Sri Lanka have qualified for the quarterfinals of the World Cup on the back of some sublime and some forgettable performances. What has been anything but forgettable is Kumar Sangakkara.
After his century against Bangladesh, I put up a Facebook status saying: This avatar of Sangakkara can win the World Cup on his own.
So far, so good.
Sangakkara has always had phenomenal following in Sri Lanka. He is a true superstar in a country that doesn’t really do superstars. In fact, Sri Lankans almost pride themselves on being indifferent to pop icons. President Sirisena can go for his morning jog to Independence Square and not be mobbed, and Murali or Mahela or Sanath could go out for dinner and get only about five or ten requests for photographs.
Sanga, however, is overwhelmed wherever he goes. The only other person, who was sought after so zealously in recent times in Sri Lanka, was probably the Pope.
Memes showcasing Sanga’s impressive numbers in a wide variety of graphical arrangements are flooding Facebook news feeds these days. Twitter is exploding with compliments and even the rest of the world’s cricketers have followed Michael Clarke’s lead in congratulating him on his unparalleled four hundreds in a row. He has also become the first player to score four hundreds in a World Cup, while also becoming the top wicketkeeper with 54 dismissals in World Cups and over 500 in One-Day International cricket. Adam Gilchrist, whose marks he beat, wasn’t too shabby, was he?
There is a sense of steely resolve to Sangakkara’s demeanour that belies the explosive expressiveness of his recent batting form. Having struggled against Trent Boult’s swing in the first Test match on the New Zealand tour, he came back with dour double century in the second. The Sri Lankan news media reported how he had done nothing but bat in between the two Test matches.
Andrew Fernando, on Cricinfo, used the same word to describe the great man on Wednesday that I have used for Sanga – Avatar, the Hindu word meaning “a deliberate descent of a deity to earth”, even though it is used more commonly to mean ‘incarnation’.
And if Sangakkara was the mild-mannered Clark Kent for much of his career, New Zealand has been the phone booth from which the superhero has emerged.
During the Bangladesh game, a tweet asked who the impostor in the Sangakkara jersey was. Such was the aggression with which he batted. The ingenuity of his strokeplay was almost antithetical to his usual straight-batted approach. It’s his final party and he is jolly well going to have a good time.
Among the adulation of the fans, there is also a measured appreciation of his work ethic. During his first World Cup in 2003, he was average behind the stumps and passable with the bat. His progression to becoming the No. 1 wicketkeeper and batsman in the World Cup is testament to his hard work.
What no fan is talking about, though, and what they all silently fear, is what would happen the day he doesn’t score. The fears may be unfounded given the wealth of quality in that Lankan lineup, but Sangakkara is the rock on which recent victories have been built. His approach and execution have been so good that he is masking the very obvious deficiencies of the Sri Lankans fielding and the less obvious ones in the batting. His form has taken an apathetic public, who were disillusioned after the unannounced tour of India last year, and turned them on their head. Sri Lankans need their motivation to come from outside. He is it.