Closing the circle

Amongst all the cricket news and build up to the Ashes over the last few days, Kumar Sangakkara quietly announced that he’d be retiring from international cricket in August, after the second Test against India.

He’d said at the end of the World Cup that it was the start of the long goodbye, but it’s still sad news that such a player should depart the stage, especially one who seems to be getting better by the year rather than deteriorating, although I suppose a Test average over the last year of a shade over 50 might be considered lower than normal.  The relatively muted response to it is in keeping with how Sangakkara has been considered through most of his career; rarely has he received the kind of accolades that should be his due.

Certainly the raw figures are astonishing.  12,305 Test runs at an average of over 58, 14,234 ODI runs at an average a shade under 42, and even 1,382 runs in international T20, at a still decent average of 31.40, with a strike rate around 120 – Sanga has demonstrated mastery of all formats of cricket.  But it is Tests that make the legacy, and that record in particular bears closer examination.

No player in the last half century with any kind of career longevity has exceeded Sangakkara’s Test average.  In the all time list, with a 50 innings minimum, he’s in fifth place.  And yet it goes further than that.  Sangakkara started his career as a wicketkeeper/batsman, and a became a very fine one.  But the wicketkeeping depresses the batting average quite significantly in his case, 48 matches in his career were played as the designated keeper, and in those he averaged a still healthy 40.48.  But in the 84 matches (not an inconsiderable number) where he wasn’t the wicketkeeper, that batting average rises to a truly astounding 68.05.  There is no player apart from Bradman who has figures like that.  None.

He did it almost everywhere.  South Africa was his least happy hunting ground, and perhaps surprisingly to some extent England wasn’t an opponent he did especially well against.  But an average of over 60 in Australia is a good indicator of the level at which he operated.

I was fortunate enough to be at Lords last year.  Given the circumstances, the chance to watch Sangakkara one last time in a Test was the main motivation behind going, and the evening before as he came into bat was one of those anxious watches, hoping against hope he wouldn’t get out.  In all truth, I bored my fellow travellers to the Test rigid with talk about this player, how I really hoped he would go on to get a score, and how fantastic a player, and how undervalued a player, he really was.  It was therefore nothing but a privilege to watch him bat, and to see him score a Lords century.

It’s hard to understand quite why it is that Sangakkara doesn’t get the plaudits that such a career should generate.  Perhaps his understated manner is the reason, but he’s anything but an ugly player – that cover drive having been a thing of beauty throughout his career.  Yet understated he may be, he was anything but an angel on the field.  At the start of his career he collided rather memorably with Nasser Hussain, the spiky pair exchanging constant pleasantries on the field.  In the days when Sky would dare to ask awkward questions of the England captain, they were perhaps surprised by Hussain’s smile in response, and statement that he thought the young man was great.

And yet he’s always been about more than just the game itself.  In 2011 he was invited to give the annual Spirit of Cricket lecture by the MCC.  His impassioned, erudite and powerful speech concerning the history of cricket in Sri Lanka, interwoven with what the game meant to him on a wider basis, rightly made headlines all over the world.  Here was a great player, who was also intelligent, exceptionally articulate and above all, deeply caring of the game of cricket.

For anyone who hasn’t watched it yet, put an hour of your time aside, and do so.

As he reaches the end of his career, it’s perhaps time to make the claims for him that few others have.  Sangakkara is the best batsman of the last 75 years.  He’s possibly second only to Don Bradman in the history of the game.  His record is genuinely astonishing, and he played with a grace and fluidity relatively unusual for such a high achiever.  And given that he was in a side who routinely struggled everywhere away from their own jewel of an island, that record looks all the better.

It’s been a rare treat to have been able to watch a genuine, bona fide, all time great of the game of cricket.  Perhaps like so often, it’s only when he’s no longer playing that a proper appreciation of his merits will be forthcoming.  But in 50 years time, when an eight year old boy somewhere in the world looks up the records, they’ll be asking their dad who this one was, and why they haven’t heard of him before.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

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24 thoughts on “Closing the circle

  1. Arron Wright Jun 29, 2015 / 12:20 pm

    “perhaps surprisingly to some extent England wasn’t an opponent he did especially well against.”

    Playing all 11 of your Tests in England between 11 May and 24 June (5 of his first 7 starting in May) probably doesn’t help. Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke, to provide contrasting examples, have never once had to bat in a Test in England before the first week of July.

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    • thelegglance Jun 29, 2015 / 12:24 pm

      Indeed – except that his record at home to England is surprisingly poor too, only one century and an average of 39.22 across 11 Tests.

      Like

      • metatone Jun 29, 2015 / 12:49 pm

        It’s the sledging that got to him… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. metatone Jun 29, 2015 / 12:51 pm

    To pick up from the last panel – Sanga doesn’t get the attention he deserves because he doesn’t play for one of the big teams. That blinkered outlook is part of why I loathe Ashes mania…

    Another thing is, being part of a losing team means you get less credit for your scores. You’ll frequently see Ponting fans say “and how many series did Tendulkar’s batting win…” etc.

