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January 1, 2013

Where does Sangakkara sit in the 10000 Club?

Michael Jeh
Kumar Sangakkara was joint quickest to 10,000 Test runs, Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 1st day, December 26, 2012
Can you compare these greats and, if yes, how so?  © Getty Images
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There is a French proverb that states that "to compare is not to prove". At a time when so many great cricketers are nearing the twilight years, that proverb may remind us that it is almost impossible to compare cricketers from across the history of the game because there are just too many variables to factor in. So let's keep it contemporary and ask ourselves this question: is Kumar Sangakkara is the best of the "10,000 Club batsmen" of the modern era, bracketed alongside Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid? On one measure, the number of innings taken to get to the ten thousand run mark, the choice then comes down to Lara, Tendulkar and Sangakkara (195 innings) with Ponting at 196 innings. This sort of conversation is meant for pure debate. There can be no right or wrong answer, just an opportunity for genuine cricket lovers, hopefully liberated from jingoistic bias, to discuss the various factors in coming to their own conclusion.

Of the three batsmen who got to the magical figure in 195 innings, I would mischievously put Sangakkara at the top of the list only because he had the dual burden of keeping wicket for a fair chunk of his Test career, often standing up to Muttiah Muralitharan and having to concentrate on picking the variations. Using that measure, neither Tendulkar or Lara can claim that sort of fatigue although Tendulkar can rightfully lay claim to the burden of carrying India's hopes on his broad shoulders for 20 plus years. I suppose Lara and Sangakkara can also argue the same case, except that the sheer numbers and the level of adulation pale into insignificance when compared to SRT.

Both Lara and Sangakkara batted at No. 3 for most of their career while Tendulkar was a fixture at four. Does this mean that Tendulkar had it ever so slightly easier because he was that little bit more protected against the new ball? You could prosecute that argument I suppose, but it would be purely for argument's sake because it would be splitting hairs. Lara and Sangakkara generally had to bat without the added protection of Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman which might have put more pressure on them to perform.

A counter-argument might be that Tendulkar might have actually got to the 10,000-run mark even earlier if some of those runs had not already been scored by his peers. Imagine a small second-innings run chase when Sehwag knocks off the total singlehandedly - if Tendulkar had batted at three or had a less prolific opening team-mate, perhaps he would have scored a few more runs along the way to get him to that target before 195 innings. Similarly, Ponting too might have been disadvantaged by this because he played in an era when Australia regularly had only small totals to chase, so he might have used up a few of his 196 innings' in knocking off a dozen runs or so.

In terms of big scores, Lara is unquestionably the king of that jungle. He was the one most likely to dominate where he could peel off those massive individual scores. Sangakkara too has a reputation for scoring double-hundreds whereas Tendulkar took a lot longer to climb that mountain.

Of the players mentioned at the top of the article, let's take a look at their Test batting average when playing away from home. Some would argue that this might be yet another filter to determine their relative greatness. Tendulkar 54.74, Kallis 53.80, Dravid 53.03, Lara 47.80, Sangakkara 47.30, Ponting 45.81. Using that barometer, Tendulkar leads narrowly from Kallis and Dravid. Interestingly, of the modern era, Alastair Cook, Allan Border and Steve Waugh have the highest batting averages away from home. Can we draw anything from the fact that all three of them will be remembered for being tough battlers rather than thrilling strokemakers? Does succeeding away from home require a slightly different sort of mind-set and technique? Border and Waugh in particular faced some pretty useful bowling attacks in their day, before the DRS system that regularly reprieves batsmen these days.

To my mind, Ponting sits at the top of the list when it comes to match-winning hundreds in the first Test of a series. I haven't done any number-crunching to prove the point but I'm relying on my gut feeling when making this claim. His record of peeling off influential centuries to shape the direction of a Test series is phenomenal. Admittedly, he too played a lot of his cricket as part of a batting arsenal that was almost as good as it gets (Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist) and he was generally front-running because of the quality of bowlers he had in his team too. That is hardly his fault though, so I'm loath to detract from Ponting's greatness (as I am with Tendulkar) just because he happened to play with other high-quality players. In some ways, you can argue that it is to their credit that they maintained their hunger for runs when complacency could have been an excuse.

I still find it difficult to go past Kallis though. Enough has been written of his phenomenal record that requires no justification on my part except to say that we are unlikely to see the likes of him ever again. The modern game will probably never see someone as durable as him, playing all three forms of the game, bowling fast, catching at slip and batting for long periods. For sheer adrenalin and flamboyance though, Lara gets my vote. In the opposite sense, for purity of technique and defensive impenetrability, can we award that title to Dravid? His defensive technique was as much of work of beauty as Lara's parabolic swirl of the blade.

