Kumar Sangakkara interview: Sangakkara wants to be a Durham student

Kumar Sangakkara has made 547 appearances in international cricket, yet he pitched up at Durham yesterday eager to learn

Sri Lanka's star batsman Kumar Sangakkara
Sri Lanka's star batsman Kumar Sangakkara

It seems an odd thing for a man who has made 547 international appearances to say, but Kumar Sangakkara has arrived in Durham eager to learn.

The first thing the Sri Lanka legend will have to get his head around is the route from his temporary Durham home to his new county’s ground. Even with the help of SatNav, he was unable to make it in time for his first Press conference. In every other respect, though, it was a masterclass from the 36-year-old.

Listening to Sangakkara’s perfect English it is not hard to believe this is a man who, until cricket intervened, was training to be a lawyer, the youngest person to give the MCC’s Spirit of Cricket lecture.

In the short-term, Sangakkara’s second spell in county cricket (he had seven games with Warwickshire in 2007) could be of much more benefit to Sri Lanka than Durham. Spending a fortnight in England during the most difficult part of the season to bat, the left-hander might just blow away the post-World Twenty20 cobwebs in time for his country’s one-day series here.

But whether Sangakkara can get any runs before receiving four balls with his name on them or not, Durham hope his knowledge and professionalism leave a lasting legacy on their youthful squad. They are also hoping he might be back – and not just for next month’s one-day international at Chester-le-Street. Despite probably being in the last 18 months of his international career, Sangakkara is just as willing to learn as his supposed pupils. He thinks England is the best place to do it.

“I actually signed for Lancashire in 2010-11, just preceding the World Cup, but I sat down with the selectors, and we decided it maybe wasn’t a good time to do that,” he says. “That was a shame. Coming back and playing county cricket has always been of interest to me.

“It’s the different conditions throughout the summer. It starts off cold, and you move on to warmer, more pleasant days in the summer.

“(Umpire) Mark Benson used to talk about Aravinda Da Silva when he played for Kent. In early summer Aravinda came in, and they thought he was the worst signing they’d ever made. Then he started churning out hundreds when the sun came out, he said he’d never seen batting like that.

“A lot of people talk about mental strength, but it’s more about mental skills and adaptability.

“If you play a full season, it’s not easy. The weather challenges you and the constant travel. To withstand the pressure of the schedule year after year, it really builds character. That’s really important, not just in cricket, but after cricket.”

Ranked the world’s second best Test batsman, and equal sixth-best of all time, the surprise was that a player of Sangakkara’s quality was available – albeit briefly – during the Indian Premier League.

“I would love to say that was because I love Test cricket, but that’s not exactly true,” Sangakkara admits. “I love being part of the IPL as well. But this year having only a two-and-a-half week availability window, I don’t think that works for a franchise or a player. It’s better to really step away and concentrate on what’s likely to be my last tour of England.”

Sangakkara’s appearance at his first Durham training session brought a ripple of appreciative applause from his new team-mates and hearing his preference for topping up his already impressive Test average rather than his bank balance is reassuringly unfashionable. “Being old-fashioned or termed archaic I think is a really good thing,” he says. “There’s very little of that left and I think Test cricket and county cricket are very refreshing for players and spectators. People still come to iconic Test series and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the game, it’s just how you format it to bring meaningful context.

“Perhaps we need a bit less cricket, so the spectators get a rest. Twenty years down the line, will anyone remember the amount of money you were auctioned for in the IPL? I really don’t think so. But if you’ve scored runs in Test cricket that’s where you get recognised and remembered.”

Coach Jon Lewis hopes Sangakkara’s Durham career extends beyond games against Yorkshire and Sussex. The last batsman of his calibre to play for them – West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul – was tempted back for an encore.

“We would have liked him to come for longer,” he admits. “By the time he’s found his feet it will be time for him to move on. But maybe we’ll be able to maintain a connection and maybe there’s a future in it.

“Shiv obviously enjoyed his time here and if we can ensure Kumar enjoys his short time here he’ll be keen to come back. He’s hungry with a sharp mind.

“He probably wants to squeeze a bit more out of his body before he hangs his boots up and maybe this will be the place to do it.”


David Whetstone
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