West Indies - an anomaly he may no longer put right, after Sri Lanka's two Tests scheduled there next year were further pushed to the future. He has eight double hundreds, fewer only than Don Bradman and Brian Lara, and if he scores 40 in the first innings in Melbourne, he will become the joint fastest man to 10,000 runs, alongside Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. If he gets there in the second innings, he will be on par with Ricky Ponting. This is no trifling company. Like each of those men, he is driven by personal accomplishment and has unremittingly pursued the extraordinary.

"If you're a batsman, 10,000 runs is that separation between a good batsman and one who will be remembered a bit more than the rest," he said in the lead up to the Boxing Day Test.

"It's really good to be almost there. There's no use of saying that you don't think of milestones. If you don't think of centuries, that's what you should be thinking of because that's what you want to do as a batsman, just like if you are a bowler, you want to take 300 wickets. Hopefully I will get beyond 10,000 as well."

Sangakkara might trade those 40 runs for a maiden Sri Lanka victory at the MCG, but the visitors cannot afford for him to have a bad game if they are to level with Australia. He had come off a lean series against New Zealand, but he ground out a difficult fifty in Hobart and, though his batting does not live and die on confidence, he will be glad to have shaken the poor trot. He is finally playing in one of cricket's most iconic fixtures, and if he can hit his best form there, perhaps he will have the universal acclaim he deserves.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2012, 8:17 GMT

    One srilankan batsman i truly admire, he has real class, he must be listed as one of the modern greats with dravid,kallis, ponting,sachin. Mahela is a flat track bully but sangakkara is really good.

  • Prashan on December 26, 2012, 1:59 GMT

    @janoodot, thanks a lot and I fully agree with you. It was so much relief for me to see Sanga passing 10,000 test runs this morning a short while ago. Sanga is determined to do well should he fail. Mahela is stylish but extremely vulnerable outside Asia. When Mahela bats in Aus, SA or England I feel so jittery as to when will he get out because he bats with discomfort against the short ball. Actually Sanga and Samaraweera are good on faster pitches. Atapattu not only his stlye, he was quite good on the fast pitches if you look at his stats where he had 4 out of his 16 test tons, outside sub continent excluding Zimbabwe.

  • Anthony on December 26, 2012, 1:51 GMT

    Sangakkara is a great player, you only need to see that just 10 other players in the history of Test cricket have scored 10,000+ plus runs to realize that. For all you disputing this, grow up. Just because he isn't from your country stop trying to belittle his achievements.

  • Ruwani on December 26, 2012, 1:41 GMT

    Congratulations Sanga for achieving 10,000 test runs..

  • Mike on December 26, 2012, 1:05 GMT

    @Jarr30:Your English clearly shows you are not an Englishman. If you check Jayasuriya's test stats he averaged just 15 in South Africa, 20 in NZ, 30 in India & 31 in Aus. Out of Jayasuriya's 6000+ test runs he has scored more than 4000 runs in SL. He scored most of those runs against weak Indian bowling attack during late nineties. Otherwise his stats would be much much weaker. Both Jayasuriya and Sangakkara has played same number of test matches away from Sri Lanka however Sangakkara has scored as twice as runs what Jayasuriya has scored in those away matches. We can't remember many match saving or match winning test innings Jayasuriya played. SL could save so many test matches because of heroic innings Sangakkara played when their all other batsmen failed. As an allroounder in ODIs Jayasuriya was usefull. If you only consider overrall batting in test & ODIs greatest batsman SL ever produced was Aravinda followed by Sangakkara, Mahela, Atapattu & Ranatunga.

  • nandaka on December 25, 2012, 22:34 GMT

    @Ali_Chaudhary ; I am not even sure how someone in the right mind can make such an argument. I say that is pure stupidity. Victory is achieved by a team effort. One player can only make a contribution for that effort. Even a 3rd grader would understand it. In case you didn't know, there are 11 players in a team. So pls do yourself a favor by not posting any comments coz you are way out of your league Pal. By the way Sanga could have taken the team to the victory in 2007 if it hadn't been for Mr. Rudy. For those who are verbal about his away records. "IN 49 AWAY TESTS SANGA HAS SCORED 4263 RUNS (A HALF OF HIS TOTAL) AT AN AVERAGE OF 49.56 INCLUDING 12 100'S WITH A HIGHEST SCORE OF 270". HE HAS SCORED 100'S IN EVERY COUNTRY EXCEPT W'INDIES. So pls pay this great person/cricketer his due respect. Have a nice day !!!!!! Peace out........

  • Ali on December 25, 2012, 21:21 GMT

    opps 10 000 runs without a single test match victory against australia (home and away) thats the reason you cant call him even a good player.

  • associate cricket fan on December 25, 2012, 21:11 GMT

    @ Imsrk Tell those guys to score 9 double hundred and then i will accept they are better than sanga. Not to mention his best score 287 came against SA and he has a very record against good bowling line ups like Pak and SA.

  • Janitha on December 25, 2012, 20:02 GMT

    @Sinhaya & Mahanama, plz don't bother to reply to matcfixerpkn's comments and waste yor time. I'm sure he is not from Pakistan & you can judge how poor his cricketing knowledge is. Btw, for me the best SL batsman in both tests & ODIs up to date is Aravinda. He scored 267 against NZ in NZ in a time SL was considered as minnows. Also 150+ in Aus in Aus in that period. Even if you remember the post 1996 WC era, if Sana & Kalu get out for cheap runs Aravinda singlehandedly had taken the team to win in many times in ODIs. For me Sana is the best entertaining batsman in SL (followed by Dilly) who can make strokes effortlessly. Marvan is the most technically stylish batsman. Sanga is the most hardworking & consistent batsman in tests followed by Mahela.

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2012, 19:59 GMT

    Sanga Getting ready to go to the MCG- the pinnacle of Cricket in down under. You are an inspirational cricketer. It was a brilliant speech at the Grand, charity dinner few nights back. We are proud of you- what ever the outcome of this match. Good luck with 10,000 mark. Keep up the good work. All the best- best wishes for both teams for a fantastic match.