England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 3rd day June 22, 2014

Sangakkara finally leaves his hallmark on England

Having averaged only 30 in England before this tour, Kumar Sangakkara has finally restored his record

Play 05:41
Arnold: Sri Lanka have shown a lot of heart

When Kumar Sangakkara arrived at the crease on day three, Liam Plunkett hurled a rocket at his chest. The Headingley pitch had been misbehaving since the second afternoon, and this was one of its naughtiest moments. The game's fastest bowler was provoking it to mischief.

In the first innings, Lahiru Thirimanne had got a similar delivery first-up, and he fended a catch to short leg. Given the abysmal series Thirimanne has had, maybe surviving the same ball does not mean much. But the one Sangakkara got was a brute all the same. The kind that makes kids want to become fast bowlers.

Sangakkara deflected that one in front of short leg, but he knew the bowler had had the better of him. He looked down at the spot on the pitch that had caused him grief, then looked away, walking toward square leg, then back again. He shuffled his feet and took guard. The next legitimate ball was wide and full. He stretched out and cracked it through the covers as hard as he has hit any ball in the series.

A hush hung over Headingley for a moment, then lifted with a swell of appreciation. The Yorkshire crowd is partisan, urging England on, saving their loudest for the local lads, but they know cricketing excellence when they see it. When Sangakkara was dismissed - perhaps for the last time in England - the ground stood to their feet to clap him off the field. But few will have known Sangakkara's curious relationship with the cover drive when the clapped that first four. Many will also have been unaware of the batsman's troubles in England, before this tour.

The cover drive has been Sangakkara's signature stroke for much of his career, because it is almost a marvel of engineering. The step forward is swift and precise. The still head and fast hands, practiced and mechanical. The back knee bends just enough to stabilise him, and the entire movement is set off by a checked flourish forged of control. The ball only ever goes in a slim arc between cover and extra cover. Mahela Jayawardene played a cover drive too on the third day, but his rendition of the stroke is languid and musical; more dependent on his mood, than the ball and the fielders, and capable of going almost anywhere in front of square.

In many ways, the cover drive is a microcosm of Sangakkara's cricket - meticulously refined and supremely efficient - but on previous tours of England, it had sometimes been his undoing. In the 2011 tour, he was out to it in Southampton and at Lord's lunging at the ball when it had curved away from him. It has frustrated him in other parts of the world too, across all formats.

In the last match at Lord's, England tempted him wide of off stump for a good ten overs, when he arrived in the first innings. But in that innings, Sangakkara was hell-bent on his raid for a hundred. He could not be drawn into the shot until he was past 30, and even then, he applied it economically.

The stroke was a risk at Headingley too, particularly against Plunkett, whose extra bounce had done Jayawardene in, when he drove outside off stump in the first innings. But for Sangakkara, the third day was no day for restraint. He was in the middle to move his team's cause forward, but also to make a mark. In all likelihood, this is his last outing in England.

He was glad for his error-riddled 79 in the first innings, but when he came off the field, most people would not stop deriding the innings. Sangakkara has been a dream interview for several major English papers since he arrived in the country, but when a radio station spoke to him before the second day, and led with "Wasn't the best innings you've ever played, yesterday, was it?", Sangakkara was audibly agitated: "That's the way it sometimes goes in cricket, the important thing is getting the runs." The reply was uncommonly brief. Over the next few minutes, one of the game's most eloquent speakers would not offer more than a six-second answer to any of the interviewer's stream of questions.

On Sunday, the first ball from Plunkett elicited the only ugly moment from Sangakkara. From the very next ball, he was intent on reassuming dominance. He scored faster than any Sri Lanka batsman on the day, and sent four balls through the covers during his 55. The cover drive accounted for a higher percentage of his runs in this innings, than in any other this series.

He has now scored as many 50-plus scores on the trot as any batsman has ever managed, only, he has a triple ton and a couple of centuries among that string of scores. He has raised his average in England to 41.04, when it had languished at just over 30 before the tour, creating doubt over his greatness. His 342 runs is more than any Sri Lanka batsman has scored in a single series in England.

On day three at Headingley, he recovered from Plunkett's first ball, and his strange first innings. For many in the country, where his record has now recovered too, that cool, calculated cover drive will be the enduring hallmark of the memory of his career.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Adhil on June 27, 2014, 11:55 GMT

    @vjp86 - not sure I understand you correctly... are you trying to say that Sachin, Lara and Viv are close to being the best after Bradman??? I don't think I agree with that either. These guys were all great batsmen but they don't have the stats to prove it. I think a player who is accepted by many of his contemporary players to be the best and has an outstanding batting record would be the ideal candidate for this title... I don't think Sachin, Lara or Viv lived up to their talent when it comes to their records... on the other hand, I think Sangakkara has done very well with his limited talent... but hasn't made the kind of impact that Sachin, Lara or Viv made on the opposition.

