Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Hobart, 5th day November 20, 2007

Unrewarded brilliance

Whenever Sri Lankans look back to 2007 they will always wonder what would have happened if Kumar Sangakkara did not tear his hamstring in the tour game in Adelaide

If only ... Kumar Sangakkara was pushing Sri Lanka towards a miracle chase of 507 when he was wrongly given out for 192 © Getty Images

Whenever Sri Lankans look back to 2007 they will always wonder what would have happened if Kumar Sangakkara did not tear his hamstring in the tour game in Adelaide. The injury was relatively minor, but the effect on the tourists was deadly.

As Sangakkara finished the two-Test series by treating the Australian bowlers like he would in the final ten overs of a one-day game, it was irritating to think of the difference he could have made if he was fit for Brisbane. It was even worse when Rudi Koertzen incorrectly judged him caught at slip, ending his exceptional drive for a Hobart miracle on 192.

Sangakkara's hamstring problem led to Sri Lanka losing their best chance to compete with Australia before a core group of wonderful players stepped into retirement. Marvan Atapattu started the walk on the final day and Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas will have joined him before their next Test visit to Australia. The series loss hurt them and it was hard to work out whether Sangakkara's brilliance worsened or reduced the pain. He got them close, but also showed what could have been.

Not many batsmen have treated modern Australian teams like Sangakkara did on the final day. In the first innings he was scratchy and fortunate, but in the second he purred. No player in the past two Tests has had so much time or moved so freely against the fast men. Everything he did was smooth, whether it was easing back to glide through the gully, or breezing forward to drive on the off side. The 109 runs he ached over on the fourth afternoon provided Sri Lanka with the style that was absent over the previous two weeks.

They started the final morning hoping for 260 to reach the 507 set by Ricky Ponting, and with Sangakkara and Jayasuriya together a world-record chase was a possibility. A morning collapse of 5 for 25 shattered nearly every dream, but Sangakkara refused to stop wishing - or thrashing Australia's bowlers. He weaved and swerved, drove and cut, and powered to the highest score by a Sri Lankan against Australia.

He remained unflustered as the bowlers aimed for his head and wicket. Only the brave step across the stumps to flick Brett Lee behind square; Sangakkara did it without fear and with success. His 150 came with a jabbed loft through cover off Stuart Clark and he regularly chipped over the infield to contribute to his 27 fours. After the main batsmen fell away he started working with the tailenders, refusing singles, taking boundaries and reducing the margin.

A 74-run stand with Lasith Malinga maintained the interest in the pursuit before it ended unnecessarily with umpiring intervention. Sangakkara stood in disbelief after being given out caught despite pulling the bat over the ball. Clark's short delivery thudded into the batsman's shoulder and helmet on the way to Ponting and Koertzen was convinced by the double noise.

The decision created more regrets. Sangakkara's brilliance went unrewarded and Sri Lanka left with a 2-0 series defeat. "If only" are among the worst words in sport, but it will take a long time for that phrase to disappear whenever this tour is analysed.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo