Kumar Sangakkara

'There's nothing that comes close to Test cricket'

Eleven years into his career, on the eve of his 100th Test, one of Sri Lanka's all-time greats looks back

Interview by Daniel Brettig |

"I shook my head about the decision [in Hobart] at the time, but that is the beauty of cricket - some days you get a reprieve, other days you don't" © Getty Images

I was very proud to play my first Test match. I didn't know whether I was the most deserving guy to play that Test match, really. I had a good one-day series when I debuted for Sri Lanka against Pakistan and South Africa, and then to get into the Test side ahead of Romesh Kaluwitharana was a surprise but also very satisfying.

In that first Test I found out very quickly that I wasn't really good enough to consider myself a Test batsman, so I needed to work very hard very quickly to be able to find my feet.

It is unsatisfying to play so many two-Test series. As a Test country you need to play three- to five-Test match series as much as you can. I don't think five-Test series are attractive anymore to TV networks, but I think Test series should be a minimum of three matches. I hope the ICC can stipulate that. I don't know if they can.

The time I felt ready as a Test cricketer was probably when I made my first hundred, against India. I had had a good second series, in South Africa, which allowed me to have a bit of confidence as a batsman, but then I came back and scored my first hundred, which was important. Getting to that hundred really shows you… you've got a Test hundred, so now you know how to do it again.

The first hundred was quite a struggle. I didn't start batting well until I was about 75 or 80. The last 25 runs were probably my most fluent, I finished 105 not out and had to get there with Murali batting as the last man.

At that stage I was batting at No. 3. I started batting at No. 5, moved up to No. 3 and even opening at times when Sanath [Jayasuriya] was injured or unable to open. Once I started batting at No. 3 I always wanted to bat there, and I've enjoyed being at No. 3 ever since.

Every single victory we've had has been immensely satisfying. It is hard to pick one particular game. Every match we played in and won has been brilliant.

When I was captain, we had Murali at important times in Australia and for the World Cup, we had him for the T20, but there were various times when we played without him and we still managed to do really well. And before my stint, in Mahela's stint as captain, it was a case of building again. Vaasy was not a regular member of the side, Sanath was not a regular member, Marvan [Atapattu] wasn't there anymore. So we had to look for players to try to take those places. In the last four years we've lost two of our most successful bowlers. It does put extra pressure on the batsmen, but that's the pressure we should be able to manage and take on.

Everyone made me feel welcome when I started out. We had a great team culture. Everyone was playing for each other, and advice was very free. Every single team-mate, whether it was Arjuna Ranatunga, who was playing his last series, to Mahela [Jayawardene] or Russel Arnold, everyone was very easy to chat to. The environment has been great throughout. We've always had dressing rooms where there's no seniority or gaps between players. Everyone is most welcome, everyone is on an equal footing, ideas are given equal weight, and opportunities in any way, cricketing or otherwise, are equal to the entire team, so the team culture is very good.

The matches against South Africa [in 2006] were very good. I watched Mahela score a brilliant hundred in the fourth innings to win us that Test match [at P Sara Oval], and before that we'd put up a great partnership here.

Test cricket is still, to my mind, the most important form of the game out there. There's nothing like it, there's nothing that comes close to it. This is the only arena where you can really make your mark as a cricketer. If you are successful at Test cricket, that is all that matters, I think.

"I only thought of myself as captain when we fielded. When we were batting I just played as freely as I could as a batsman. It was something I really tried to consciously do, because I needed the separation"

Purely as a batsman, there are two innings that spring to mind. Coming back from injury for that Hobart Test against Australia in 2007… I'd missed the first Test with a hamstring injury. I got about 60 in the first innings. I was a bit rusty, but going into the second innings and hitting the ball continuously was probably one of my best innings.

Then I came back to Sri Lanka for the first Test in Kandy against England. Getting 92 and a 150 in the second innings was great.

In the end in Hobart we only lost by some 90 runs. It would have been interesting to see how close we could have got. I shook my head about the decision [Sangakkara was given out caught off the shoulder and helmet] at the time, but that is the beauty of cricket, really - some days you get a reprieve, other days you don't.

