Australia v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, Group A, The Oval June 16, 2013

'Role model' Sangakkara remains at the top of his game

Even as he enters the twilight years of his career, Kumar Sangakkara continues to be among the world's best and is at the heart of Sri Lanka's quest to progress
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As the years roll on and time begins to erode the faculties that served batsmen in their youth, many mighty wielders of willow begin to see their numbers give way. A once-fine record that boasted at least a fifty every four innings, slowly stretches to one in five or six. What used to be an exceptional strike-rate might become merely very good. At times a single manner of dismissal, repeated intolerably often, becomes the unmistakable curtain call for the champions of yesteryear.

At 35 years and seven months, Kumar Sangakkara commands the best ODI average he has had since the first six months of his career. Once an uncertain player of spin, and a limited strokemaker, he also now has one of the most complete batting techniques in the world, and can raise a run-rate with the best. He has been Sri Lanka's batting talisman in the first two matches of the Champions Trophy, having hit 202 and been dismissed only once, and as they prepare to face Australia in a must-win encounter, he shapes as the key batsman once again. That at his age, he is still getting better, is testament to his ceaseless industry and his insatiable quest for improvement.

Perhaps more than any other cricketer in his generation, Sangakkara is not just a sportsman, he is an institution. Across town from where Sri Lanka will battle Australia for a place in the semi-finals, Sangakkara delivered the game's most memorable speech since the turn of the century. The 2011 Cowdrey Lecture was not only a colourful lesson on the history of cricket on his island, and the love for the game among his people, but an astute appreciation of the privilege of being a top-level sportsman and the responsibilities therein.

He is the most bankable public figure in Sri Lanka. He is now sought-after as a speaker, but he is also a better actor in adverts for telecommunication giants or finance companies than many of the local thespians that make their living on screen. The seafood restaurant he co-owns alongside Mahela Jayawardene is considered one of the best in the country, and before he was married, he was among the nation's favourite heartthrobs. There are still plenty who swoon over his curls and his cultured air.

Like any good firm, Sangakkara runs terrific public relations. Eager to impress at every opportunity, but equally careful never to offend, he gauges the intended audience of each interview he gives, and fiddles with each reply to suit. Many have remarked on his sharp legal mind, but in another life, he could have been the among world's smoothest politicians. Even his cover drive, whether deliberately or not, is an exercise in self-promotion. Mahela Jayawardene is a more ravishing batsman by far, but Sangakkara commands the prettiest stroke in the team, and fans and pundits project that elegance on to the rest of his game, which is largely too utilitarian to be truly beautiful.

Yet, behind the show, there is also much substance. Anyone who has played with or coached Sangakkara will uphold him as a paragon of professionalism. At training, he is tireless and intense - always seeking improvement, and never allowing effort to subside. Jayawardene once described him as a man who "bats and bats and bats and then keeps and keeps and keeps". He is not, by a distance, the most talented batsman Sri Lanka have ever produced, but in Tests at least, he is now undoubtedly the best.

"He's a complete batsman," Angelo Mathews said of Sangakkara. "To me I think he's a role model to all the youngsters like us, and I think we've got a lot to learn from him; the way he handles pressure, the way he bats and the way he trains. No. 3 is a very crucial position. That position steadies the whole ship for the team. He has been doing the job for us for such a long time."

Sangakkara has a heart that beats forcefully for Sri Lanka too, and has been active in promoting reconciliation in the post-war north. He was among the first public figures to visit schools in the war-struck areas after the conflict ended, and has also run a charity that makes education more accessible there, as infrastructure is rebuilt. After the hundred against England at The Oval, he is said to have shared his Man-of-the-Match prize with members of the support staff.

"He's got so many, countless awards, and he's not going after any trophies," Mathews said. "He just wants to do his best for the team all the time, and if he can contribute in any way to help the team win, that will be the first thing that he'll do."