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      • thelegglance Jun 29, 2015 / 1:19 pm

        And yet Sangakkara has a better average, a better average number of runs per innings (i.e. discounting not outs), a better century strike rate (by which I mean number of innings per hundred, not scoring rate), a better half century strike rate than any one of them.

        By any objective measure whatsoever, except pure longevity in terms of games played, he’s the best of them all.

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      • Arron Wright Jun 29, 2015 / 1:44 pm

        I’m (much) closer to your side; just wanted to provide an example of how the sceptics try to counter your arguments.

        Like

      • d'Arthez Jun 29, 2015 / 4:35 pm

        A lot of people will argue that Sanga really thrived against the minnows. To some extent that is true. Sanga has played 15 matches against Bangladesh, which increases his average (and improves his innings / century count; 7 50+ scores to go along 7 tons from 21 innings). Without them (and the games against Zimbabwe), he averages about 53.22 Practically the same as Kallis (52.98). Ponting, Tendulkar, stand at about 51.

        Of the currently active players only Steven Smith (56.23; 28 Tests), Root (54.11; 27 Tests) and AB de Villiers (53.12; 91 Tests) slot in between those two giants of the game (minimum of 20 matches). Those numbers are very impressive, so even though Sanga bashed minnows it is not as if his average is high only because of that. Far from it.

        As an aside: No Australian batsman has batted more than 5 innings against Bangladesh. That is not so much a criticism of Sanga, but of the lopsided nature of the scheduling. Sure, you can only play the opposition in front of you, but Steve Waugh is not remembered for his exploits against Bangladesh either. People only seem to notice a foreign player, when he is either playing against you (or your team), or if they perform in high profile series. Series against Bangladesh don’t cut. One reason he flies under the radar is because of that.

        Sanga hardly played in Australia. Just 5 matches. Hard to appreciate a man, when you hardly see him.That is a problem the ECB should be fairly familiar with by now. It has been nearly 10 years since cricket went behind the paywall. And how much does your average Englishman know about the cricket team these days, from actually watching?
        Thankfully England (11), South Africa (8) and Pakistan (5 + 6 in the UAE) have had the pleasure of watching this modern great bat on numerous occasions. His record in England and South Africa are slightly underwhelming, which of course does not help to appreciate the stature of Sanga the batsman.

        Problem is of course, the numbers don’t really tell the story. The fielding is poorly captured in metrics in cricket, and captaincy (and advising captain(s)) is not captured at all.

        Sanga belongs among the very best. I am not sure however, that he is the best since Bradman. The differences are quite small (certainly compared to Bradman himself) and I am not sure how to compare keeping wicket in 48 Tests, to taking 292 Test wickets (if you’re going to compare to Kallis for instance; keeping and bowling will have affected their batting for instance). Let alone compare him to players from previous eras. He is certainly the best batsman to have represented Sri Lanka in Test cricket.

        I rate Sanga higher than Ponting, and Ponting has apparently the second best streak of 52 Tests (Anantha Narayanan did a piece on that a few years ago – averaging about 75)

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  3. Mike Jun 29, 2015 / 1:43 pm

    What a player, fortunate enough also to see his century last summer at Lords and also the one in the Champion’s trophy at the Oval the Summer prior.

    A genuinely brilliant player, in all forms.

    For me unquestionably one of the true modern greats, up there with the very best to have ever played the game and probably the best that I’ve seen play in the flesh, personally (having never seen Tendulka, Ponting, Kallis, Dravid etc)

    When one has read all that recent guff written about Captain fantastic (who’s a definite “good/very good” player), this man definitely deserves the epithet of great.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. SimonH Jun 29, 2015 / 1:59 pm

    I’m not suggesting it is the definitive answer by any means but here’s how Sanga rates in Ferriday & Wilson’s ‘Masterly Batting’. They ranked the hundred best Test innings using a thorough analysis of factors (quality of opposition, pitch conditions, lone hand, match result, chances given etc). This was their top hundred:

