Hatem Rajabdeen | 11:19am gmt 11 May 2009
The words 'A star is born and not made' applies to the talent of a boy born in Matale, a town in the hilly areas of Sri Lanka, on the 27th of October 1977. Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara happened to be that boy and has come a long way in a journey that has rewarded him with the captaincy of the Sri Lankan national cricket team. Since breaking into the side at the age of 22, Sangakkara has gone on to become one of the best batsman the world has seen in the recent past. The thought of national captaincy would never have crossed the youngster's mind when he came out to face the Proteas pace battery of Pollock, Ntini, Kallis and Klusener on the 21st of July 2000 in Galle. It was the start of a promising career that has only seen him grow year after year into one of Sri Lanka's most talented batsman of all time. Hailing from one of Sri Lanka's leading boys schools Trinity College Kandy, which was known more for its rugby than its cricket, he went on to do his alma mater proud by becoming the first Trinitian to captain the Sri Lankan cricket team. He was bestowed with the school's highest honour, the Trinity Lion in 1996. He's been a source of inspiration to the national side over the last few years, being an integral part of the team with his ability to read the game, which helped former captain Mahela Jayawardene to a great extent.
Breaking into the Test side, Sangakkara dislodged the little dynamite Romesh Kaluwitharana from both forms of the game. He was initially slotted in at number five behind the likes of Jayasuriya, Atapattu, Jayawardene and Arnold. He worked himself up the order to make the number three position his own. Sri Lanka struggled for four years to replace their Number three batsman Asanka Gurusinghe , who retired after Sri Lanka triumphed in the 1996 WC. Marvan Ataptattu was tried for some time but was sent up the order to partner Jayasuriya. Many players were tried and tested but were unable to establish their place. Sangakkara grabbed this opportunity with both hands and made the position his own
Sangakkara hailed from a sporting family, his sister was a former Sri Lankan tennis player and he too excelled in tennis and badminton, but it was cricket which he chose to pursue and has been rightly rewarded with all the success. Sangakkara is also studying to be a lawyer, which is taking him longer to complete due to his commitments with the Sri Lankan Cricket Team. Sangakkara has been a great ambassador for Sri Lankan cricket over the last nine years. His wicket keeping was initially a bit ragged, but he went on to become one of the best wicket keeper-batsman in international cricket over the last five years, along with Mark Boucher and Adam Gilchrist. He was picked in the ICC World X1 One Day team in 2005 ahead of the above two making him the best in the business during that time.
He has achieved a few batting milestones over the past few years, including becoming the first batsman in Test history to score 150+ in four consecutive Tests in 2007. He also went on to score double hundreds in consecutive Tests in 2007, becoming only the sixth batsman to do so, and was in the elite company of Sir Don Bradman and Sir Wally Hammond - only cricketing greats Hammond, Bradman and Lara have scored more double hundreds in Test cricket. Sangakkara also shares the world record for the highest test partnership for any wicket (624), made with his best friend and captain Mahela Jayawardene, which was scored against the mighty South Africans in July 2006. He also went to the top of the ICC Test Rankings for batsman in 2008.
Some of his other notable innings include his match winning 230 against Pakistan in the Asian Test Championship Final in March 2002; he scored a series winning 232 against South Africa in the second Test in 2004, leading Sri Lanka to its first ever series victory against South Africa. After being bowled out by West Indies to its lowest Test score against them of 150, Sangakkara engineered a great comeback by scoring a match-winning unbeaten 157 in the second innings, as Sri Lanka went on to win the match and the series in 2005.
His batting in Test Cricket has been breathtaking since he gave up the wicket keeping duties to Prasanna Jayawardena, a talented wicket keeper. He still holds on to the wicket keeping role in One Day cricket in order to bring about a balance in the team selection. Sangakkara's keeping in the One Day format has been outstanding and its not getting easier with spinners Muralitharan and new boy Ajantha Mendis and their variations.
Sangakkara is also ambidextrous, being equally adept in the use of both right and left hands which reflects in his ability in multiple sports. People who are born ambidextrous are extremely rare and it is more common among left handers. This reflects on his wicket keeping ability whereby he's equally quick with his movement to both his right and left sides which makes him a brilliant keeper. He is always the unofficial spokesman of the team with a unique feature of being multilingual, being able to speak the two local languages Sinhalese and Tamil as well as English. He has won both admirers and critics for his clever use of sledging on the cricketing field which upsets the concentration of his opponents. Sangakkara has a subtle approach to his sledging which tends to get to his opposition.
If there was something missing from his career it would be the lack of first class cricket internationally. For a player of his caliber he's had very little of it with only a short stint with English county Warwickshire. Sangakkara is currently turning out for the Kings Punjab X1 in the Indian Premier League being played in South Africa.
Kumar Sangakkara has not only been a good cricketing ambassador for Sri Lankan cricket but also for international cricket, which has made him a household name through association with many international brand names like Coca Cola, Airtel and Kookubara. At the age of 31 he has a lot more cricket left in him providing his body stays injury free. In a span of nine years he has notched up 18 Test centuries and 10 One Day hundreds. He's shown great leadership credentials throughout his international cricket and was destined to be a leader of the national team. His first job as captain would be to see that Sri Lanka challenges hard for the Twenty20 World Cup in England this year and then a home series against the struggling Kiwis.
His knowledge and reading of the game is phenomenal and he has been a great vice captain to Mahela Jayarwdene over the years, which has rightly rewarded him with the job as national captain. Sangakkara I feel will go on to become a great captain and the simple fact that he leads by example on the field with the disciplines of batting and wicket keeping tells volumes of his ability. Captaincy will not be something new to him having led his school and provincial team Kandurata in local competitions.
Sangakkara's best is yet to come and from a cricketing spectator's point of view one can only hope he continues to entertain people around the world with his outstanding batting and wicket keeping and, who knows lead Sri Lanka to it's second World Cup Victory at home in 2011.