Back to my original thesis though; is there a case for Sangakkara being the best of the 10,000 Club? At a time when the retirements of great players are coming at an unprecedented rate of knots, with arguably Tendulkar, Kallis and Sangakkara not far away from that sad day too, are we being too churlish by even trying to compare geniuses? As much as I love debating that which cannot be measured by sheer numbers alone, I fear that even trying to separate such greatness is almost disrespectful to the legacy these fine batsmen will leave behind them.

"Comparison is the death of joy."
- Mark Twain

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Keywords: Legends, Stats

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Posted by chathura on (January 30, 2013, 10:01 GMT)

for me sanga is the best, he maintained his personality very well

Posted by Worrell on (January 23, 2013, 23:36 GMT)

where sachin shouldered India, Pointing had Hayden, Langer, part waughs etc., Lara shouldered the west Indies, Carried them, won matches single evenhandedly, captained such a dysfunctional weak WI team, and of all teams had a higher percentage of runs per matched played, in all conditions. Nah, all are great in their own way.

Posted by Abhijit Singh Bhambra on (January 18, 2013, 10:07 GMT)

For me the best in the 10 k club is Sachin Tendulkar. No matter what people say about him, he is the man who gave Indian batting a new meaning altogether. Followed by Lara/ Dravid/ Kallis and Sangakkra. I mean face it guys, if scoring 10k plus runs in test would have been easy then we would have a lot of batsman's in the list. It is time to celebrate their achievements than comparisons.

Posted by venkatesh on (January 17, 2013, 15:27 GMT)

there few players who are great even if they dont touch 10000 club sangakara lara steve waugh viv richards inzi sachin dravid

Posted by Kishor on (January 17, 2013, 12:13 GMT)

I disagree with is best among 10000 club :-)just because of he hasn't have good record in overseas:-)sachin is greatest among all since the indian team is in the decade of 90s very average bowling and batting attack,he is the man taken the all responsibility and make a 10000 before 2011:-)for me then dravid.kallis are the greatest:-):-)sangakkara i

Posted by Aliraza on (January 16, 2013, 10:28 GMT)

Guys i haven't compared all simply because the comparison isn't even needed. Just check it out yourself. Kallis is truly a legend of cricket. Just to ensure that i am totally unbiased. I am a Pakistani. I have never been to SA and have no special soft spot for SA's. But i am always amazed by Kallis's feats. This guy is a freak. Hats off to him.

Posted by Arun on (January 15, 2013, 22:23 GMT)

Let's not confuse stamina with talent, let alone greatness.

Posted by rosh on (January 7, 2013, 16:11 GMT)

Lara is the best of the lot - no doubt. Ponting could afford to play for a win all the time coz he was in a champion team. No pressure that if he fails so would the team. NOT the case with Lara nor indeed with Sanga. On Sanga I would point out again that as part of a team which got few and far tests in Eng, Aus or SA he has done remarkably well. In fact at the end of the current series he averages over 60 IN Australia. He never got to play 4 test or 5 test series like the others.

Posted by NKJ on (January 7, 2013, 12:16 GMT)

@those saying Sangakkara scored more at home and was pathetic at honme, check the facts, for most of his career he did better away than at home. He averaged fifty on his last visit to Australia, whilst not being in good form , and averaged over 100 on the 2007 visit. He has scored hundreds all around the globe, and at important times, he thoroughly deserves to be in the pantheon of greats, he is just very highly underrated.

Posted by Mike of NQ on (January 4, 2013, 22:28 GMT)

Sometimes you have to look who they score their runs against and the circumstances of those runs. Kallis averages 39 against Australia and 42 against England but 170 and 90 against Zimbabwe & Bangladesh. For me its Lara followed by Tendulkar. Lara averaged 54 against the best 3 bowling attacks (Australia, SA and England) with the lowest being SA at 49.0. Tendulkar averaged 52 against the best 3 bowling attacks with a lowest of 42 against SA. Lara gets the tip because of his superior scoring rate. Sangakara dosn't average above 50 against Aust, SA or England. On another note there is an argument for Ponting who played to win resulting in nearly 110 test match victories. His ability to lead from the front is missing from Tendulkar, Kallis and to a much lessor degree Lara. For me, its Brian LARA.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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