Courtesy - The Island by Ravi Ladduwahetty
All Sri Lankans will be proud that the International Cricket Council has yet again declared Kumar Sangakkara as the best Test batsman in the world today!
To add another feather to Sangakkara’s cap, South African-born and England captain turned television commentator, Tony Grieg said that if he were to pick a World Cricket XI, his number one batsman would be Kumar Sangakkara!
International cricket icons – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Jaques Kallis may feel hurt over this, but Tony has made this point abundantly clear.
Global cricketing benchmarks
What is well known is that Kumar Sangakkara (287) holds the joint record for the highest partnership for any wicket of 624 runs in the history of Test cricket with Mahela Jayawardene (374), against South Africa at the SSC on July 27, 2006, in the overall 1810th Test.
But what most cricket lovers would not know is that Sangakkara was also associated with the seventh highest ever partnership in Tests with the 438 runs he put on with then skipper Marvan Atapattu (now his batting coach) against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo on May 14, 2004 which was the 1699th Test.
The other records between Kumar’s highest ever with Mahela of 624 runs which eclipsed the then highest of 576 runs between two fellow Sri Lankans Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama in the second Test against India at the Ranasinghe Premadasa Stadium on Aug 2, 1997 which was the 1374th Test, were: the 467 runs put on by Andrew Jones and Martin Crowe in the third Test for New Zealand against Sri Lanka at Wellington on January 31, 1991, which was the 1162nd Test, the 451 put on by Sir Donald George Bradman and Bill Ponsford, in the second Test for Australia versus England at the Oval on August 18, 1934, which was the 137th Test, the 451 put on by Mudassar Nazar and Javed Miandad in the third Test for Pakistan against India at Hyderabad on January 14, 1983, which was the 946th Test and the 446 runs put on by Sir Garfield (Gary) St. Auburn Sobers and Conrad Gregory Hunte in the second Test for the West Indies versus Pakistan at Kingston on February 26, 1958, which was the 1699th Test match.
Kumar is also placed 45th along with Mahela in the all time highest partnerships list when they put on 311 versus Bangladesh at Asgiriya on July 11th 2007, which was the 1839th Test.
Interestingly, there have been three other instances where Sri Lankan batsmen have been featured in 300 runs plus Test partnerships. They are the 437 runs put on by Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera in the 4th Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Karachi on Feb. 21, 2009, which was in the 1909th Test, the 351 run partnership between Mahela Jayawardene and Prasanna Jayawardene for the sixth wicket between Sri Lanka and India at Ahmedabad on Nov. 16, 2009, in the 1933rd Test and the 335 partnership between Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya in the first Test between Sri Lanka against Pakistan at Asgiriya, on June 28, 2000, in the 1502nd Test.
composed of late
Kumar’s batting of late, is very composed; the hallmark of his batting is that he gets his runs on both sides of the wicket. However, he is not flawless. He has had soft dismissals more often than others in the top bracket. But those are the areas that he does not play with soft hands, but often, when he plays with the bottom hand and pays the ultimate penalty of either being caught at short extra cover or caught and bowled by the bowler. These errors also creep in.
What is admirable is the manner in which he composes his innings. He is one of the few players to get to 9000 Test runs fast. That itself bears eloquent testimony to this bating prodigy. The fact that he has 27 Test hundreds and of them eight double hundreds, proves that he has the temperament to occupy the crease for long periods.
One cannot review all the Test matches that he has played in, but looking the just concluded Test series against Pakistan, and the manner in which he faced up to Saeed Ajmal in all three Tests was extremely laudable, especially in the wake of the latter being the best off spinner in the world today. The way Kumar put his front foot and the manner in which he covers the line and plays close to his body, makes it delightful to watch.
He is not a touch batsman and especially square on the offside, like most Sri Lankans. Any delivery, a trifle short of a length, he will caress the bowler square on the bat maker’s name on the bat!
Kumar also has an excellent stroke where he clips the ball off the pads for deliveries which are pitched between middle and leg, which is awesome to watch. The other pleasing factor is that he ensures most of the time that the correct stroke is offered to the correct delivery. In other words, very few of his critiques could say that his stroke selection was bad. That is due to his growing stature as a batsman.
Both Kumar and Mahela Jayawardene have spent considerable periods of time at the wickets and they complement each other. Why? The answer is simple. They are two different types of batsmen obviously, but they are a left and right hand combination Kumar is much more focused and relaxed and gets on top of the bowler. However, the essential difference is that Mahela is a touch batsman and a little more temperamental than Kumar. If Kumar misses a delivery outside the off stump, he will surely not worry about the delivery that went beyond his bat, but will be assiduously concentrating on the next delivery.
Opposition bowlers struggle
The essential difference between the two is that Kumar moves his feet quickly, while Mahela takes a little more time. One of the other laudable factors about Kumar’s batting was the manner in which he got on top of the fast bowlers in England. He faced them well. He struggled at times, but got a Test hundred. He played well behind the swinging deliveries. He was always a threat to Chris Tremlett.
There was Tim Bresnan who found it very difficult to bowl to Kumar. James Anderson might also tell you that Kumar was the most feared batsman to whom he has bowled to.
Kumar has the patience and the temperament to get behind the delivery. Some might often wonder whether he is the left handed version of Aravinda De Silva, both one drop batsmen.
Kumar has faced all the frontline bowlers in the world in modern day cricket. Just look at the way he faced up to Umar Gul and Junaid Khan. The latter had a problem bowling to him, where Kumar was stepping off his pads more often than not.
The English bowlers also struggled. The Aussies, especially the seamers, Ryan Harris, got the better of Kumar on more than a few occasions in Sri Lanka, where he was caught at deep square leg. But when he was aware of the strategies adopted by Harris, he batted as the situation demanded.
Michelle Johnson has seldom bowled to him. A left handed bowler to a left handed batsman would make it much easier for the batsman to read him. Johnson struggled to bowl to Kumar.
I also have nostalgic memories of asking Johnson at the post match news conference on the day that he took his ODI career best 6-31 was in the first ODI versus Sri Lanka at Pallekelle, on August 10, as to which batsman he feared the most; he said in one go, "Kumar Sangakkara."
The other was Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar!
Of course, Johnson was a diplomat! He said afterwards that it could be any other batsman who was good on that particular day! When I asked him how it felt like to be in the company of Glenn McGrath (7-15), Andy Bichell (7-20) and Gary Gilmour (6-14), as among Australia’s most wicket taking ODI bowlers, he said that he was elated!
Trent Copeland was also impressive during Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka, but struggled against Kumar, as Kumar studied the pace and the swing, taking into consideration that he was one of the quickest in the world today. Kumar used his feet immaculately. But he may not have the flamboyance of a Brian Lara.
Kumar is a role model for youngsters for the manner in which he plays the forward defense stroke, or the manner in which he gets behind the shorter delivery and how he plays off the back foot, his elbow, the way he turns the full face of the bat. He has been the highest run scorer in the Pakistan series and he has been judged as the Number One Test batsman in world cricket today.