Bangladesh v SL, 2nd Test, Chittagong, 2nd day February 5, 2014

The case for Sangakkara's all-time greatness

Kumar Sangakkara does not usually feature in discussions of modern batting greats. His numbers demand for that to change

Kumar Sangakkara approached his maiden triple-hundred at a sprint. When the eighth wicket fell, he had been on 253 - in danger of being stranded short of a milestone he later admitted he desired, if only to "be part of the club". The team's goals happily aligned with his own in the late afternoon, lighting a fire underneath his feet. He sped forward from the crease often, with brutal intent.

His final 52-runs as a non-member of the 300-club were walloped in 30 balls, but although Sangakkara was still mid-frenzy when he passed the milestone, his celebrations were remarkably collected. A hand-grasp with his partner followed the raising of both arms, before the helmet came off, briefly. Within 90 seconds, he was taking guard again.

Perhaps he knew that he had not unlocked anything new in himself in the course of his epic. There were few thorny periods to overcome, and an already-battered opposition had been further hamstrung by an injury to a frontline bowler, as well as their captain and wicketkeeper. His team could not have claimed their commanding position without him, but at a personal level, perhaps his greatest achievements on Wednesday were his statistical harvests.

Sangakkara became the quickest man to 11,000 runs on Wednesday. Though outside Sri Lanka he is rarely spoken of in the same breath as the modern batting greats, that discussion is now long overdue.

The first port of call for any such exercise is his average. At a career-high 57.83, he comfortably outstrips Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, and is better than Jacques Kallis by more than two runs. Of the seven batsmen that boast better averages (qualification: 2000 career runs), Ken Barrington had the most recent career, from 1955 to 1968. None of the men above him have scored 8000 runs, nor played more than 90 Tests. The debate then moves to how many of Sangakkara's runs mean little? He is by far Bangladesh's lead tormentor with the bat, having struck 1711 runs against them - over 15% of his career total. He has not gone easy on Zimbabwe in six innings either, averaging 89.88.

To dismiss all those runs is unwise, particularly in light of this Chittagong innings, where only one other Sri Lanka batsman passed 50 and no one else reached triple figures. But for the sake of argument, Sangakkara has impressive numbers even if those teams are omitted. Of batsmen who have played in the last 15 years (qualification: 2000 runs), only Kallis has a better average than Sangakkara's 52.68, and that only 0.30 higher. If the last 30 years are considered, Javed Miandad is the only other cricketer to join Kallis above Sangakkara on that list.

A charge often leveled at Sri Lanka batsmen is that they make their runs on flat home pitches. Galle's dry surface, however, is often as stiff a test of batting technique as any track in the world, and the P Sara Oval is regularly a result-venue. Still, omitting draws, and only counting matches among the top eight nations, Sangakkara's figures hold up. Of the seven modern batsmen who have better averages in wins or losses, four - Ponting, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist and Damien Martyn - are from the legendary Australia team. The remaining three are AB de Villiers and Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saeed Anwar. Tendulkar and Lara both rank well below Sangakkara.

His away record against the top-eight teams does not place him as highly in the pantheon, but at 45.37, he is hardly liability outside Sri Lanka. Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Lara and Kallis have better away averages, alongside a host of other modern players, but Sangakkara's returns are marginally better than Ponting's.

Where Sangakkara sets himself apart from Lara, Ponting and Tendulkar in particular, and veers towards all-time greatness, is when his records as a specialist batsman are separated from his career as a wicketkeeper-batsman. Sangakkara has not been the designated keeper for 61% of his 122-Test career, and in those matches, he has averaged 69.55. Only Don Bradman sits above him, and he is almost five clear of the next man. Clyde Walcott surpasses Sangakkara if Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are again stricken from his record, but he drops only that one place, retaining an average of 61.41. The next remotely modern batsman is Miandad, who scored his runs at 53.30.

Sangakkara has hundreds against and in every Test nation, but perhaps there are more gaps in his record than the other modern greats. He averages 30.58 in England - a statistic he will hope to partially rectify in two Tests there in June. His average of 36.50 in India will likely remain at retirement, as will his 35.75 in South Africa. Unlike Ponting, Tendulkar and Lara, he was also incapable of demoralising attacks for much of his career - though recently that has begun to change. It is perhaps for this reason he does not place himself in the same realm as batting hero Brian Lara, whose double-century count he matched.

"I grew up watching and idolising sir Vivian Richards," Sangakkara said. "Then Brian Lara came along and he was magical to watch so I am pretty happy to have equalled him in some kind of way. But I don't think I will equal him as a batsman, because I think he is on a completely different level to most of the batsmen I have seen.

"I think I have surpassed him in very little. I may be fastest to 11,000 or whatever, but I don't think I compare myself to him at all. There is no use of comparing myself to him. To me he is beyond reach."

Whatever Sangakkara's own view, consistency is its own form of dominance. As he reaps the numerical rewards of his 14-year toil, it is time the wider cricket world appreciated his stature.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 9, 2014, 16:55 GMT

    He averages in the 40s outside of Asia, and we must remember that the Australian teams he played were weak and in a period of rebuilding. I rank his classic innings against South Africa as his best.