Sangakkara now has few chances left to taste the glory of major tournament triumph. He has spoken candidly of the hurt of previous lost finals, and perhaps this time, he has resolved to drive the team's cause forward himself. Meticulous and indefatigable, another shot at a title is nothing less than he deserves.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Baseball-Sucks on June 16, 2013, 22:23 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara is indeed "the " Ultimate Cricketer (As Aman Harees said,). If Cricket was a fine art , he would be Picasso or Antonio Vivaldi of Cricket. The way he maneuvers his willow is like a painter uses his paintbrush to create his masterpiece, gently n elegantly. A few days ago, Jonathan Harris-Bass stated that Sangakkara is the popular Cricketer in the world today. To elaborate on his statement ,he brought up this question "Is there anything you don't like about Sanga ?" I'm sure that everyone would answer - NO. May be a few haters talk some thrash about him. But his back to back ICC People's award wins clearly show that he won the hearts n minds of the millions of Cricket lovers around the world. He is a great ambassador of Cricket n a philanthropist (and many more) . Once he has paid from his own pocket to hire several buses in South Africa so that some under privileged children from a township could come n watch a Cricket match in a major city. Truly a Legend !!!!

  • on June 17, 2013, 12:31 GMT

    No arguments about his oratory skills, integrity, charity work and good looks. He is the best in the cricket world today. But batsmanship? I'm afraid he is not in the league of the best. He may have been the most dependable overseas batsman for Sri Lanka in the recent past. But overall, he is not even the top batter of the Southern Indian Peninsula, forget the rest of the world. Rahul Dravid, Aravinda De Silva and VVS Laxman are the modern-day batting tri-seas. And batting-wise, Sanga, at best, is only a forceful river that, nevertheless, sustains the agriculture on its banks.

  • on June 17, 2013, 11:01 GMT

    there is nothing wrong in appreciating what we have right now, the future is what it is meant to be... Just because we write or talk about new talent its not gonna appear out of the blue. Its something that comes along naturally, it cannot me manufactured nor hurried. Even a highly talented youngster (lets say someone with sachin's ability) may not succeed in modern cricket arena. What I am saying is a soldier is made in the battle field, the training they receive can only take them so far rest is up to the them..

    Aravinda, Arujuna, murali era was followed by sanga, mahela, malinga, dilshan etc.. and for the next era we just have to wait and have faith in our youngsters.

  • on June 17, 2013, 8:40 GMT

    Without an argument his tailor made batsman. Most of his remarkable knocks came from longer format of the game that proves his classic concentration.

  • onebump on June 17, 2013, 7:17 GMT

    I had the privilege to know him in school. While he was talented, he did not have the full kit to go all the way. He has worked so hard to develop his skills and technique he is a great example for anyone to see how one can achieve so much by working hard intelligently. His greatest asset is his intelligence and state of mind. I believe there are many others in the team who have more talent than Sanga (Dilshan, MJ) but have not put the thinking and the hard work in enough quantity!

    Thanks, and keep going!

  • on June 17, 2013, 7:13 GMT

    really true legend...Hats off u sanga...

  • on June 17, 2013, 6:57 GMT

    It is quite remarkable how Sri Lanka has been able to produce so many world-class cricketers in the relatively short span of time since its entry into test cricket. There is no doubt though that among them all Sanga has been the best batsman and Murali has been the best bowler that the country has produced.While Murali's may be a monumental achievement (800 wickets) that will require some beating, what makes Sanga's achievements equally great is the fact that he has also been a wicketkeeper - in a vast majority of his matches. Take a bow. Hope you will keep us entertained with your bat for a at least a few more years.

  • Biggus on June 17, 2013, 6:32 GMT

    No doubt about it, Sangakkara is an absolutely outstanding cricketer and apparently a thoroughly decent human being. Lots and lots of respect from this Australian.

