December 7, 2007

Practice makes perfect

The secret of a purple patch: practice, and keeping things simple

Magic wand: Sangakkara has scored 921 runs this year, at an average of over 184 © Getty Images

The first Test at Kandy was a special match. Once we heard Sanath Jayasuriya was retiring, it was always going to be an emotional occasion. Also, Muttiah Muralitharan reached 709 wickets, and Chaminda Vaas was playing his 100thTest. There was fantastic spirit in the team, and we had a lot to play for. The match lived up to the occasion. We came back from 45 for 4, came out of a 93-run deficit, and won it at the end, which was just fantastic.

After the match, the media has been asking me a lot of questions about my batting and run-scoring. The scores would say that I am batting much better than I have ever done before, but it hasn't been a sudden change - it has been a gradual build-up.

My strength in batting has always been that I work hard at practice. Under Tom Moody and Trevor Penney, and with John Dyson and Shane Duff before them, I managed to get a good understanding of what my strengths were, and how I could get better. Moody and Penney always pushed us out of our comfort zone, and that made me want to raise my game. Penney would talk to me about practising every single shot I could possibly play so that I could use them in a game and have options. Everything from a forward defensive to a lofted drive to a sweep to a reverse sweep was practised in the years leading up to this patch.

I have talked to people on how to build an innings; we had a psychologist, Sandy Gordon, and sometimes a few insights here and there from people like that make you understand what you can get better at.

My father has always been behind me. He has coached me since I was small. Whenever we have a chat, he has kept me grounded and focused. It has always been a case of going to him if anything bothers me, or having a chat with the coaches who have seen me since I was 13.

When I go in to bat, I try to keep things simple. I try and watch the ball and I try and make sure I am balanced. Those are the two most important things for me. Everything else I have usually covered through practice.

Building my innings starts with the first run, I try and get off the mark any which way I can. It really doesn't matter if it is an edge or a convincing stroke as long as I score my first runs.

The initial part of the innings depends upon the conditions, too: in Sri Lanka and Australia I'd be attacking early on because the wickets are batting-friendly. I like to get in a position where I am mentally comfortable and in control. I don't look at the scoreboard and I don't count my runs.

Batting with the tail is an important aspect of scoring big. The hundreds in Wellington and Hobart were big ones and came while batting with the tail. How you bat in those circumstances depends on the situation. If you have two or three wickets in hand, you may want to shield the tailender for a while, but once you have confidence in him, you bat like you would with a normal batsman. But if you are trying to save a Test, or the conditions are too bowler-friendly, you may want to farm the strike. More often than not, fielding sides try too hard to finish the innings off. That plays into the batsman's hand - he is allowed to just cruise along when the bowlers are too focused on the tailenders.

When I go into bat, I try to keep things simple. I try and watch the ball and I try and make sure I am balanced. Those are the two most important things for me. Everything else I have usually covered through practice

Not having to keep wicket has contributed to my run-making, too. These days I am not so tired when I go into bat; my mind and body are fresh. Also, there is pressure on me to do well with the bat because that's my only discipline: I have always got to deliver the runs. That pressure has worked positively.

When I started off, I was neither a complete wicketkeeper nor a batsman. I probably favoured my batting more than my wicketkeeping. Wicketkeeping has been a bit of a tough job for me, but one I have really enjoyed. Thanks to guys like Ian Healy and Duff, who worked hard on my wicketkeeping, I have managed to bring my keeping up to acceptable standards in international cricket. But it has been a long, tough learning curve for me in both disciplines.

As far as batting goes, I know I definitely need to improve. When you look at Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, they have set the standards in terms of consistently churning out runs. It leaves everyone a message that they have to catch up. I have a long way to go before I get anywhere close to these guys.

But having scored centuries in New Zealand and Australia is special because if you are a batsman, you have to score runs anywhere in the world. To go out of your comfort zone, away from your home ground, and to deliver is what every batsman wants.

The statistics, in terms of the number of runs and number of centuries, are important, but probably only when you are leaving the game. That's when you can look back and say, "Well, I scored 20 or 30 hundreds." Anyone who has scored over 20 hundreds is a very good Test batsman; but if you get to 30 and above, you're better than good.

Contrary to popular belief, the kind of numbers I have put up over the last two seasons haven't really put any extra pressure on me. I like spending time in the middle - myself against the ball. Whatever people say and expect doesn't matter as long as you know you're going about it right.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kosala on December 14, 2007, 16:19 GMT

    Sanga, U r a class act. No doubt that when you retire you would be considered the greatest batsman produced from SL. I hope you do score many more centuries for SL. Your great bond with Mahela has actually made him a better player over the last few years. Mahela who never lacked any talent needed guidence from a genius like you. Thank you for being a true leader in our team. We thought Avavinda & Arjuna could never be replaced. Actually you and Mahela have done better than those two mighty pillars of SL cricket. I see us winning the next WC in Asia with you on the top of your game. One request though tell that clown selector of ours to drop Jehan Mubarak. If we are to make such horrendous decissions in selection SL cricket will have no future. Whats wrong in giving Dili, Kapu, Malinda another chance if we are to give Jehan 10 chances. Once again Sanga well played and well said.