I've always enjoyed batting with Mahela and watching him. He's been brilliant for Sri Lanka and I've enjoyed being a part of that experience.

As a captain the one-day series against Australia [late in 2010] was great. Most of the things we planned and tried, we did, except for the last one-dayer, and for the first time in our history we managed to beat Australia in Australia. So that was very satisfying.

In the game you go in with plans, and it is nice when they work. Sometimes they don't and you have to go back to the dressing room to find new ones to go back out with. You also need to have the players who can execute those plans, and have players who believe that they can. I've been very lucky to have them. But at times there are certain things the opposition does that you can't counter, and that is why the opposition players are as good as they are. Every once in a while you get a game where you think you have it but it turns out that you don't. That is the continuous tug of war between good players, to try to get that advantage. Some manage to get it and keep it, others can lose it.

The match I would like to have again is probably the Tamil Union Test match against India. We were in a strong position in the first innings, really bad in the second innings. We had a glimpse of victory when we had them 49 for 3, but then [VVS] Laxman scored a magnificent hundred to take it away. Probably there were a few things maybe I could have done differently in that Test match to try to change things around. But you never know, Laxman could have still got a hundred and still beaten us.

It wasn't that difficult balancing my roles when I was captain. I only kept in one-day cricket, I didn't keep in Tests, so it was a case of being as fresh as I could be every time I went in. I only thought of myself as captain when we fielded. When we were batting I just played as freely as I could as a batsman. And that really helped me, to separate my roles and to perform as well as I did. It was something I really tried to consciously do, because I needed the separation. You can't have your captain's hat on 24 hours a day, it doesn't work. You need to be able to have a fresh perspective every time you go out, so I was lucky to have that.

In the Cowdrey lecture I wanted to get across as strong a message as I could about my country, about our people, and how proud I was to be Sri Lankan. And show them how we as a people have been resilient and optimistic, and that we've managed to show through our cricket who we really are. I discussed it with my father, and with Charlie Austin [my manager], and it was a nice collaboration where I was sitting down, penning my thoughts and putting them together as I went along. By happy chance it came out well.

I am a No. 3 batsman without doubt. I've done the best there, and I hope to achieve everything more in the same manner, by being as successful as I have been. It was nice to become the fastest player to score 8000 runs in the history of the game, so maybe there are a few other things I can do as speedily as that.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo





  • POSTED BY Johnathon on | September 16, 2011, 5:52 GMT

    "It was nice to become the fastest player to score 8000 runs in the history of the game, so maybe there are a few other things I can do as speedily as that." HINT HINT HINT... Sangakkara's hinting that he's working to be the fastest to 9000 runs... Needs an average of 47 to do so in only 10 innings.... I think he can do it

  • POSTED BY Johnathon on | September 16, 2011, 5:32 GMT

    Great man. Great cricketer. Great orator. Just an unbelievable gem to have come to the world of cricket and severely underrated. Hats of to ya Sanga

  • POSTED BY Mark on | September 16, 2011, 0:37 GMT

    Great to hear Sangakkara put Test Cricket first as it should, but I fear he won't get as much support from the rest of the cricket viewing public in the subcontinent who far more prefer the shorter versions of the game and believe it should be given priority over test cricket. Kumar Sangakkara will however find much support for putting Test Cricket first from the cricket watching public in England and to a lesser extent in Australia, however Test cricket in the subcontinent these days unfortunately is a no go, which is shame as its really the best form of the game from intellectual point of view. Even though it might not be as exciting with guaranteed result in the shorter version. Good news is at least in England and Australia test cricket is doing fairly well.

  • POSTED BY Ross on | September 15, 2011, 23:57 GMT

    An ornament to the game.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | September 15, 2011, 23:09 GMT

    'There's nothing that comes close to Test cricket'

    Sanga has spoken like a true cricketer who enjoys a good long battle of wits and persistence out at the middle, against the best.