    100.Sachin Tendulkar 155 v. A 1998
    99. Ricky Ponting 257 A v. I 2003
    98. Kumar Sangakkara 199* SL v. P 2012
    97. Dudley Nourse 231 SA v. A 1935
    96. Stan McCabe 187* A v. E 1932
    95. Walter Hammond 240 E v.A 1938
    84. Kamran Akmal 113 P v. I 2006
    93. Graham Gooch 135 E v.P 1992
    92. Azhar Mahmood 132 P v.SA 1998
    91. Greg Chappell 176 A v.NZ 1982
    90. Frank Worrell 191*WI v.E 1957
    89. Chris Gayle 165*WI v.A 2009
    88. David Boon 143 A v.NZ 1987
    87. Graeme Pollock 276 SA v.A 1970
    86. Len Hutton 169 E v.WI 1954
    85. Bob Barber185 E v.A 1966
    84. Viv Richards 232 WI v.E 1976
    83. Kapil Dev109 I v.WI 1988
    82. Bruce Edgar161 NZ v.A 1982
    81. Michael Clarke 329* A v.I 2012
    80. Warwick Armstrong 159* A v.SA 1902
    79. Daryl Cullinan 103 SA v.SL 1998
    78. Damien Martyn 142 A v.P 2004
    77. Gilbert Jessop 104 E v.A 1902
    76. Colin Milburn 126* E v.WI 1966
    75. Percy Sherwell 115 SA v.E 1907
    74. Don Bradman 270 A v.E 1937
    73. Sunil Gavaskar 221 I v.E 1979
    72. Seymour Nurse 258 WI v.NZ 1969
    71. Jacques Kallis 109* SA v.I 2011
    70. Greg Chappell 182* A v.WI 1976
    69. Glenn Turner 110* NZ v.A 1974
    68. Brian Lara 196 WI v.SA 2005
    67. Saeed Anwar 118 P v.SA 1998
    66. Herschelle Gibbs 196 SA v.I 2001
    65. Graham Gooch 123 E v.WI 1980
    64. A.G. Steel 148 E v.A 1884
    63. Steve Waugh 200 A v.WI 1995
    62. Hashim Amla 311* SA v.E 2012
    61. Kevin Pietersen 202* E v.I 2011
    60. Don Bradman 334 A v.E 1930
    59. Brian Lara 132 WI v.A 1997
    58. Mohammad Ashraful 158* B v.I 2004
    57. Sanath Jayasuriya 253 SL v.P 2004
    56. Graham Gooch 153 E v.WI 1981
    55. Mark Butcher 116 E v.SA 1998
    54. Roy Fredericks 169 WI v.A 1975
    53. Virender Sehwag I v.SA 2008
    52. Ian Redpath 159*A v.NZ 1974
    51. Younus Khan 267 P v.I 2005
    50. Ian Botham 149* E v.A 1981
    49. Don Bradman 103 A v.E 1938
    48. Herbert Sutcliffe 135 E v.A 1928
    47. Kumar Sangakkara 156* SL v.NZ 2006
    46. Bruce Edgar 127 NZ v.WI 1980
    45. Kim Hughes 100* A v.WI 1981
    44. J.T. Brown 140 E v.A 1985
    43. Gordon Greenidge 100 WI v.P 1977
    42, Gary Sobers 163* WI v.E 1966
    41. Lance Klusener 118* AS v.SL 2000
    40. Kevin Pietersen 142 e v.SL 2006.
    39. Colin McDonald 170 A v.E 1959
    38. Steve Waugh 108 A v.E 1997
    37. Clive Lloyd 161* WI v.I 1983
    36. Saeed Anwar 188* P v.I 1999
    35, Ian Smith 173 NZ v.I 1990
    34. VVS Laxman 281 I v.A 2001
    33. Gordon Greenidge 134 WI v.E 1976
    32. Don Bradman 103* A v.E 1932
    31. Viv Richards 192* WI v.I 1974
    30. Ian Botham 114 E v.I 1980
    29. Gary Sobers 168 WI v.A 1961
    28. Gordon Greenidge 213 WI v.NZ 1987
    27. Michael Slater 123 A v.E 1999
    26. Mark Waugh 116 A v.SA 1997
    25. Michael Clarke A v.SA 2011
    24. Jacques Kallis 161 SA v.I 2011
    23. Virender Sehwag 201* I v.SL 2008
    22. Colin Cowdrey 102 E v.A 1954
    21. Gary Kirsten 100* SA v.P 1997
    20. Neil Harvey 167 A v.E 1958
    19. Denis Amiss 262* E v.WI 1974
    18. Doug Walters 104* A v.NZ 1974
    17. Brian Lara 213 WI v.A 1999
    16. Doug Walters 242 A v.WI 11969
    15. Virender Sehwag 293 I v.SL 2009
    14. Bruce Mitchell 164* SA v.E 1935
    13. Brian Lara 226 WI v.A 2005
    12. Gordon Greenidge 226 WI v.A 1991
    11. Neil Harvey 151* A v.SA 1950
    10. Herbert Sutcliffe 161 E v.A 1926
    9. Don Bradman 212 A v E 1937
    8. Adam Gilchrist 148* A v P 1999
    7. Marcus Trescothick 180 E v SA 2005
    6. Clem Hill 188 A v E 1898
    5. Mark Butcher 173* E v A 2001
    4. Kevin Pietersen 186 E v I 2112
    3. Graeme Smith 154* SA v E 2008
    2. Brian Lara 153* WI v A 1999
    1. Graham Gooch 154* E v WI 1991

    Sanga has two innings in there which puts him in some exalted company (some wonderful players ranging from Mahela to Jack Hobbs don’t have any). However there are players with three, four or five like Lara, Greenidge and he who cannot be mentioned. Did Sanga not quite play that career/epoch-defining innings that won a match almost single-handed against a truly great attack? I don’t know – perhaps he suffered from playing mostly in a strong batting team so didn’t get the chance to play the lone hand innings? However their analysis does support my immediate thought that I’d rate Lara (for one) higher.

