Transcending cricket

Rare is the cricketer who meets the exacting demands of unconditional greatness; rarer still the one who transcends the game. It says everything aboutKumar Sangakkara’s life in cricket that he appeared to accomplish both with masterful ease. There isn’t the smallest doubt that the Sri Lankan is among the very best the game has seen. Only four batsmen have exceeded his tally of 12,400 Test runs, and no one with more than 8,500 runs has averaged as much as his 57.40. But what truly sets him apart from even the elite is the fact that as a pure batsman — without the responsibility of keeping wicket — he averages a staggering 66.78. Only Don Bradman (99.94), among those with at least 1,000 runs, has done better. And only the peerless Bradman has more scores of over 200 — 12, to Sangakkara’s 11, although in far fewer innings. It’s important that these numbers are not glossed over, for while Sangakkara’s greatness has long been abundantly clear, not many have appreciated how close he has been, at least statistically, to Bradman. Not that Sangakkara would have minded — neither universal acclaim nor the trappings of stardom drove him. His motivation came from within; the only approval that he sought, from a cricketing perspective, was his team’s and his country’s.

Indeed it was his concern for Sri Lanka, his desire to help his strife-torn land, and his courage to speak truth to power that saw him emerge as a transcendental, unifying figure. Mahela Jayawardene — a close friend who saw Sri Lankan cricket and life similarly, but also challenged Sangakkara’s thinking, holding it to higher scrutiny — played an invaluable role. Together they strengthened Arjuna Ranatunga’s legacy of inclusiveness, which had enabled the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya to thrive. While there was plenty of work behind the scenes to harness the game’s transformative power, it was the MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture, at Lord’s in 2011, that trapped lightning in a bottle. Never were Sangakkara’s ideas more forceful; never was his articulation as lucid. His evocative discourse centered on Sri Lankan cricket, but wasn’t confined to it. One of the speech’s successes was that through the example of Sri Lankan cricket it addressed the larger problems the world game faced: narrow-mindedness, corruption, political manipulation. He challenged those in charge to set themselves higher standards, indeed to “adopt the values enshrined by the [Sri Lankan] team over the years: integrity, transparency, commitment and discipline”. The lecture was a tour de force that shook administrators everywhere. It was also proof, if any were needed, that Sri Lankan and world cricket’s interests are best served if Sangakkara’s association with the game doesn’t end with retirement.

Source: The Hindu

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