England v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Rose Bowl June 15, 2011

Reluctant Sangakkara admits captaincy headache


If his two-year stint as Sri Lanka's captain was anything like as stressful as it appears from the outside to have been, Kumar Sangakkara is currently 33 going on 40. "Captaining Sri Lanka is a job that ages you very quickly," he admitted at the Rose Bowl on the eve of the third Test against England, as he prepared to step back into a role he relinquished, with evident relief, at the end of the World Cup final in Mumbai two months ago.

Following on from the loss of their captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, to a broken right thumb, it always seemed likely that Sangakkara would return to lead his country for the 15th and final time in his 97-Test career. However, his reluctance was clear from the moment he handed the reins to Thilan Samaraweera for last week's three-day warm-up against Essex, and as he admitted to the media ahead of practice at a soggy Rose Bowl, he needed time to weigh up his options as the poisoned chalice was passed once again in his direction.

"When I was first approached to captain the side I wasn't ready to take it on, because the fact was I had given it up, with a view of having finished my role as captain after two successful years," said Sangakkara. "Unfortunately there was no vice-captain appointed for this Test series, so the side was left in a bit of a problem with no-one to step in to captain.

"So with a lot of deep thought and considering the needs of the side and the country, I decided to say yes to captaining Sri Lanka again for a final time in this Test."

The situation was reminiscent of Michael Atherton's reluctant resumption of his captaincy duties at Lord's in 2001, when Nasser Hussain's broken finger had required a change of leadership after a solitary Test of that summer's Ashes. The difference, of course, was that the break between stints could be measured in years rather than months in Atherton's case. Sangakkara has barely had time to adjust to life back in the ranks, and now he is back in charge once again.

"I actually made my decision to resign a month or two before the World Cup," he said. "Looking from the outside in, it's sometimes difficult to fathom why a decision like that could be made, but once you're in the team, and in that environment, you realise that captaining Sri Lanka is a job that ages you very quickly. But that's a challenge of the job as well. You say yes to the job knowing full well the challenges you will face.

"It's rarely a job you will last long in," he added. "Mahela Jayawardene was a fantastic captain for us for two years, and he also resigned. I also had a two-year stint, and I enjoyed it at times, certainly on the field where our results showed we were one of the top two sides in the world for one-and-a-half years, especially in the shorter form of the game. We reached three World Cup finals in a four-year period, two in 50-overs, one in the Twenty20 format, and we beat Australia in Australia after 26 years.

"The achievements are huge. On the field, Sri Lankan cricket has been one of the most positive advertisements of our country for a very long time. We have produced world-class players, world-class teams, and World Cup-winning teams. I think the health of Sri Lanka cricket is very good and cricket itself is very strong. But when I stepped down from the captaincy, I thought I was done with it, but I was clearly wrong! I'm back for one last time."

Regardless of the team's recent success, it is a particularly tricky time for Sangakkara to resume his role. The political interference in selection has reached spectacular levels in recent months, starting with four eyebrow-raising changes to a settled and confident team ahead of the World Cup final against India, and culminating in the recall of Sanath Jayasuriya for the forthcoming one-day series, after more than a year on the sidelines.

"That's a question for the selectors," was Sangakkara's diplomatic response to the Jayasuriya issue, as he spelt out the convoluted hierarchy in Sri Lankan cricket, which extends from the sports ministry, down through the cricket board, and ultimately out to the players. "Sanath is a legend of the game," he added. "One of few batsmen in Sri Lanka who has managed to win games consistently on his own for the country."

However, in the event that Dilshan's thumb injury keeps him on the sidelines for longer than expected, Sangakkara was adamant that he will not be persuaded to extend his captaincy stint beyond this one-off game. "Realistically the selectors have stated they are looking at different options to lead the side, and to groom another captain under Dilshan," he said. "They will appoint a vice-captain very soon, so that a situation like this does not arise again."

For now, however, all the doubts and off-field stresses need to be put to one side, as Sangakkara seeks to extend his team's proud recent record against England. A victory at the Rose Bowl would square the series and leave England without a Test series win over Sri Lanka since 2002, and that prospect is set to guide their strategy in the coming days.

"The real opportunity is to tie the Test series, so the way we play has to reflect that," he said. "Whether you lose 1-0 or 2-0 you've still lost a series, but if we scrap and perform the way we can, we have the opportunity to tie the series. We need to show no fear and be as positive as we can, but at the same time execute all we've spoken about properly on the field, to try and help us win a Test match."