  • jackthelad on June 17, 2013, 5:24 GMT

    The most important thing about Sanga is not that he is arguably the best batsman currently playing in the world, not that he gives everything for his team and his country (though these are both true), but that he is a genuinely caring and considerate human being who has used the position his talent has given him to help and support others less fortunate. This man is rightly a legend here, and might serve as a decent role model for young cricketers everywhere. If there is ever a scandal about Sanga I will never post on a cricket board again.

  • on June 17, 2013, 4:23 GMT

    sanga has been relly brilliant in ODI 's for more than a year averaging over 40.he is the backbone of our batting.he has showed he can play on all sort of tracks.i think he is the best batsman srilanks has ever produced.his stats are great testimony for that

  • Baseball-Sucks on June 16, 2013, 22:23 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara is indeed "the " Ultimate Cricketer (As Aman Harees said,). If Cricket was a fine art , he would be Picasso or Antonio Vivaldi of Cricket. The way he maneuvers his willow is like a painter uses his paintbrush to create his masterpiece, gently n elegantly. A few days ago, Jonathan Harris-Bass stated that Sangakkara is the popular Cricketer in the world today. To elaborate on his statement ,he brought up this question "Is there anything you don't like about Sanga ?" I'm sure that everyone would answer - NO. May be a few haters talk some thrash about him. But his back to back ICC People's award wins clearly show that he won the hearts n minds of the millions of Cricket lovers around the world. He is a great ambassador of Cricket n a philanthropist (and many more) . Once he has paid from his own pocket to hire several buses in South Africa so that some under privileged children from a township could come n watch a Cricket match in a major city. Truly a Legend !!!!

  • on June 17, 2013, 12:31 GMT

    No arguments about his oratory skills, integrity, charity work and good looks. He is the best in the cricket world today. But batsmanship? I'm afraid he is not in the league of the best. He may have been the most dependable overseas batsman for Sri Lanka in the recent past. But overall, he is not even the top batter of the Southern Indian Peninsula, forget the rest of the world. Rahul Dravid, Aravinda De Silva and VVS Laxman are the modern-day batting tri-seas. And batting-wise, Sanga, at best, is only a forceful river that, nevertheless, sustains the agriculture on its banks.

  • on June 17, 2013, 11:01 GMT

    there is nothing wrong in appreciating what we have right now, the future is what it is meant to be... Just because we write or talk about new talent its not gonna appear out of the blue. Its something that comes along naturally, it cannot me manufactured nor hurried. Even a highly talented youngster (lets say someone with sachin's ability) may not succeed in modern cricket arena. What I am saying is a soldier is made in the battle field, the training they receive can only take them so far rest is up to the them..

    Aravinda, Arujuna, murali era was followed by sanga, mahela, malinga, dilshan etc.. and for the next era we just have to wait and have faith in our youngsters.

  • on June 17, 2013, 8:40 GMT

    Without an argument his tailor made batsman. Most of his remarkable knocks came from longer format of the game that proves his classic concentration.

  • onebump on June 17, 2013, 7:17 GMT

    I had the privilege to know him in school. While he was talented, he did not have the full kit to go all the way. He has worked so hard to develop his skills and technique he is a great example for anyone to see how one can achieve so much by working hard intelligently. His greatest asset is his intelligence and state of mind. I believe there are many others in the team who have more talent than Sanga (Dilshan, MJ) but have not put the thinking and the hard work in enough quantity!

    Thanks, and keep going!

  • on June 17, 2013, 7:13 GMT

    really true legend...Hats off u sanga...

  • on June 17, 2013, 6:57 GMT

    It is quite remarkable how Sri Lanka has been able to produce so many world-class cricketers in the relatively short span of time since its entry into test cricket. There is no doubt though that among them all Sanga has been the best batsman and Murali has been the best bowler that the country has produced.While Murali's may be a monumental achievement (800 wickets) that will require some beating, what makes Sanga's achievements equally great is the fact that he has also been a wicketkeeper - in a vast majority of his matches. Take a bow. Hope you will keep us entertained with your bat for a at least a few more years.