  • Android on February 8, 2014, 8:12 GMT

    Sanga is a great batsmen but he cannot be clubbed with Lara, Sach, Pointing, Inzi for the simple reason that he has never evoked fear in opposition bowlers as these have. Lara and Sachin in their first half careers played much better bowlers. They played against the likes of Walsh, Ambrose, Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain, McGrath, and Donald. Sanga and most of the current lot have not faced these greats. Stats tell only a part of story.

  • Kodi on February 8, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    I feel like these peeps don't watch cricket... They just look at stats and talk crapppp... Watch cricket then you all critiques realize how beautiful cricket is with such dynamics and comparison aren't required.... Elite level cricket at the end of the day is what matters is stats.... Sanga is so consistent and you can't hate fone talent of God. If they do then they pretty much hate God... Simple... Snag is fine cricket creation of God... Lara sach, Kallis Pontng Hayden and there are some young upcoming fine talents. Appreciate cricket watch.. Don't just look at records and stats without watching a game.....

  • Dummy4 on February 7, 2014, 15:56 GMT

    as a sri lankan , Sanga Thank you sir for your duties off the field and on the field , you are already a truely great , all this comment s about you suggest that you are , keep hitting those hundreds no matter what the opponent ICC have given Test status . let the little fellows weep , YOU can break the DON'S 12 doubles . No need to compare with other batsmen coz you are Kumar Sangakkara the one and only .

    we dont expect a Sanath Jayasooriya innings from you and VIce-versa , you have shown your strength and now they cant stand it. PROUD OF YOU SIR

  • ravenn on February 7, 2014, 13:18 GMT

    There is no doubt that Sanga and Mahela are 2 all-time greats from SL. In terms of records, I think Sanga would end up very close to that of Sachin's at the time of his retirement. But, he will remain underrated because of the lack of showmanship and swagger and also he was not regarded as a young prodigy when he came in. He may not be a Lara or a Ponting or a Sachin but he is a great player nonetheless!

  • sam on February 7, 2014, 12:00 GMT

    Sangakkara is a great player. Just like Dravid was a great player or a Ponting was a great player or as Pietersen is a great player. In fact in my view Sangakkara is slightly better as he is more consistent. But all these players scored their runs against not so great bowling attacks and when they faced truly great attacks they were sometimes successful but more often than not failed. That's why the 90s Lara and Tendulkar (Tendulkar after 2003 is not a half the batsman he was prior to that) were a class apart. They pulverized great bowling attacks. Personally, Viv Richards > Lara > Sachin > Rest.

  • Suresh on February 7, 2014, 3:12 GMT

    No wonder he is the fastest to 11000, he was also fastest to 8000, 9000 and 10000. I hope he will join the 400 club very soon.

  • Dummy4 on February 6, 2014, 21:56 GMT

    Most SC players do better on SC pitches. Sangakkara's away record is as decent as anybody's. His MoM record too is exceptional. Not sure what his detractors want more. And what to say of people who still can't realize how Bradman was so special compared to the likes of Tendulkar!

  • Aaron on February 6, 2014, 20:53 GMT

    Arsath Careem: LOL, What an epic FAIL. Why the hell would you omit what Sachin did from 1989 to 2000?? Just because Sanga made his debut in 2000??? FYI, by the time Sanga made his debut, Sachin was already part of the upper echelon of batsmen in world cricket.Btw, did you or someone else score runs for Sachin from 89 to 2000??? Were you the one who had to face the likes of Imran, Wasim and Waqar at the tender age of 16??? Were you the one who scored a century at the WACA (the fastest wicket in world cricket at the time) when the rest of the guys in the side were struggling to get bat on ball??? Yeah,didn't think so.Also, by the time Sanga made his debut in test cricket, Sachin had already scored 3 centuries each in Aus and Eng, 2 in SA and 1 in NZ.So to discount what he did before 2000 just because Sanga had not made his debut yet is just plain stupid!!!

  • Dummy4 on February 6, 2014, 19:33 GMT

    TRUTH: Sanga va Sachin since Sanga's debut

    Sachin Matches - 124 Innings - 208 Runs - 9885 HS - 248* Average - 52.86 50s - 44 100s - 29 Sanga Matches - 117 Innings - 200 Runs - 10486 HS - 287 Average - 56.98 50s - 42 100s - 33 Let's see about overall stats Last 40 INNS Sangakkara 9 centuries BUT, Sachin NO CENTURIES. Check it. sachin did not score a test century since 02 JANUARY 2011 ( FOR 1050 DAYS ) Sachin scored only 1243 runs in his last 40 inns with an average of 32.71 (no centuries only 9 fifties) BUT Sangakkara 2179 runs in his last 40 inns with an AVERAGE of 60.52 . (Sanga scored 9 centuries and 8 fifties) . Sangakkara scores a century every 6.06 inns but Sachin every 6.45 inns (Sanga 33 centuries in 200 inns but Sachin 51 in 329 inns ) DOUBLE CENTURIES Sangakkara scores a double century every 25 inns but Sachin every 55 inns (Sanga 8 double centuries in 200 inns , sachin 6 double centuries) DOUBLE CENTURIES Sangakkara scores a double century every 25 inns but Sachin every 55

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