But the major obstacle to that objective, as Sangakkara conceded, is the loss of Sri Lanka's leading batsman in the series to date. Dilshan's absence as captain has thrown up a whole host of issues within the squad, but as a batsman who scored 193 at Lord's in spite of a broken thumb, he will be badly missed.

"It is a significant loss in both capacities," said Sangakkara. "He's been the one batsman who's stood out among us, even in the tour games, and it would have been great for him to be available to captain the third Test and finish the series on a high. Unfortunately he's not available, and we have to fill the void."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shehan on June 17, 2011, 5:57 GMT

    To all who is standing up for a cricketer who can't stand up for us as a nation... Pathetic display .. Sanga only manages to score 65 runs in 5 innings and mahela 97 runs in 5 innings.yet he is capable of whining about captaining the national team. Thilan and prasanna were available for both practice matches including Dilshan. Hence they have performed well. Sanga needs to put his mind in to national duty rather than his franchise.. It's a fact that without preparation you can't perform well in England. Don't you agree??

  • Jason on June 16, 2011, 18:48 GMT

    Simple question: why couldn't Jayawardene have captained in this Test?

  • Sage on June 16, 2011, 15:17 GMT

    Gosh guys stop all this crap and play for your country. You guys are thinking too much about past and politics without playing well for your country as a team. Sanga, you have a responsibility of captaining the side and just do it well without any complain. Otherwise England is definitely going to win this test and have 2-0 series win because Sri Lanka is playing so negative cricket since the first test. If you cannot play due to stress or what's going on in Sri Lankan cricket right now, just don't play and give an opportunity to someone else. Please don't wind and play and make a mess. I guess some of the senior players have forgotten their responsibility of playing for their country at highest level. It's a sad sight. Why is Herath still playing ..where is Randiv?

  • Crick on June 16, 2011, 10:32 GMT

    Don't be surprised if Sanath leads the side if Dilshan doesn't play the 1st ODI, But Sanga has his job cut out, We all want a fast bowler, but none is in the horizon

  • Philip on June 16, 2011, 8:50 GMT

    "Politicking" in cricket has gone on for years, ever since becoming a test playing nation. The players and public do not like it but accept that it is beyond their control. Blaming individuals (slectors) is not going to change anything. The selectors are from a good cricketing background and some who have served the country well. The IPL sure did have a huge impact on the present tour. The players who were not in the team that played the first practice game know too well that they were partly responsible. It did not send out the right signals from a cricketting point of view. But, money is part and parcel of present day cricket which also encourages the players to retire early. There is tremendous talent around in SL. What we require of the players is to give their 100% commitment nothing more nothing lesss. Wining the test is going to be a huge task. England have to play badly for us to have a chance. Posting a score of 600 in the first innings is what is required. Philip G,Surrey

  • Johnathon on June 16, 2011, 8:13 GMT

    @AB99 murali never wanted captaincy just an fyi england has upper hand to make this a 2-0 series unless sanga steps up batting as a captain AND most importantly makes the right selections (no maharoof, randiv in, and a good fast bowler in)

  • Nalin on June 16, 2011, 8:08 GMT

    Sanga good on you mate since not much of an option

  • Manesh on June 16, 2011, 7:15 GMT

    who ever be the captain the result will be 2-0.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2011, 5:46 GMT

    Sangakkar's hesitation was acceptable and which is clearly not relating to his inability or lack of leadership qualities or anything else. Sanga was a born leader and a great captain both in and off the field. And one of the few gentlemen remained in the cricket field. As all the Sri Lanken cricket followers know that, He wanted to leave the captaincy gradually and even agreed to lead the side in Test Format till the Austria tour, with the intention of giving more time for a new leader. Unfortunate Selected had better view and knowledge didn't allow Sanaga to leave peacefully by not considering the good work he did as a captain for two years. Now the pay back time --- and my major worry is I fee Sanga will not continue as a player for a longer duration.

  • A on June 16, 2011, 5:31 GMT

    What a shame Sanga ... Sri Lanka's all time greatest cricketer Mutiah Muralidharan waited all his career to captain Sri Lanka and never got a single chance and there people want to give away the responsibility of captaining the team ...

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