When talk turns to who’s the greatest Test batsman after Don Bradman, the same names are put forward almost invariably. Sachin Tendulkar, Viv Richards, Wally Hammond, Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis to name but a few. But one man has a better Test average than all of these greats.
Kumar Sangakkara has been scoring runs for his beloved Sri Lanka for the entire 21st century and has accrued a staggering amount of runs while flying relatively under the radar and not abandoning his languid style.
Sangakkara recently scored his 12,000th Test run and was the quickest man in the history of the game to do so. This is no mean feat, and while he is toying with the idea of calling time on an illustrious career, nobody can doubt his commitment and drive as he enters the richest batting form of his life.
The former Sri Lankan skipper is perhaps finally getting the recognition he deserves, a career average of almost 60 is not to be sniffed at, especially when it is pondered that he has played during the era of some great Test bowlers. With a superb double hundred this week at the Basin Reserve he has moved up to second place in the 200 club – with 11, trailing only to Bradman’s 12.
So why, perhaps until recently, has Sangakkara often been overlooked when talk turns to the greatest Test batsmen of all time? Admittedly his form has hit a step upward curve over the past two years, but he was still a might fine player before that.
Some criticism levelled at him has focussed on his inability to score big runs outside of his native Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the sub-continent. However, with some investigation, it is clear to see that this criticism is far from true. His overall average of 58.92 only drops to 48.25 outside of the sub-continent. While this is a fall of roughly 15% on his career average, it does not represent a bad return outside of familiar conditions. He has also racked up 8 centuries outside of Asia in just 36 Tests and boasts an average in excess of 60 in both Australia and New Zealand.
If you compare this to Sachin Tendulkar, a batsman who many to believe the best since Bradman or even the best ever; Sangakkara again stacks up well. Tendulkar averages a shade over 50 outside of Asia and this is only 2 more than Sangakkara.
To give Sangakkara yet another feather to his cap, we can also consider the amount of Tests he has played as a wicketkeeper. He has played 48 Tests as the designated wicketkeeper for Sri Lanka and, as many before him have found out, this is bound to have a detrimental effect on his batting. Looking at the Tests he has played as an outfielder, a large sample size of 82 Tests, he averages a monumental 69.85 and rattles off a century at a rate of almost every 2.5 games.
Sangakkara also captained his country in 15 Tests, and it would be permissible for his performance to drop as a consequence of the extra responsibility. But Kumar rose to the occasion and averages nearly 70 as skipper. His longevity and appetite cannot be doubted and he has notched up a ton against all other 9 Test playing nations.
If you were to judge batsmen purely on weight of runs and statistics then Sangakkara is undoubtedly the greatest to pick up a bat since Bradman. But of course, many will point you towards Tendulkar and his ability to carry the hopes of a nation while continuing to make huge runs. It is though easy to forget that Sangakkara has faced similar pressure from the Sri Lankan faithful, albeit often alongside his teammate and best friend Mahela Jayawardene.
While Tendulkar can claim the 2011 World Cup as the defining moment that he lifted the nation, Kumar has also had his moment in the spotlight. The 2014 T20 World Cup final belonged to him as he guided his side in a brilliant run chase against India’s lacklustre 130/4. Also later that year, he played an integral part in the side that garnered an historic Test series victory in England.
If you needed more proof that Sangakkara should be considered an all time great, then look no further than his insightful, erudite and brave Cowdrey Lecture speech in 2011. Sangakkara delivered a moving tribute and a searing indictment on cricket in Sri Lanka. In criticising the ruling body in cricket in Sri Lanka for failing to protect the game for a variety of ills, he made a brave decision and was widely lauded for his honesty.
Kumar Sangakkara is not only a superb Test batsman with the numbers to back it up; he is also an ardent protectorate of the Test game and a champion of technology and development within cricket.
He is an ambassador for his war-torn nation and in my mind quite simply one of the greatest cricketers who ever lived.