If it was the end of a Durham career, it was a glorious failure – even more reason to hope Kumar Sangakkara has not played his last game for the county.
The left-hander belatedly stamped his mark with 159 at Hove yesterday before joining his Sri Lankan team-mates.
Not only was it not a match-winning innings, it was ultimately not enough to lead Durham to the limit of their ambitions from this rain-ruined game.
The captains had talked in passing about a contrived finished but, said Durham captain Paul Collingwood, “I just thought it was a bit early in the season to go hunting for victories.”
With a fourth successive draw – something the county had not experienced since 2005 – inevitable, Durham’s whole day was therefore geared around claiming maximum batting points, and thanks to Sangakkara’s highest score on English soil they ought to have got there. They did not, although the 36-year-old must take his slice of the blame.
The Riversiders needed eight runs from two overs when he pulled straight to Matt Machan on the deep midwicket boundary.
Still, it ought not to have stopped them, Sangakkara’s dismissal bringing a tea interval to regroup and clear the heads. It did not have the desired effect.
Mark Wood played out the first three balls of the evening session before running a single from the fourth, threatening to deny Phil Mustard the strike. The wicketkeeper tried to hook a ball too wide of off-stump from the last ball of the over, and was caught at midwicket.
With seven needed from the 110th over, Wood and new batsman Usman Arshad were only able to deal in singles. It was down to a lack of timing rather than intent, as Wood’s top-edged pull from delivery number three illustrated.
Umpire Martin Saggers probably should have given his old county a helping hand by calling James Anyon’s fifth ball as a wide, rather than a scrambled bye, and Arshad was unable to get any bat on the last.
It was a dreadful waste of the hard work Collingwood in particular had put in.
Having showed his ability to block the living daylights out of the ball in the second innings against Yorkshire, his versatility was on show here.
He has been revitalised by a winter coaching – and learning from – international cricketers with Scotland then England.
“Kumar was playing so well, so I thought I would try and get the innings going and build a bit of momentum,” he reflected afterwards.
“I changed something technically over the winter while I was hitting balls in the fielding sessions with England. It was only a slight adjustment, but it seems to have opened up the offside a bit.”
Collingwood scored 54 off 37 balls after Sussex took the new ball (74 from 78 in all) to give Durham’s innings the impetus it needed.
An extravagant pull at Steve Magoffin, which flew over the slips for four, showed he was in the mood for quick runs two days before the start of Durham’s Twenty20 campaign. The cut which brought up his 50 was the first of three consecutive boundaries.
He slog-swept Ashar Zaidi for six, only to fall to the next delivery, putting the ball down the throat of Jon Lewis at long-off.
Sangakkara was much more fluent than the previous day, if still not always timing the ball as he might have liked.
A lovely straight drive for four was an early signal that the loss of Scott Borthwick to a ball that kept low before adding to his overnight 84, was not going to bring about the quick collapse Sussex’s faint victory hopes needed.
Sangakkara edged though the vacant second slip on 78 and was fortunate Zaidi could not get under his lofted drive on 149, but what came in between was class. His third 50 came off 55 deliveries.
Collingwood almost did for him on 115, the latest Durham batsman to imperil the star turn between the wickets. Had Ed Joyce hit the stumps from square on, Sangakkara would have been a goner.
He made the most of his reprieve, a flick of the wrists despatching Luke Wright over the short boundary for six, and hitting another maximum off Zaidi.
Durham’s biggest individual score this season left Sangakkara with a Durham average of 57.67, well short of Mike Hussey’s 76.71, but comparable with overseas exports Michael Di Venuto (54.33), Martin Love (57.33) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul (58.26). His legacy will not be measured in the scorebook, though.
“It’s been refreshing to talk about cricket a lot more in the dressing room,” Collingwood commented, only half-joking.
“It’s been great to have him in the dressing room the last few weeks, not just for the runs he’s scored in this match but to have a character like that for the younger guys to talk cricket with him, whether it’s technique or the experiences he’s had.”
There was positive, if vague, news from the scans on Graham Onions’ back, and the hope Sangakkara’s might be only temporary goodbye.
From day one Durham’s hope has been that this spell would just be a taster ahead of a longer spell when Sangakkara’s international career ends in the next year or two.
“It would be nice if we could get him in the future,” said Collingwood. “ I’m sure he’s had a good experience and we’ve certainly enjoyed him in the dressing room.”