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Two 200-plus scores in a row? It's another day at the office for Kumar Sangakkara
July 18, 2007
By the time the Sri Lanka v Bangladesh bandwagon rolled around to Kandy, the hosts had wrapped up the three-Test series 2-0, and much, if not all, of the focus was on whether or not Muttiah Muralitharan could take the 12 wickets he needed to get to 700. "Chasing Warne", could easily have been the tagline of the final Test.
But before Murali could hog the headlines, Kumar Sangakkara did an encore with yet another double-hundred. In doing so, he became just the sixth man in history to score back-to-back double centuries, joining Don Bradman and Walter Hammond among others. Of current Test batsmen, he leads the double-centuries list, with six. His fine run of form has made him the first Sri Lankan batsman to pass the 900 rating in the ICC rankings. Third in the current list, he's closing fast on the two players ahead of him, Mohammad Yousuf and Ricky Ponting.
More often than not in recent times, Sri Lanka have played with a simple formula. Rack up a big score, and let Muralitharan loose. That took some engineering on day three at Kandy, as an energetic Shahadat Hossain and Syed Rasel bowled a fine first session, taking two wickets.
As with his earlier double at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium, Sangakkara was watchful at the start. He took his time to settle in, defending stoically, watching the ball onto the bat, playing the perfect foil to a more aggressive Mahela Jayawardene. But once the spinners came on, he was on song.
His sweeping, especially, was strong. When the ball was pitched up to his liking, he bent down on his right knee and swept across the line of the flight. Mohammad Rafique in particular came in for some stick. Sangakkara continually looked to play him against the spin. Singles were picked with ease, and Sangakkara's exceptional use of his feet had Rafique struggling for rhythm. In fact, much of Rafique's ineffectiveness in the series - he bowled 35 overs in the second Test without any success - was down to how well and how much Sangakkara faced him.
It was in the second session on the third day that Sangakkara upped the tempo. Having just reached 50 with a lovely straight-drive off Rafique, Sangakkara dominated a 15-minute passage. He lifted Rafique over midwicket and cut Rasel through point; Rafique tossed it up outside off stump and Sangakkara chipped it over midwicket for four; he then swept and lofted with disdain.
His 14th Test hundred duly came when he cut a loose delivery through the covers. He then continued on his spree, putting away both loose balls and good in toying fashion. He hammered a full toss over midwicket to get to 200 as Sri Lanka punished Bangladesh to the tune of 470 runs in the day.
Sangakkara has typically played in the line-up as specialist wicketkeeper, but in 19 of his 67 Tests he has not kept wickets. Interestingly, five of his six double-centuries have come in these, clearly indicating that not donning the gloves allows him to focus and bat for longer periods of time.
After he had written himself into the record books, Sangakkara humbly dismissed comparisons with the other legends on that particular list: "Its nice to be in that company for double-hundreds but I think I've got a long way to go, when it comes to achievements and scoring runs." Asked to compare this double-century with the one in the previous Test, Sangakkara ranked the Colombo innings higher since it came in tougher conditions, but described this one as "slightly more fluent".
"There was a bit more rhythm in this innings," he said. "I didn't struggle as much as I did in Colombo. I still think I've a few things to iron out back in the nets when I go to Colombo so that I get everything down the way I want it to be." That's something fans would have a hard time understanding, as Sangakkara's timing at Kandy was sweet.
Batting with him in a 311-run partnership for the third wicket was his captain and close friend, Jayawardene, who helped himself to 165. The stand between the two took Sri Lanka to 500 for 4, a total that proved well beyond Bangladesh. That association with Jayawardene made the duo the most prolific tag team, in terms of averages, among all pairs who have batted at least 50 times together. "It's always nice to bat with Mahela because he scores really quickly," Sangakkara said. "It opens up a lot more opportunities for me as well. We like batting together very much. We complement each other in a way that our scoring-rates also go up."
There will be plenty of Sri Lankans hoping Sangakkara complements Jayawardene when the side travels to Australia in November. Until then, you can bet your bottom dollar Sangakkara will put in the yards at the nets in Colombo.
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