  • Android on June 24, 2014, 6:58 GMT

    @vjp86 - Mate your logic is a bit flawed. If batsman were considered greats due to their attacking nature then there are loads who can be added to this group of Sachin, Lara and Richards. Like Shewag, Jayasuriya and some other great players. They are not being considered as the very best as they are inconsistent to be the very best. When a batsman is scoring at an average of over 70 which is clearly nearly 20 runs per innings more than the greats of the game, then he becomes the best. Bradman only scored most of his runs against one opposition without reverse swing, doosra's and other varieties in the modern game. Have no doubt about it, no lies were mentioned here when commentig . Clear Cricket stats were quoted.

  • Vijay Kumar on June 23, 2014, 19:36 GMT

    @deathhawk. mate. dts wat I hv bn saying. .it is absolutely rubbish to say he is d best batsman aftr Bradman..he is a very gopd player. .a great player at best..bt not more thn dt. bradman is considered greatest by aussies. .nt cz he has dt average. .it is bcz of d kind of batsman he ws..attacking. .tearing apart bowlers..average is just one dimension. .same goes for sachin. lara n Richards. .these are class apart. this thing..I got.u got..bt people are too delusional wd self satisfying lies..we cnt do anythng abt dt.

  • Monif on June 23, 2014, 18:38 GMT

    Why some guys don't accept that Sanga is Great, and is par with Tendulkar. Why we always include outside continent records. My analysis with sachin and Sanga outside continent. I checked both guys records in Winning game outside continent(Included only teams England, Australia, WI, SA and NZ) Player Match Ing Runs Avg 100 50 Tendulkar: 8 14 761 54.35 3 2 Sanga : 4 8 445 63.57 2 2

    One can say, its less run, so we include this Eng match and total goes to

    Sanga : 4 10 579 64.33 2 4

    Also, both have been MOM 1 time in these win. Now compare guys, when it come to result, Sanga is way ahead of Sachin.

  • Dimuthu on June 23, 2014, 15:02 GMT

    @TATTUs - "But IMHO, Sangakkara still hasnt done a lot outside the subcontinent" Hmm... 270 in Bulawayo, 192 in Hobart, 156* in Wellington, 147 at Lords, 119 in Southampton, 108 in Durban, 100* at Christchurch, along with 98 and 89 at Centurion. The subcontinent sure has changed since I last visited :) btw, SL has not toured the West Indies for Tests since 2008. Sanga was still the keeper back then and scored a 50 in his first innings there. Also,there were only 2 Tests!

  • Subramani on June 23, 2014, 13:33 GMT

    Sangakara is up there with the greatest batsmen of all time. There is simply no debate on that.He has done well all overthe world in all kind of situations. What else defines greatness. Added to his batting he keeps wickets as well. Definitely on par with believed pantheon.

  • Android on June 23, 2014, 12:34 GMT

    @ Tattu - Road type wickets don't swing nearly a foot. Sangakkara is e equal highest consecutive 50 maker of all time. This is including four innings in England which didn't offer batting conditions to date. He is not going to enjoy the conditions that India will be enjoying in their tour. For a batsman who hasn't had good conditions he has done very well. There is no other batsman to averages 70 in any case in the modern game. Which is easily over about 20 runs per game that these other greats who are being compared to him. Bradman is e only exception, but then he only faced one opposition for most of his career.

  • Samantha on June 23, 2014, 12:24 GMT

    What is Kithuruwan Vithanage doing in the squad? He was not included in the original Test Squad announced on June 2nd!

    Strangely, this guy seems to have crept again under the nominal standards of selection criteria, to secure a place in the SL Test Squad (above many deserving players with much better credentials)! A guy bloated with Bangla record and an infant stage career limited to just 38 First-class matches (& a List-A average of 15.72, Twenty20 Av27.25) repeatedly get selected to National Squad in all three formats,!! Strangely, the most experienced young player with a Golden Career Record, forced to play in SL-A Team!

    SLC seems to have an absolutely INVERTED Selection Policy found nowhere else in the world, to include certain overrated Rookies in National Squads, while well Established Record-Holders with ample experience @ highest level, slotted in SL-A for no apparent reason. No wonder why SL is struggling to find some more experience to backup Sanga & Mahela. DISGUSTING

  • ramachandra on June 23, 2014, 10:57 GMT

    @Death Hawk

    Do the same for outside the subcontinent.

    Infact in Eng until recently he averaged around 30. But now he has 40 [which is not any where near great and Luckily he got a road at Lords to go along with the generous Englishmen giving 4 chances in the second test]. WI India SA he has his average in the 30s. Thats 3 countries. With Eng it was 4 countries sub 40!. Not great whatsoever.

  • Alex on June 23, 2014, 10:08 GMT

    Sangakkara oozes talent, he has beautiful technique, can play all around the ground, plays well in all conditions. as a pure batsman he averages 70 from over 75 matches and in that is 29 tons. he's equal 2nd with lara for most double tons in a career, he's got a triple ton, he's one of only 7 players to achieve a double hundred and a hundred in a match, of those he's one of 2 who got a triple ton and a ton in a match, he's got a hundred in each innings of a match twice.