Rex Clementine in Q and A with Kumar Sangakkara, in The Island, 12 August 2015,where the title is “Sanga on cricket and life after cricket”
The curtains will come down on Kumar Sangakkara’s illustrious Test career following the second Test Match against India at P. Sara Oval. The star batsman is the highest run getter (12,305) among those still playing while his batting average of 58:03 is significantly higher than several modern greats like Sachin Tendulkar (53:78), Brian Lara (52:88), Rahul Dravid (52:31) and Ricky Ponting (51:85). The 37-year-old, who returned home on Friday after his stint with English county Surrey, spoke to journalists here in Galle on the eve of the first Test on a host of subjects.
Question: What’s the reason for you to play only two Test Matches?
Kumar Sangakkara: The reason for the two and two Test split even though it is not ideal was the agreement I had with the previous selection committee when I was discussing my future. I had plans to retire immediately after the World Cup but they wanted me to try and play a bit more Test cricket. This was all I could offer them and I said as long as they were okay and the board was okay, I will be willing to play four more Test matches. They were ok with that and I said if they were not, to tell me that that would be fine. And that I can then retire after the World Cup. That’s why it’s a two and two split.
Question: There’s lot of happy memories for you here in Galle. You made your debut here. You scored your first Test hundred here and captained your first Test too.
KS: I think Galle is a memorable place for all of us in Sri Lankan cricket. This is one of Murali’s favourite hunting grounds too. We have always managed to win a lot of Test matches here. It’s just the place; it’s my favourite Test ground in the world. I think as players, we love coming here because we know the conditions, we have always backed ourselves here and we are taken care of extremely well by all ground authorities including Mr. Warnaweera. All the boys come here looking forward to a really good Test match, weather permitting and it’s always got crowds coming in. It’s a great backdrop to play against. All these factors contribute immensely to the feeling that you have when you walk out to play. It’s going to be a very special ground not just for me but for a lot of players, both visiting and local.
Question: What regrets have you got in your career?
KS: We would have loved to have won a 50 over World Cup. We had two chances which we didn’t convert. It would have been nice to win a few more Test matches away from home. It would have been great had we won a Test Match in Australia. I remember going to England with the team last year and beating England 1-0 in that series was the best overseas tour I have been on. In 2006, we drew 1-1 and won the one-dayers 5-0 in England. That was a great tour. It would have been great to go and win in India in a Test series. So there are a lot of things that could have been but I think that’s the way the game goes. There are regrets but not regrets that I will be thinking about for years and years and being bitter about. I have had a great career. I have enjoyed everything – the wins and the losses. The bad times and the good times, everything has been a great experience.
Question: How would you like to be remembered?
KS: To be remembered, I think everyone remembers you differently. When you play, you see yourself in one way, when you retire, you see yourself as slightly better than what you actually were. That’s the way cricketers are. But I just want to be remembered as just who I was. How I played and how I interacted with the team in the dressing room. The experiences we have shared together, the wins, the losses, everything. The standout moments have been a lot. The way we performed as a unit in big tournaments. That’s been the one thing that we can be very, very proud of. We can go into a big tournament with a really bad track record going in and really surprise teams and sometimes even surprise ourselves by how well we play in World Cups. And personally, all the wins we have had, especially away from home, beating Australia for the first time in a one-day series in 2010, World T-20 when we won it. All of these have been really standout moments for me. But also once Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu, Chaminda Vaas and Aravinda de Silva all of these guys left, to be a part of a set-up that produced cricketers like Angelo Mathews, like Lasith Malinga, Upul Tharanga has been great. The one guy who has been outstanding and who is never spoken about is Rangana Herath. He has been an incredible servant of Sri Lankan cricket. To be part of a set-up that has produced cricketers like this, I am very pleased to have been part of it.
Question: Which of your personal innings that you remember most?
KS: I am proud of all my personal innings. All the hundreds. People ask me about statistics and I always say the only thing I really know for sure is the amount of Test hundreds I have scored. Whatever format you might play, at the end of the day, it is your Test capabilities that allow you to make a mark. I have enjoyed all of those. I think the first time I went to South Africa and when I scored 98 in the last Test – I had to open the innings in the second innings and I batted through. That was probably the first time that I thought I could probably play Test cricket. That was special. Scoring my first Test hundred here against India, again batting with Murali as last man, that was very, very special. My hundred at Lord’s, my hundred in Australia, they have all been very special to me.
Question: Talk us about the rivalry against India?
KS: It has been a great rivalry. And it’s been a tussle between some great players. When you are facing a side which has a batting line-up with Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, you know you are in for a very, very tough time. And then you have Harbhajan Singh. Zaheer Khan who to me is one of the most difficult bowlers I have ever faced. It’s an exceptional feeling going in and playing against greats and in our side, we have had Murali, Sanath, Aravinda, Marvan, Vaas and Mahela. I think when you look at Test series around the world, there is one iconic series in the Ashes and I think maybe if we can develop a context and a meaningful rivalry and a meaningful trophy for maybe a Test series in that vein for Asia as well, that will be a great step forward. The rivalry has been great, it has been tough cricket and I think both sides have come through tough times. Hopefully this series will be similar.