  • Kumar on December 14, 2007, 0:56 GMT

    Hi Kumar, Well done for recent performances , First in 1996 Arjuna and co put Sri Lanka in Cricket world map. Now you and Murli are letting everyone knows where KANDY is ? We Sri Lankans do not like agressive approuch in middle of the field ,well done for your and the teams attitude in the cricket field and winning the spirit of the game award. My second favourites are England but thier last two captains and last two coaches are encouraging aggressivenes which is not good for cricket.

  • Darshan on December 13, 2007, 20:48 GMT

    You have been the corner stone of Sri Lanka's batting over the past few years. It is always a pleasure watching you craft an innings in test cricket. The consistency of your run scoring is amazing. I think that you are as valuable as murali.

    I do however believe that Sri Lankan cricket is heading in the wrong direction. I say this because traditionally we have been able to strangle the opposition with our spinners. It may have been the huge turners of Murali or the odd turners of Dharmasena, but it did work. Today, we are playing 3 fast bowlers in Sri Lanka against teams that play pace brilliantly. I think that the likes of Malinga Bandara may make a big difference to the side. We are becoming more and more dependent on Murali in the spin department. This is not the correct approach. We have to play another spinner along with Murali in Sri Lanka. This will enable the pace bowlers to get a break in between spells, and the runs to be strangled.

  • Naren on December 13, 2007, 13:21 GMT

    Hello Kumar, I did'nt have the satisfaction of watching your knock in Hobart, live, but I did catch the highlights, a truly masterful innings. What is most impressive however is your approach to that innings (and most innings) and how your decisions were reflecting perfectly to the changing game situations. I am a business and management consultant and have a passion for understanding decision making under extreme pressure and conditions. Your article above highlights the focus you put on training for every possible situation and circumstance. And trying hard to get the process right everytime. Even the decisions you make on starting your innings are very very interesting. I belive there in lies the reason that you are well on course for becoming a true great in the modern game. Congratulations mate.. you are a breath of fresh air for all of us SLkans. The focus, commitment, Innovation, and hard work put into being ahead of the curve is astounding.

  • Sam on December 10, 2007, 2:48 GMT

    Ey Sanga. Yeah man you and murali are the only two who support the whole team. Murali the Right and you the Left. The consistency you kept made me like Sri Lanka than any other team. Unfortunately I am worried about our team's future. We were balanced this year because of Jaya,Murali and Vaas. Although they are all getting really old, and if they retire our team is in huge trouble. I think we should get some really good youngsters from school cricket and get them playing early to give them some taste about international cricket. But I have one question for you. Why is Mubarak in the team? There are many players who are waiting in position like Warnapura, Vandort(in ODI's) and others, but the selectors kept on choosing this guy since 2003 world cup. He has not made any thing special for the last 2 years ecept for a 50 against Bangladesh.

  • AXEL on December 9, 2007, 22:59 GMT

    Hey Kumar, it was a true pleasure to watch your 190 at Hobart. Aussie fans are tired of seeing tourists who can't bat against pace, and I rate that knock as one of the most commanding and breathtaking innings ever played in Australia by a foreign player. Only Sobers or Lara come close for sheer entertainment. Your character and intelligence make you all the more watchable. I hope cricket doesn't lose you to law! Good luck, keep those big scores coming!

  • Sandeep on December 9, 2007, 3:39 GMT

    Hi Sanga!! My master. You are probably the best cricketing figure I have ever seen in my life. You have the ability to turn impossibles into possibles. I was expecting a victory at hobart with your splendid batting performance, unfortunately the others who batted with you didn't support you.No offense to you sir. I want to see you as Sri Lanka's Bradman in a few years time. Keep on batting well, take every mistake in your strides and deliver Sri Lanka something worthwhile. Hope to see a double century today at the SSC from you. Good Luck WARRIOR!!!

  • Vernon on December 8, 2007, 9:59 GMT

    Dear Sangakkara,

    As a Sri Lankan-born Australian, I am very proud and grateful for what you have done. I believe you are a real sportsman, with your elegant batting style and the kind humanitarian work you do in your spare time. I know that you play this sport; not for the money, but to show the pride and passion of our wonderful homeland country. Good luck for the future, wish you all the best! Vernon Tissera, Melbourne, Australia

  • sunil on December 7, 2007, 23:58 GMT

    Do the right thing while batting, without worrying about the outcome/goal, as you have a control over the former and none on the latter. (this approach can be applied to all walks of life) Each individual performance will reflect on the team effort.

    Sanga's lesson should be the lesson for all SL cricketers. When I saw him in action at Gabba on his previous visit, I told my friends that here was a class act and I was right.

    Patience is a virtue SL cricketers lack and if this noble attributed is cultivated, SLankans will be world champions in all forms. Arjuna, should be considered to coach the team, without depending on foreigners.


  • Wipula on December 7, 2007, 22:36 GMT

    Sanga is in the top of the world, its all about dedication and practice. The positive thinking made him more comfortable. Go for it Sanga step into top of the ladder and be Jr Bradmon. Show more...

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