Can Kumar Sangakkara stake claim to greatness?

Author : athulpillai

Cricket is a batsman’s game, they say. And in the last 20-25 years, we have seen some of the very fine batsmen in the game. If we had to take out the list of top batsmen in cricket’s history purely in terms of runs scored, we would realize that most of them belong to the post-1990 era.

Come to think of it, out of the 11 batsmen who belong to the esteemed 10K+ runs club, only Sunil Gavaskar, Allan Border and, to an extent, Steve Waugh do not belong to the recent generation. And among the other 8 of them, most of us would talk about Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting to be the ‘Top 3’; some of us will talk about Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis to be as good if not better. I have never believed in comparisons, and hence this article is not about comparing these great legends.

This article is about a batsman, a great batsman, who features in that list of eight from the post-1990 era to have scored more than 10K runs in Test Cricket, and yet very seldom do people rate him among the other names that have been mentioned above. This article is about Kumar Sangakkara; with 11151 runs and 35 centuries in Test cricket under his belt, doesn’t he deserve better?

Celebrating his 300 against Bangladesh in front of empty stands at Chittagong.

Celebrating his 300 against Bangladesh in front of empty stands at Chittagong.

‘Sanga’, as he is fondly called, recently scored 424 runs in a single Test match, which included a whopping 319 in an innings, and by doing so, he became only the 2nd player after Graham Gooch to have scored a triple century and a century in a single Test. In 2012, he reached 10K runs in 195 innings, making him the joint fastest along with Tendulkar and Lara to reach this number. And few days back, in his 208th innings, he became the fastest batsman to reach 11000 runs.

His career average of 58.07 is higher than everyone else in that 10K+ club. So his aggregate numbers are as good if not better than most. But then, a great batsman is one who, along with impressive overall numbers, has also performed well against top quality teams and has helped his team win matches in all conditions, especially overseas. So how does Sanga fare here?

Kumar Sangakkara

Not quite the same dominating player outside the sub-continent against strong bowling attacks

If we had to consider the top 3 Test teams in terms of quality of the bowling attack in the last 20 years or so, it has to be Australia, South Africa and England. Sangakkara averages close to 42 (almost 16 runs short of his career average) against these three teams in 46 Test matches, with only 6 hundreds against them. Compare this number to his overall record of 35 hundreds in 122 Test matches. Away from home, these numbers are worse, with his average being close to only 39 in 22 Test matches.

Both Tendulkar and Lara average above 50 with 25 and 20 centuries respectively against these three teams. Sanga’s team-mate Mahela Jayawardene also averages above 50 and has scored 15 hundreds against these three teams in 52 Test matches. When we look at the performance of these batsmen away from home against these three teams, only Tendulkar manages an average of above 50 (in 52 Tests), and Lara, Dravid and Shivnarine Chanderpaul come close with an average of 45-46, while Sangakkara and Jayawardene average 39 and 31 respectively.

Now we will look beyond these three teams and look at the performance of these batsmen outside the sub-continent. Almost 80% of Sangakarra’s runs have been scored in the sub-continent, but to be fair to him, he has played most of his matches in the sub-continent. Only 32 of his 122 Test matches have been played outside the sub-continent, but his average of 44 (14 runs short of his career average) in these 32 Tests does tell a story.

Everyone else in that 10K club, except Jayawardene, who averages only 34, average above 50 outside the sub-continent. One could debate that Ricky Ponting’s record in the sub-continent is a testimony to the fact that playing in the sub-continent is tough, as well. One could also debate that batsmen from outside the sub-continent should also be rated by their performances in the sub-continent.

Well I do not intend to get into that debate for now. But with Sri Lanka set to tour England in May 2014, Sangakkara does have a chance to set his overseas record straight, and then, perhaps, stake his claim to be right up there with the others.

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