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    • thelegglance Jun 29, 2015 / 2:22 pm

      Match result would skew it a fair bit I’d have thought. Sri Lanka didn’t win too many matches, and even fewer when a certain Murali wasn’t playing. It’s the only explanation I can find for the exclusion of his astonishing 192 against Australia in Hobart for example – a match they lost, but which he nearly singlehandedly won, and was chopped off by a dreadful umpiring call.

      Like

      • metatone Jun 29, 2015 / 2:25 pm

        Yes, that match came to my mind immediately as well.

        Like

      • Arron Wright Jun 29, 2015 / 2:43 pm

        And, conversely, Michael Slater’s 123 at Sydney – extended by a horrific umpiring error – is ranked as high as no.27!!!

        Like

      • SimonH Jun 29, 2015 / 2:50 pm

        Yes, their formula gave a strong weighting to the match result. I can’t see any innings there off-hand that was played during a defeat (although there are a fair few played in draws).

        Other factors might be that it was a generally high scoring match and I think they rated top bowlers as those having a 100+ wickets at under 30 (Australia had two that match in MJ and MacGill but Lee and Clark fall just outside that bracket). Also did Sanga give a chance (because those count heavily in their formula)?

        Of course it was a great innings and he is a great player – I don’t mean to sound churlish. This is purely degrees of greatness that is at issue here.

        Like

      • dvyk Jun 29, 2015 / 3:01 pm

        Yep, I thought of that one too.

        Like

      • SimonH Jun 29, 2015 / 5:50 pm

        Arron, Slater’s 123 (out of 184) is the second highest innings as a proportion of a team’s score in Test history:

        http://goo.gl/9qfwqH

        The authors included many factors in their calculations but not umpiring errors (principally lack of information for earlier innings). Perhaps they should have docked points for players who subsequently became extremely annoying commentators though!

        Like

    • metatone Jun 29, 2015 / 2:27 pm

      @SimonH

      To my mind, it’s hard to compare Sanga with previous eras, even of Lara’s time, because it really does feel like bowling attacks aren’t quite at the same level as they used to be. Still, he’s such a good player I can’t claim he wouldn’t have prospered in the past as well…

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    • d'Arthez Jun 29, 2015 / 4:55 pm

      It is not fair to do that on the basis of game results, or on the basis who you’re playing with. Bert Sutcliffe never won a Test, despite playing 42 of them. It must be so much harder to get into the list when you’re playing with Bradman. Or in the dominating sides of their era.

      Also some batsmen are more consistent than others. Judging a player as the best ever on one (or four or five) innings is like judging the best book ever on the basis of three paragraphs.

      Like

    • escort Jun 29, 2015 / 6:55 pm

      Fantastic stats. I think the No1 is pretty much correct. Am not surprised Sachin is not mentioned too often to be honest. Brian Lara was always going to feature and there is a reason for that.

      Like

  5. Mark Jun 29, 2015 / 3:32 pm

    It’s funny listening to that speech when he talks about corrupt and incompetent administrators and how things changed for the worse when money started to attract the wrong sort of administrators into Sri Lanka. And how he warns the governing body that it is the fans that count, and if they walk away cricket will suffer.

    Shame some of the English administrators didn’t bother to take notice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dvyk Jun 29, 2015 / 7:53 pm

      Interesting stat from Sanga — 1982 80% of the SL team came from elite English schools. In 1996 it was 0%.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Arron Wright Jun 29, 2015 / 5:03 pm

    Apparently 1.6m people watched the England women’s football team in their QF. After midnight.

    And what is Sky’s highest viewing figure for Test cricket?

    Do the math, Giles.

    Like

    • d'Arthez Jun 29, 2015 / 5:59 pm

      Giles will do the math, and decide that England need to pick sexier players …

      Like

  7. paulewart Jun 30, 2015 / 7:43 pm

    He doesn’t have the stats to back up my argument, but the best batsman I’ve seen is Viv. There was a terrifying sense of inevitability whenever he came out to bat. Kumar’s a very different type of player, however, and you’re absolutely right to emphasise that he spent half his career as a wicket keeper.It’s reasonable to assume he’d have scored a lot more runs had he played more games as an out and out batsman.

    Like

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