  • POSTED BY ian on | September 15, 2011, 22:30 GMT

    @Praxis. Very well said! Spot on! @Ravarju. Pardon me for sounding patronising - the curse of the old - but please hear me out. At this stage in your appreciation of the intriguing complexities of cricket, it would seem that you are something of a beginner. All I would ask of you at this stage in your development is that you keep an open and inclusive mind and, with time, I hope that you will learn to share the delights that are there in test cricket. That you love this game is tremendous, but your love can deepen and expand when your understanding encompasses test matches. A rough analogy is with literature: adolescents love Harry Potter (and they are good yarns), but an appreciation of the genius of Shakespeare usually comes later! Even if you are not a reader, I hope you've caught my drift! I wish you many hours of deep enjoyment watching tests - and steadily increasing understanding!

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | September 15, 2011, 19:14 GMT

    As a Sri Lankan my chest swells with pride every time I'm fortunate enough to hear Sanga's thoughts on the game we all hold so dear. His perspective on the place this great game holds in our country, and the inherent respect and empathy that courses through his words offer me and many others like me a brief respite in amongst the torrent of emotion that floods our senses when we reflect on what's happening to the game we love in the country that we adore.

    As much as I hope the deep wounds that exist within our fractured and beautiful island paradise heal with time, I also hope that the people of Sri Lanka chart a course that allows this incredible mind to facilitate and execute a vision that returns significance, consistency and development back to the structures of Sri Lankan cricket. Sanga's depth of perspective, and eloquence in articulating his position are gifts, our country will do well to engage now and into the future...

  • POSTED BY Rizwan on | September 15, 2011, 14:46 GMT

    @Ravraju , other than patience or endurance, here's some other features of test cricket. Test bowlers bowls more than one or two spells there, also the red ball has lot more movement than the vegetable(white) one. Hell, even I get to see few more bouncers in tests; also that 'next ball pressure' you are talking about forces the batsmen to make mistakes & throw their wicket away, where in test a bowler doesn't wait for batsman's mistakes, rather he has to earn it. A true test of a batsman isn't slogging over fielder's head when there's always field restriction. In test you'll be seeing wider range of deliveries too & a better version of reverse swing if condition stays true. What do you think, facing a spell from Dale Steyn in test is a harder test for batsmen than Steyn tied down with bouncer rule, free hit & field restrictions in ODIs? Cricket is much more than than batsman facing the next delivery.

  • POSTED BY Bryn on | September 15, 2011, 12:44 GMT

    sanga has been brilliant for lankan cricket. what a great chap. good luck in the 100th (but not too much)

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | September 15, 2011, 12:39 GMT

    Sanga - One of the greatest players to embrace the game of cricket. Have Utmost respect for him and his game. He should first set the house right in SLCB once he retires from full time playing career. SLCB definitely needs that, just like BCCI. Unfortunately there isn't anyone who can bell the cat in India. I hope Sanga can be more than just a mouse. Good Luck Brother - You are one of my all time fav players.

  • POSTED BY Ravi on | September 15, 2011, 12:15 GMT

    Cricketers love tests because they can bat on or bowl on without much pressure to score runs of the next ball. There is never the "next ball" pressure in test matches.

    Whereas in ODI and T20 there is always the "next ball" pressure.

    I think the real rest for a batsman is when there is the next ball pressure and they have to make a single or a boundary etc. I fail to understand how test cricket is the best test for a batsman unless u think about test of patience or endurance which is highly overrated and boring

  • POSTED BY Bhagya on | September 15, 2011, 12:08 GMT

    Wonderful man with Beautiful thoughts....

  • POSTED BY PADDY on | September 15, 2011, 11:52 GMT

    Very unassuming, as any Sri Lankan would be and thats the beauty of SL culture :)

  • POSTED BY Michael on | September 15, 2011, 11:38 GMT

    When the sad day comes that Sanga has to stop playing at the highest levels of the game, I hope he turns towards cricket administration. He would be a great head of the ICC one day, no less than heading up Sri Lankan cricket. He is intelligent and articulate, and has the priceless asset of common sense. Also, he is not afraid to speak his mind and stand for his principles, as he showed with the Cowdrey lecture and resignation from the captaincy. Hopefully, he will grace the playing fields of the world for a few more years. I wish him well.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | September 15, 2011, 11:34 GMT