  • Biggus on June 17, 2013, 6:32 GMT

    No doubt about it, Sangakkara is an absolutely outstanding cricketer and apparently a thoroughly decent human being. Lots and lots of respect from this Australian.

  • jackthelad on June 17, 2013, 5:24 GMT

    The most important thing about Sanga is not that he is arguably the best batsman currently playing in the world, not that he gives everything for his team and his country (though these are both true), but that he is a genuinely caring and considerate human being who has used the position his talent has given him to help and support others less fortunate. This man is rightly a legend here, and might serve as a decent role model for young cricketers everywhere. If there is ever a scandal about Sanga I will never post on a cricket board again.

  • on June 17, 2013, 4:23 GMT

    sanga has been relly brilliant in ODI 's for more than a year averaging over 40.he is the backbone of our batting.he has showed he can play on all sort of tracks.i think he is the best batsman srilanks has ever produced.his stats are great testimony for that

  • x-sl-boy on June 17, 2013, 4:03 GMT

    that restaurant is one of the best but also most expensive in the world...

  • NP_NY on June 17, 2013, 3:54 GMT

    Sure Sanga is a great batsman and Mahela is still pretty good. Who else? If these two fail or get injured (or retire as it is going to happen soon), where are the replacements? Like someone else said the other day, SL should stop trying to find the "next Jayasuriya", the "next Murali" etc. and try to find some genuinely good cricketers.

  • on June 17, 2013, 3:09 GMT

    Sanga does not have the most runs, centuries or fifties, he may not have the highest average ever but whether you support India,Australia, Sri Lanka or any team you cannot deny that he truly is a modern or perhaps even all time great. He is in a category of his own and his class definitely is not matched by anyone both on and off the field.

  • Supun679 on June 17, 2013, 3:01 GMT

    My favourite cricketer by far.. hopefully SL can finally win one for sanga!

  • Prem2248 on June 17, 2013, 2:33 GMT

    These local authors very often than not write what the J&Ps want them to write, while undermining all the good work done by the proven youngsters. They don't see the importance of grooming quality future players at these vital batting positions that perform equally well on all surface and when conditions are tough for batting, but we as fans don't want those who come to the party, only on flat tracks. We badly need young batters, at the top, that have full control over all strokes, they play with minimum of risk and full array of strokes. You can't bat at these vital positions offering edgy & false strokes from the very 1st bowl you face. Some people may have enormous amount of luck but you can't depend on one's luck forever, because very often than not, these lucky stars don't work well, when pressure is great. It is disgusting to see that batters in their late 30s have been given these vital batting positions thus jeopardizing the entire Future of Country's Cricket. We're 2 B CNTD

  • on June 17, 2013, 2:18 GMT

    Brilliant piece Andrew putha.. Sanga is the ultimate sportsman you want to see in your team..He is someone who can do everything your own crowd wants to see from you..

  • sulav.dahal on June 17, 2013, 2:02 GMT

    oh! how true and interesting article on a legend ! I like Sangakara and his batting and above all, his firm and handsome face! I am 21, and grew up watching Sanga scoring ton after ton in overseas and in home...God bless him, and Sri Lankan Cricket!

  • playitstraight on June 17, 2013, 0:36 GMT

    Of Sanga, what can be said? His sportsmanship, his elegant shot-making, and his extraordinary skills as a 'keeper - which includes sledging - all have made him a legend, in a league of his own class. Sanga is truly fine wine, keep going!

  • spot_on on June 16, 2013, 21:51 GMT

    One game on a dying pitch and people have started putting this guy on top of the rest... He need to do more if he wants to justify his place in the side.

  • on June 16, 2013, 20:35 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara is the heartbeat of an often fallible, brittle Sri Lankan outfit. From behind the stumps, he galvanises the team to superhuman like standards. With willow in hand, he steadies the ship; keeps the team abreast of the run rate; sets the pace for a large total. He is the ultimate cricketer.

