Just as the sun was beginning to rise on the eastern horizon, the beautiful port city of Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, the only island state in Australia, welcomed a majestic, unexpected visitor. Voyager Of The Seas, a giant of a cruise ship with 14 decks, a passenger capacity of 3114 and a crew numbering 1176 eased into Princes Wharf 1, the second-deepest wharf in the southern hemisphere.
The stately ship was headed for Fiji until inclement weather forced a pleasant diversion to Hobart, quaint and quiet, with a population of about 200,000. A majority of the guests in the ship took the opportunity to soak in the sights and sounds on a beautiful Thursday (March 12), the sun beating down at a comfortable 21 degrees Celsius with a blustery wind for company.
They made a beeline for the State library, for the Salamanca Market, for Port Arthur, which is some hour and a half away. Had they arrived a day earlier, at least a few of them would most likely have waltzed over to the Bellerive Oval to catch a glimpse of the master who, despite conceding 137,280 in tonnage, would have matched the imperiousness of the Voyager Of The Seas.
Kumar Sangakkara is himself a voyager, of course. Not of the seas, not of the air, though he has stacked up millions of air miles in an international career deep into its 15th year. He is a voyager of the cricket fields, a dainty and elegant and measured and organised traveller, a lawyer by education, a cricketer by vocation, an entertainer and charmer by birth. By right, almost.
He is officially 37 and a few months, but he retains the enthusiasm of a wide-eyed, excited teenager taking his first steps at the international level. He has nearly 28,000 international runs, yet he approaches each innings like his career number is still an unedifying zero. He has an entire country, indeed various parts of the cricket world, asking for him to continue to grace the cricketing stage, yet he is determined to call time on his career in five months, even though he has lost none of his artistry, his cutting edge, his hunger or his intensity.
Over the last two days, listening to two players at different ends of the superstardom spectrum, you realised just how much respect Sangakkara commands within the playing community, in what estimation he is held by peers. Kyle Coetzer, the former Scotland captain, gushed about the left-hand stylist’s composure and grace, about the time he had at his disposal, about his range of strokes. You are tempted to put it down to the difference in quality and numbers between Coetzer, the maker of the highest score by an associate player in World Cup cricket, and Sangakkara, only the second man to make 14,000 ODI runs.
Then, David Warner gives you pause. Warner isn’t anything like Sangakkara, apart from the fact that both are left-hand batsmen. The pudgy Aussie is a destroyer, all muscle and energy and bluster; Sangakkara is almost an apologetic artist, painting the prettiest of pictures as he wields his willow with such felicity that you wonder when the bat has made contact with the ball, when the brush has touched the canvas.
So Coetzer speaks of Sangakkara, the man who rewrote ODI history by making his fourth consecutive ton on Wednesday, with awe. What of Warner? “If you keep seeing them like beach balls, that’s great,” laughed Warner. “The nick he has been, he has been in that sort of nick his whole career. He hasn’t been a player who has really been out of form. When he has been out of form, he has either been out with an injury – when Mitch (Mitchell Johnson) broke his finger out here, then he had another sort of niggle, just coming out of it, he was a bit out of form. But other than that, he has been very consistent over a lot of time. Credit to him. Obviously, I can’t talk on behalf of him but he has had a great career. I thought there were a few rumours that he was going to finish soon, but I think the game needs him and certainly Sri Lanka does as well.”
The game and Sri Lanka most certainly do. Already, Sri Lanka are without Mahela Jayawardene in Twenty20 International and Test cricket. Like Sangakkara, Jayawardene will retire from ODI cricket too at the end of the World Cup. Like Jayawardene, Sangakkara too is finished from T20I cricket. And, he has said, he will bid adieu to Test cricket too later this year, at the end of the home series against India in July-August. That will be a body blow to Sri Lanka.
Sangakkara is a lot more than the number of pleasing as punch runs he makes with the bat. He is a lot more than the wonderfully athletic and competent stumper in ODI cricket, the aware fielder in Test cricket. He is a lot more than a former captain under whose tutelage Angelo Mathews has grown as a leader. He and Jayawardene have been the faces of Sri Lankan cricket, the voices of Sri Lankan cricket – voices of reason, of logic, of respect, voices that have never been loud but have nevertheless been heard with the seriousness that they deserve. They are both elder statesmen, sometimes rebels with a cause, the cause always being team rather than self. They will occupy the top pedestal in the annals of Sri Lankan cricket, with due respect to such stalwarts as Muttiah Muralitharan, Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga and Chaminda Vaas, and Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias and the men before them who paved the way for Sri Lanka to attain Test status in the early 1980s.
“I have gone on my knees to beg him out of retirement, but at the end of the day, it is his decision,” said Mathews, the ‘gone on my knees’ part definitely not a joke. “He has served his team and country for such a long time.” Mathews left it unsaid that if that was what Sangakkara wanted, that is what he should get. Respect.
It’s not as if Sangakkara is acting pricey, that he wants his colleagues and his board to come knocking on his door with a begging bowl. He knows he has done all he could do and more to raise the stock of Sri Lankan cricket, he knows that while he is still on top of his game, there is a life beyond cricket, especially with a young family and its demands to be met. More importantly, he knows his mind and his body better than anyone else, and if he believes it is time to go, then it truly is time to go.
“Now that I am 37, the joints are creaking,” said Sangakkara, a wistful smile flickering. “I consider myself lucky. Sometimes, things just fall in place. Everything clicks. No matter how hard you try to find that one thing, it becomes difficult. I am not sure what that one thing is, but it is definitely working for me at the moment, so hopefully I can keep onto it.”
Luck? Men like Sangakkara, they make their own luck. In five months’ time, he will become former international. Five months between now and August to celebrate Sangakkara the cricketer, Sangakkara the person. To treasure his contribution to cricket as a whole. And to soak in the entertainment, before he strides away. Voyager. Of cricket.