Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2nd Test, SSC, 4th day August 17, 2014

Sangakkara scotches retirement fears

Kumar Sangakkara's wave of the bat after falling for 58 triggered worries about whether he was set to quit Test cricket

It was just one raise of the blade. One turn, a smile, and a wave. But all across the country, its ripples were being felt. Kumar Sangakkara has become an increasingly reticent celebrator of his hundreds. At times he seems bored by his own success. A 200 in Galle brought little more than a fist pump.

But here he was, acknowledging applause after being cut down for a half-century. Already overdosing on emotion, the SSC crowd felt a further disturbance in the force. "Sangakkara, raising his bat for a 58? Err... does he know that score drags his average down?"

Both he and Mahela Jayawardene had repeated they will play at least ODIs until the World Cup, but with a wave of Sangakkara's bat, worst-case scenarios were being arrived at. Some thought he would stay for the Tests in New Zealand at the end of the year, surely? The pessimists were chief scaremongers as usual, in the ground, and on social media. "Looks like Sanga might announce his retirement right after this Test," went the gist several dozen tweets and Facebook updates.

In the world of the frightened fan, a sudden Sangakkara retirement almost made sense. Jayawardene has always been a man of the people, through and through. Mahela is a common name in the country, yet it is all people refer to him by - either that or just 'Maiya'. The farewell in Galle and the SSC will have meant as much to the player as much as to his fans, and the emotion has at times been writ plain across his face.

Sangakkara appreciates the support he gets too, but he's always been that little more aloof. Cricket is his job, and he is a consummate professional. Maybe he would not mind bowing out without all the fanfare. He has spoken about "leaving the game while you're on top" since he was still years away from retirement, so what better time to leave than after a series in which he has been the top scorer, with his team probably going to end up winning 2-0.

Thankfully for Sri Lanka's fans, Sangakkara eased their worries after play when he said he had no immediate plans to leave Tests. "We won't be playing Test cricket in Sri Lanka for a long time from now until probably June," he said. "Waving the bat was just…. I didn't have anything in mind. There are two one-day series in Sri Lanka and the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. After the World Cup I will take a decision about my future, after speaking to the national selectors."

Though fears have been allayed for now, the day-long rumour Sangakkara caused with a minor, spontaneous action revealed something of the Sri Lanka fan's mentality. On Saturday, the SSC match had not been particularly well attended when Jayawardene came to the crease for the final time. When the audience had arrived in force on Sunday morning, all they got was nine more runs from Sri Lanka's most celebrated pair.

The crowd stayed the whole day, and even swelled in the afternoon, as they cheered the two Jayawardene slip catches more enthusiastically than the other five wickets. Still, many cursed themselves for missing the bulk of that final innings. Sri Lankans have developed a global reputation for being perpetually late, and many in Colombo had woken up to Jayawardene's departure a day late. As some in the stands spent the day in wistful regret, a wave of the bat from Sangakkara was enough to incite panic.

The sense of panic had been intensified maybe by what has happened north of the Palk Strait, and currently in England, since India's beloved old guard stepped down. Aside from Angelo Mathews, the young men lining up to replace the old stars have not been convincing yet.

Even beyond that, could any young players ever mean to Sri Lanka what "Sanga" and "Mahela" have been? It is one thing to be good at cricket - even great at it - but few people, in any walk of life, have captured the imagination of a country as completely as Jayawardene and Sangakkara. They are not so much celebrities as old, familiar friends. Every time they exchange their soul-brother handshake mid-pitch an entire nation feels a little better.

Maybe the loss fans feel when they have both stepped aside will not be complete until Sri Lanka eventually take the field without either of them. Sri Lankan goodbyes are so often long and drawn out. Perhaps the saddest moments will be when the door is finally closed, and fans confront the haunting quiet of cricket without them. It may be the same for the team itself, Sangakkara said.

