Cricket may be losing a player of a generation, but it could be gaining one of its great administrators. Numbers do not lie. He was right up there with all the plaudits, marching proudly with the greats of any era. His legacy, however, will be his style of play. Kumar Sangakkara started his career as a wicketkeeper-batsman for Sri Lanka. What the cricket world saw in Sangakkara from the beginning was a cool head. He rather quickly became the elder statesman of the game.
There are only a few sportspersons given the universal approval as role models—Sangakkara would be included in that very short list: soft-spoken, educated, big-hearted fellow, who became the best that his country has produced. This is the c.v. of a man who can be intensely proud of what he has achieved. His story could not get much better.
Of course reverence does not come only because of stacking individual numbers. Otherwise, we would all give unquestionable and universal respect of Harbhajan Singh given his 417 test wickets. There is something special about Sangakkara. Maybe that he came from Sri Lanka, a small island of soft-spoken people which has produced some of cricket’s great characters. Or maybe he had parents who passed down good values and a doctorate in an honorable way to live a life.
We brandish the words “a great ambassador for the game” way too often in cricket: at every above-par cricketer’s retirement in fact. The phrase is used so often that it has been cheapened in its meaning. In Sangakkara’s case, however, the phrase is more than apt. He is not only a great ambassador for the game but also his country and, most importantly, of the human race. If, as a young cricketer, especially a southpaw, you want to emulate anyone in the game today, you could not do better. He showed what it means to play the game hard but fair, and to be dignified while doing it. It’s a rare combination in any sport on any level, and something that everyone aspires to in his or her personal and professional lives.
But I (Parth) believe cricket needs a lot more from Sangakkara. In fact, if he’s looking for the next place to further showcase his talents, I suggest cricket administration. Sangakkara is already working on the MCC World Cricket Committee as one of the current-players’ representatives. The recent film by Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins, Death of a Gentlemen, depicts a woeful exhibition of the administration of the game that Sangakkara loved as a child, that I loved as a child, that every reader of this loved in their nascent years. The argument that cricket administration today could use Sangakkara’s brand of honesty and fair play more than his country’s national team is not entirely without a base. As the ICC—or let’s be blunt and say India, Australia, and England—continue to loot the game, these ex-cricketers, who derived so much from the game and gave so much of theirs to the game, cannot sit idly by now.
Recent retired Indian cricketers surely are. It is a sorry state of affairs, when you can write the same article and just replace the word “Sangakkara” with “Dravid”, and Dravid has not done anything of substance in the area of cricket that needs his brand of nobility the most. After retirement, if you join a commentary team, you are taking the easy way out. You are almost cheating the game. Being a commentator to me, is “the Kardashian choice.” It is the vehicle to increase your celebrity. That’s it. The ego cannot accept the fact that one day you are a superstar and the next your relevancy in the media starts dropping from minute one of your exiting the game. You fight to stay relevant. Hence, you join a commentary team. Every retiring cricketer of note should have the gumption to fight that urge of taking the easy route, and move toward improving how the game is run in the world.
I fear that pinpointing Dravid detracts from the legend, but that comment was made on the state of nearly all retired cricketers who played with distinction. Indian greats, other than Bishan Bedi and Kapil Dev, have all bowed down to a cricket board that functions as nothing more than a bully. The cricketing world is poorer for it. This record needs a revision, and let’s hope that this correction will occur as these players gain more distance from the current crop of players in the team.
With Sangakkara, my expectations are different. Sangakkara attended law school while he was playing cricket. It is clear that he is more civic-minded. His rousing speech on the perils of Sri Lankan cricket administration and his romanticized story of his country’s cricketing history at the Cowdrey Lecture in 2011 has become nothing short of a benchmark for cricketing speeches. He showed that he does not shy away from speaking his mind and using his celebrity and podium to shed light on his thoughts. I hope this trend becomes more frequent, and while doing so Kumar Sangakkara becomes the standard-bearer for players to join “the un-sexy world” of cricket administration.
(The photo is from http://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=/media/motion/2015/0818/dm_150818_COM_CRICKET_SANGA_20150818/dm_150818_COM_CRICKET_SANGA_20150818.jpg)