  • Unconstitutional_PCB_Chief on June 16, 2013, 19:51 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara is an asset for any cricketing nation. I have seen him in 2002 when he was new to the Srilanken Team; over the years he has mature into a complete world-class batsman and it is an absolute treat to watch him batting. I wish him good luck in years to come.

  • on June 16, 2013, 19:43 GMT

    Sanga is a true scholar and a gentleman. I am sure he will play his part to get SL to the Semis. Same with Mahela and Dilli. Good luck to all you guys for tomorrow's crucial game.

  • rajithwijepura on June 16, 2013, 17:14 GMT

    Common Sanga. Dlili & Mahi.... You guys are yet to taste the sweetness of an ICC trophy even after playing 4 ICC tournament finals. I really want you guys to win this tournament not only for your country but for your self. Go Lions..

  • rajithwijepura on June 16, 2013, 17:14 GMT

    Common Sanga. Dlili & Mahi.... You guys are yet to taste the sweetness of an ICC trophy even after playing 4 ICC tournament finals. I really want you guys to win this tournament not only for your country but for your self. Go Lions..

  • on June 16, 2013, 19:43 GMT

    Sanga is a true scholar and a gentleman. I am sure he will play his part to get SL to the Semis. Same with Mahela and Dilli. Good luck to all you guys for tomorrow's crucial game.

  • Unconstitutional_PCB_Chief on June 16, 2013, 19:51 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara is an asset for any cricketing nation. I have seen him in 2002 when he was new to the Srilanken Team; over the years he has mature into a complete world-class batsman and it is an absolute treat to watch him batting. I wish him good luck in years to come.

  • on June 16, 2013, 20:35 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara is the heartbeat of an often fallible, brittle Sri Lankan outfit. From behind the stumps, he galvanises the team to superhuman like standards. With willow in hand, he steadies the ship; keeps the team abreast of the run rate; sets the pace for a large total. He is the ultimate cricketer.

  • spot_on on June 16, 2013, 21:51 GMT

    One game on a dying pitch and people have started putting this guy on top of the rest... He need to do more if he wants to justify his place in the side.

  • playitstraight on June 17, 2013, 0:36 GMT

    Of Sanga, what can be said? His sportsmanship, his elegant shot-making, and his extraordinary skills as a 'keeper - which includes sledging - all have made him a legend, in a league of his own class. Sanga is truly fine wine, keep going!

  • sulav.dahal on June 17, 2013, 2:02 GMT

    oh! how true and interesting article on a legend ! I like Sangakara and his batting and above all, his firm and handsome face! I am 21, and grew up watching Sanga scoring ton after ton in overseas and in home...God bless him, and Sri Lankan Cricket!

  • on June 17, 2013, 2:18 GMT

    Brilliant piece Andrew putha.. Sanga is the ultimate sportsman you want to see in your team..He is someone who can do everything your own crowd wants to see from you..

  • Prem2248 on June 17, 2013, 2:33 GMT

    These local authors very often than not write what the J&Ps want them to write, while undermining all the good work done by the proven youngsters. They don't see the importance of grooming quality future players at these vital batting positions that perform equally well on all surface and when conditions are tough for batting, but we as fans don't want those who come to the party, only on flat tracks. We badly need young batters, at the top, that have full control over all strokes, they play with minimum of risk and full array of strokes. You can't bat at these vital positions offering edgy & false strokes from the very 1st bowl you face. Some people may have enormous amount of luck but you can't depend on one's luck forever, because very often than not, these lucky stars don't work well, when pressure is great. It is disgusting to see that batters in their late 30s have been given these vital batting positions thus jeopardizing the entire Future of Country's Cricket. We're 2 B CNTD

  • Supun679 on June 17, 2013, 3:01 GMT

    My favourite cricketer by far.. hopefully SL can finally win one for sanga!