"It's hard to say what it's like, what it will be like the next time you play a Test match without Mahela," he said. "I think it will really sink in in our next Tests in New Zealand. Right now I think the guys are just coming to terms with the fact that Mahela is going to retire, but I think that all the emotions will all come out when we next take the field without him in the ranks. That's when you can really explain what you feel and you can really take stock of what the team is like and the dressing-room atmosphere is like without Mahela in it."

On day four, even with the joy of nearing a 2-0 victory over Pakistan, the Sri Lanka public were forced to begin contemplating a new reality. They will support their team through everything, as they always have, but a future without both the country's top-order darlings will take some getting used to, whenever that arrives.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Devan on August 18, 2014, 9:58 GMT

    Sanga and Mahela are true cricketing sons. They have both played with so much pride and passion. Off the field, they are true gentlemen. I had the honour of meeting and speaking with both a few years ago when they toured England. As a South African supporter, if SA do not win next year's world cup, I would love Sri Lanka to win it for these two. They full deserve all the accolades they have gotten thus far and cricket will be poorer without them both when they finally call time.

  • Krish on August 18, 2014, 9:50 GMT

    I am very sure that SL will win the WC 2015 in Aus n NZ!! Mahela and Sanga deserve the WC winning Medal. Sanga should hang around atleast in test cricket for another 2 years after WC and guide the youngsters to settle in, if he does stay for 2 years he would trashed all the test records.. go Sanga go.. you great!!

  • peter on August 18, 2014, 9:33 GMT

    Farooq3 and others on here, are living in a dream world. Sanga may well have 2 more years of test cricket left in him but what good is that when The Sri Lankan board have only arranged 2 tests in the next year.if he plays for 2 years he is probably only going to have only 8 to 10 tests to play in. This is not enough for him to even get to 13,000 runs. why should he want to carry on with no incentive because of not enough tests to play? all he can do by playing on is to see his average decline, as it inevitably will. his average now is 58.76. when You have a very high average in the case of virtually all players it declines usually quite sharply in the last few years of your test career.(only 2 or 3 exceptions) Ricky Pontings average dropped from 58 to 51. I would love to see him retire as soon as his standards start to drop. I dont want to see him finish up with 12,500 runs and an average down below 56.I dont think he will go on long as soon as his average starts to drop.

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2014, 7:24 GMT

    Sangakkara has overtaken Dravid...RAHUL DRAVID in the number of test runs!!! This guy deserves huge respect specially considering him coming from a small nation. Also Mahela

  • udendra on August 18, 2014, 6:58 GMT

    He really should have kept that bat down. Has stirred a hornet's nest.

  • Android on August 18, 2014, 6:50 GMT

    Pl Sanga DON'T! and u got lot more years! and Andrew pl don't .....

  • Johnathon on August 18, 2014, 6:39 GMT

    You need to bring in Chandimal as a specialist batsman for Mahela. He is the only one who has been given the exposure and has the potential to fill in his shoes. I would like to see Kaushal Perera in the side and for Tharanga to either go (his technique needs some severe improvement) or move down the order. Vithanage has potential but really, SLC needs to start looking for a Sanga replacement. I think Matthews should definitely move up the order as he will give a lot more stability to the top order

  • Android on August 18, 2014, 6:27 GMT

    man dont give us a heart attack...

  • priya p on August 18, 2014, 5:59 GMT

    Sanga is smart.. He will not retire and put the country in jeopardy. He cares for the team a lot . Both Sanga and Mahela took us beyond 1996 Arjuna era in which Big brother Arjuna was calling the shots. After that Sanath, Marvan Mahela and Sanga all of them were comrades. Mahela and Sanga took us beyond that coming of age that occurred in 1996. They matcheed calss with class, and word with word. They went through a shooting incident in Pakistan. Still didn't shy away from national duty at any stage. wish you well Mahela ! Wish you many more doubles and may be a quadruple century ( hopefully against Aus ). About the two of you we will tell our grand children for sure.

  • Ajith on August 18, 2014, 5:38 GMT

    sanga has to play with Chandimal some time. Chandimal is the only and best replacement for Mahela. He has to learn lot from Sanga. Please don't retire sanga.

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