Question: What about the playing styles of some of these players?
KS: There are similarities. When you take Jayasuriya and Sehwag, they are very similar in the way they go about their business. You have the classical elegance in of course Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. We have the same in Marvan and Mahela. But at the same time, our approach is slightly more carefree. Our brand of cricket has been that since 1995 and we have also banked probably a bit more on pace during the times when India was banking a bit more on spin. It’s been a few different approaches to it but again, it seems to have come a full circle where India has a good pace attack as well now. And a different crop of young batsmen whose attitudes are different. We are the same. It will be interesting to see if those styles are more similar than they were before.
Question: Has it sunk in yet that you will be playing your farewell series?
KS: When you are sitting in England and watch your team play the ODI and T20 series (against Pakistan), you definitely feel like a former cricketer. You feel you’re involved but at the same time you are not there. It can be frustrating at times but it’s something that I’ve got to get used to. But it’s great nowadays that even after you say goodbye to international cricket, you can still play some cricket around. It’s not like you have to wind down permanently.
Question: As a batsman, you seem to be always conscious about not playing an ugly shot?
KS: I used to have these arguments with Thilan Samaraweera in the dressing room about who had had the best looking forward defensive shot in the Sri Lankan side. He always told me that I had the ugliest forward defensive shot he had ever seen in his life. Mahela and Marvan had the nicest. They always say, the left-handers were extremely graceful. I watch Lara bat, Upul Tharanga and Lahiru Thirmanne from the younger lot. Whenever I play the cover drive, with the back knee bent and head back, I just say to myself how can that be stylish. Most of the things I do doesn’t seem elegant but I’m glad with the amount of runs I’ve scored and how effective I’ve been. You can’t put me in that classical left-hander mould. You always search for the classic (Sachin) Tendulkar push off the back-foot shot for a boundary. I always like to play all the shots Lara played, but you can’t. I knew my limitations and I played around it.
Question: The Sri Lankans play aggressive cricket but at the same time are one of the most affable teams. How does the team blend those two so well?
KS: I think being aggressive on the field was all about how well we bowled, batted and fielded. It’s never being about verbal or sledging. Because, like you said, whenever you meet a Sri Lankan, you meet him with a smile. At times, we used to get upset with Murali because he always kept smiling at the opposition. I remember one instance when Andrew Flintoff, who was through a bad patch with the bat, came to Sri Lanka. Murali was getting him out for fun. Freddie came to Galle and Murali told him ‘Freddie, first ball off-break, push me down and get a single’. Murali bowled an off-break and Freddie pushed and ran for single. Four overs later, Murali got him bowled. It’s been great to play in sides such as this. Take Sanath (Jayasuriya), he’s destructive and instilled fear in the opposition. As a person, he wasn’t that aggressive.
Question: People remember you as very nice cricketer. Now that you are going to spend a lot of time off it, how do you see yourself?
KS: Lot of people make up their mind about cricketers. They see the person on the field and build assumptions. You rarely see us when we are at home, with the family and friends. That would be a lot of valuable insight to a lot of people. It’s not an opportunity many of you’ll get. I’ve been blessed to have a great support structure at home, with parents, wife, children and especially friends. My friends, who I’ve known for the last 26 years, they understand who I really am. Beyond this, I don’t know what I will do. I’ll be playing couple of more years of cricket and then find a real job.
Question: Who are the young batsmen you have enjoyed watching?
KS: In the Sri Lankan side, Angelo is by far the best batsman we have had in a long time among the younger crop. He is already exceptional, he will get better. Thirimanne, even though he has had a lean period, I just feel he can kick on and become a wonderful Test player. Kusal Perera it will be interesting how he goes in Test cricket. It is amazing to see what he does and what he can do. He could be again amazingly destructive and a match-winning cricketer.From an international sense Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane for India, I love watching them bat. South Africa you have got AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla and Steven Smith in Australia now, he will have to carry on his batting for a long, long time now. And Joe Root in England, these guys have been exceptional. You have players again who are going to make their own mark on world cricket and lot of these records we talk of now will be broken in the near future.
Question: How has Sri Lankan cricket progressed since you came into the set up?
KS: We are always under pressure to win away from home and lot of the times even if you see the press write ups in Sri Lanka, you win at home it is expected but the real push that we are given, we are asked to win away from home. That is when everyone feels you are a good side, even ourselves. That is the attitude we have changed since 1996. To go overseas, perform well and try and win games. We haven’t won as many as we should have or could have but that is the driving force behind Sri Lankan cricket. That attitude change has been very good. The way we play our cricket, the combinations we play. We may have to change, not being radical but a bit more open to changing those ideas and concepts when playing away from home and sometimes even at home. Sri Lankan cricket has evolved continuously with that attitude. I hope they keep staying strongly on that path and have a team that can not just win at home but also win meaningful tournaments abroad as well.