The other day while I was surfing the internet during a break from work, I ended up with a video of a classic Tony Grieg commentary moment. It was a voice that took me back in time, where a 90s child had seen larger-than-life performances and moments of exhilarating grandeur in the world of cricket.
From the iconic Aussie teams to a resurgent English unit, from the Pakistani pace battery to India’s golden generation, from the treacherous Lankan batting line-up to the ever-surprising Bangladeshis, from the magical yet unbelievably unfortunate Proteas to a Flower-ing Zimbabwe, from the colourful West Indies to an all-round Kiwi team, we have witnessed them all satisfy our cricketing expectations, exceed them at times.
The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Wasim Akram, Glen McGrath, Courtney Walsh, Shane Warne, Muthiah Muralidharan, Dan Vettori, Adam Gilchrist, Mark Boucher and a number of other legends have all blessed the fans with times of joy and have departed from the game leaving them in tears.
And soon after Jacques Kallis announced his retirement from Test Cricket, it felt as if a glorious chapter had come to a closure, until the realisation that two undervalued men are still standing firm. Even today, the Sri Lankan duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene satisfy the fantasies of every elegance-hanker.
As this text is being written, Kumar Sangakkara has recently been dismissed in the 2nd Test match of Sri Lanka’s tour to Bangladesh, after following his classy first innings triple hundred by another century in the second. Yet, he missed out on beating Graham Gooch’s record for scoring most runs in a single Test match. He struck 424 runs, falling 2 short of Mark Taylor’s ’98 heroics and 34 of Graham Gooch’s 456 in 1990.
Although he missed out on this record, he had already piled up a few during his last innings. He became the fastest 11,000-run scorer in the history of Tests, surpassing Steve Waugh in the process. He now sits at a career high average of 58.08, outnumbering each member of the Sachin-Lara-Ponting trio. He has also joined Brian Lara at No.2 in the decorated list of most double hundreds in Tests, only behind Sir Donald Bradman.
But the man who has scored a hundred in and against every Test playing nation is not the only pillar from the previous generation that stands strong. He is accompanied by another Sinhalese, with whom he shares the ownership of a restaurant back home, Mahela Jayawardene. From his Test debut in 1997, which saw an outrageous tripe hundred by Sanath Jaysuriya against India at Colombo, till the current Bangladesh series, Jayawerdene has been a figure of sheer class and unmatched elegance. The suave right-hander has amassed over 10,000 runs in both forms of the game and has captained his team to a World Cup final, much to the dismay of his critics. He already has an impressive total of 430 runs, including a serene double century in Bangladesh and a hundred in the Gulf against a higher ranked Pakistan team, in 2014.
A lack of overseas success has mired the extents of appreciation for Sangakkara. An average of 36.50 in India will likely remain the same before retirement, as will his 35.75 in South Africa. He averages 30.58 in England, something that he will hope to work on during the two Tests there in June. Unlike the Sachin-Lara-Ponting club, he has also been unable to deflate attacks for much of his career, which recently has begun to change. But overall, he does not place himself in the same pantheon as the other greats.
Jayawerdene, on the other hand, has had a reputation of being just a Test player in the early stages of his career, but he has, since then, drastically changed opinions with his creativity in the middle as much as with his technical mantle. A smashing 88-ball 103 in the 2011 World Cup final and a T-20 International hundred to his name provide ample proof to his versatility of late.
The case for greatness of the two stylish batsmen doesn’t seem to rest very soon. But as an individual who has grown up idolising cricket legends from all across the globe, and on behalf of all the ones alike, it gives great pride and immense contentment to watch the two carry on.
With Kallis restricted to only limited-overs cricket (that too selected series) and the baffling axing of Kevin Pietersen post the Australia debacle, the exit of Sanga and Mahela from the game will be a final nail in the coffin of an unforgettable generation of cricketers. With a transition already in progress, it would be the centre stage for the new lads to become the next Jayawardenes and Sangakkaras.