Seeking the man in the superman

Everything about Kumar Sangakkara appears unreal. Until one gets up close and personal

Osman Samiuddin  |  


I am, apparently, a Maheliac. I did not know this, and did not know such a species existed, until I wrote a pair of columns over the last year on the retirements of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

I have always leaned towards Jayawardene, ignoring that in a normal world there is no need to choose one over the other. You can - as many do - lean towards both. My experiences growing up, though, were what constitutes normal for Pakistan cricket, which is that one is required to choose. Imran or Javed, Wasim or Waqar, Qadir or Qasim, and even, later, Razzaq or Mahmood. You could not get away by saying both are great and move on with life. Life was defined by that choice and it would not move on until you picked one.

So Jayawardene it was. That puts me in a cricketing minority of not being a fan of the subject of this month's cover story, although this is the perfect opportunity to offer a little more nuance. I am a realist and the overriding sense around Sangakkara's late career, his persona, his life, is that it is unreal.

That is meant as a compliment. How can any batsman be that good, so good that when he is in, like with the greatest, there seems to be no earthly way to dismiss him? And then how can anyone be such an exemplary statesman for the game, and also for his country? To have handled captaincy and kept wicket and transformed his batting for different formats and been one half of cricket's most-loved bromance? It isn't that they don't make 'em like that anymore, it's that they never made 'em like that ever.

Especially since he delivered the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture in 2011, Sangakkara has bested gravity and zoomed beyond the realms of humanity, into a sphere occupied by greater beings. His 192 in Hobart in November 2007, confirmed his graduation into the modern batting elite. But since the Cowdrey Lecture he has batted like Don Bradman (well, a two-thirds Bradman, averaging nearly 63), and existed, like Nelson Mandela, as the moral conscience of his world (okay, maybe a one-thirds Mandela, which still adds up to a very impressive whole).

Turning men into supermen and their pursuits into otherworldly labours is how many of us give sports meaning

In this period, as Andrew Fidel Fernando smartly notes in his portrait, Sangakkara has moved into a thinly populated space for Asian cricketers. He is loved and respected at home, but abroad he is celebrated as "among the game's leading intellectuals", writes Fernando. It reminds, to an extent, of two great Pakistanis, Imran Khan and Abdul Hafeez Kardar (and many political leaders besides). Sangakkara commands greater unconditional devotion at home, where Imran and Kardar were more divisive figures. But outside their homeland, like Sangakkara they seemed to represent the acceptable faces and ambitions of their nation.

The most endearing feature of Fernando's profile is that it humanises Sangakkara. There is a warmly comic scene of Sangakkara the father - what is, after all, more humanising than parenthood? He was a teacher's pet (of course), we are told, and that in matters of romance he was as committed in chasing as he is to bettering his batting. He emerges as human and tangible as Jayawardene.

Turning men into supermen and their pursuits into otherworldly labours is how many of us give sports meaning, so there is another, entirely different sort of profile to enjoy. Many of you will remember Aasif Karim for a remarkable World Cup spell against Australia. If you're a little older, you might remember him as a member of the Kenya side that caused one of cricket's greatest upsets, against West Indies in the 1996 World Cup.

With a great sense of duty and no little love, Jarrod Kimber recreates that spell (he was there, watching that Australia game in Durban). More valuably, he documents the life and times of a giant who slipped by largely unnoticed. Karim, Kimber reminds us, is not just significant to the story of Kenyan cricket, or Kenyan sport; he, and his family, cannot be absent from any story of Kenya itself. If Sangakkara needs to be humanised to be understood, Karim - an artist-toiler from cricket's backwaters - needs veneration to be appreciated.

There is, as ever, much else besides, including an intelligent and witty essay on Indian cricket advertising by Supriya Nair. It feels befitting in an issue that marks the start of the Cricket Monthly's second year. We hope you've enjoyed the first 12 issues and hope that the magazine has - or will - come to enrich your cricket experience.

Osman Samiuddin is a sportswriter at the National and the author of The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket