Sangakkara upbeat ahead of first Test as captain
These are exciting days in the life of Kumar Sangakkara. Last week his wife gave birth to twins, and during that nervous period ("unbelievable feeling, overjoyed"), he was also aware he had a Test match starting on July 4, his first as captain. Having led Sri Lanka to the World Twenty20 final is all right, but he knows leading in Tests is the real deal.
That he qualifies for his new role is beyond doubt. He has been prolific with the bat, he has been a vital part of the think-tank for some time now, and the only reason why he wasn't leading Sri Lanka so far was because they had someone better doing the job. Now that someone will be playing under Sangakkara. While Pakistan and India have shown in the past that having too many leaders in the team can be a hazardous state of affairs there are no such headaches for Sangakkara and Sri Lanka.
"[Mahela Jayawardene is] not just a former captain, but a very good former captain," Sangakkara said, pointing to the wealth of knowledge he had at his disposal. "And we have got one of the more experienced cricketers in the world - Murali. Dilshan has suddenly taken on a lot more responsibility and is thinking a lot more about his cricket and team in general. Thilan Samaraweera has a very shrewd cricket brain. I have got so much on offer I just have to make sure that, whatever information I receive, I make the final decision and the right one."
Sangakkara is known for keeping things simple. And if what one says is indicative of what kind of impact one has on a team, Sangakkara is saying all the right things. Sample his response when questioned on a tricky issue: the dropping of Chaminda Vaas. "I had a very good one-on-one chat with him [Vaas] before we went for the Twenty20 world Cup. There is no doubt about the quality of Chaminda Vaas. And what he has done for Sri Lankan cricket. He has still got a role to play in our side. We just have to decide which format of the game he is going to make the most contribution in, and with his fitness and age how best can he divide his time if he decides to play more than one form of the game. But definitely, going forward, there is a World Cup. He is going to be a big part of our side."
Did he discuss retirement with Vaas? The response was just as clear. "As players, or as captain, we have no right to ask anyone to retire." Ruthlessness without being indifferent, and consideration without compromising team goals - that seems the clear message here.
Have things been different in the lead-up to this Test now that he is the captain? "I think preparations have been the same," Sangakkara said. "Just that I have been involved in a lot more decision-making as to what's going on. How we conduct our practice and how we select our team and all that. Just a few more meetings than usual."
Sangakkara's press conference on the eve of his first Test as captain was good-humoured. He smiled in embarrassment when referred to as a great thinker of the game but then gave an insight into how his Test team would work. "You have to force the other side into a situation that you want them to be in. The pressure you want to build up, how you want [their] players to react to your bowlers, which areas you want them to hit us into. You have to try to be a few overs ahead, and get teams and batsmen into certain situations unknowingly or knowingly."
The first real challenge for Sangakkara is to lead one of Sri Lanka's least experienced attacks in Muttiah Muralitharan's absence. He didn't sound very worried by that prospect. "You know you can take it two ways. Inexperienced? Yes. Great opportunity? Yes. Do they have the ability? Again yes. It's going to be exciting to see what they can offer us. When you are desperate to play Test cricket, and when you are desperate to get into the side, and when you get an opportunity like this, you rise to the occasion. They have to prove that they are here because they are good enough to be here, not because somebody is injured."
Sri Lanka would not have planned it thus, but Murali's injury also spells exciting times for the team as a whole. As the new captain finds his feet, they have also to realise that Murali won't be for ever. "This creates a great opportunity to show how good a youngster is, and how willing he is to take responsibility. All good cricketers will leave at a certain time, and we have had services of Murali for a long time, from time to time we need to make sure youngsters take responsibility." And so the Sangakkara way will kick in tomorrow.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo