A method to Sri Lanka's uniqueness
Kumar Sangakkara doesn't strike you as the kind of man who leaves much to chance. In most things he does, there is method. Even his batting, pretty as some of it is, is thoughtfully constructed, bit by bit, run by run. He is neither flashy nor a grinder, but instead an accumulator, working on solid percentages. He speaks publicly as he bats: articulate, well-planned, polished, safe, mostly platitudes, very occasionally spicy. If that's your kind of thing and cricket is a brand, then he is its spokesperson.
Sri Lanka don't have the madness of a Pakistan that needs method brought to it, but there has always been to their cricket, a spontaneity and uniqueness, an element of the unplanned or untrained. Sangakkara, a worldly character, less than a year into a role he seems like he has been doing all his life or at least preparing for, is trying something. The sense is that he is trying to bring different worlds into Sri Lanka's game; maybe the preparedness of teams such as Australia and South Africa, or their ruthlessness and focus.
If nothing else, he is bringing their new world jargon and thought. When asked about his side's ODI form going into the Champions Trophy opener against the hosts and the world's top side, Sangakkara spoke of processes and journeys. "Every game we play, every tournament we go into, we are building towards a goal and this is another step in that journey," Sangakkara said. "This is a very important tournament and we're trying to win it but for that you've got to get the processes right in training and the meeting room and we've gone a long way towards doing that." A double take revealed that neither Greg Chappell nor Rahul Dravid were at the mic.
Yet imagine how frightening a prospect Sri Lanka could be, if their talent absorbed the ethos of an Australian side? True it might come at the cost of something indigenous - all globalisation's collateral damage - but hopefully not so much to make it unrecognisable. Nobody, after all, wants to see the core of a Malinga or Mendis or Muralitharan diluted.
As it is their side is bursting with enough talent to loan out to England, West Indies and an associate or ten. After years of spin, they have a substantial pace attack, in which many bases are covered. They've got the form player in world cricket at the moment, in Tillakaratne Dilshan. Angelo Mathews may look ordinary but keeps doing things that are not so, and the old hands of Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene and the captain himself are around, steadying things up. Farveez Maharoof and Dilhara Fernando are so last season (and not here) and they always do without the world's smoothest wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene in their ODI side.
Throw in the world's best spinner, one of the world's most promising spinners, an ark-full of part-time bowling options and the subcontinent's best fielders and how surprised would you really be if they won, not just tomorrow, but the whole shebang?
Sangakkara downplayed the prospects, claiming Sri Lanka were the underdogs for the opener. "A game's a game and it doesn't matter who the opposition is. But it's nice, because we've come here as underdogs in this game and they (South Africa) have got a major tournament to start, to kick off in front of their fans and the pressure is really on them. We've just got to go and face the challenges, stay low on the radar, let everyone else and the fans concentrate on South Africa. We know they are a good side but we've beaten them in a World Cup before, in South Africa as well."
Clever, smart; of course he would downplay his side, for he is too knowing not to. In this light, mixed results in the warm-up games might also be part of some elaborate bit of kidology. Don't be fooled. Sangakkara knows what he is doing and where he is going. So too does his team.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo