As he enters retirement, Sam Pilger talks to Kumar Sangakkara about his magnificent career and the highs and lows that came with it…
Over the course of your long and successful career, what stands out as your favourite memory?
KS: I was so lucky to play for so long. I have been so, so fortunate to play with and against so many great players. I relished those great challenges of trying to win Test matches in India, or trying to beat Australia in Australia. I was fortunate to play in an era where there was Murali, Chaminda Vaas, Jayasuriya, Sachin, Dada (Sourav Ganguly), Dravid, Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Kumble, Harbhajan, all the great Aussies like Hayden, Ponting and Gilchrist. I played with so many greats, and many became friends. I have scored runs, won tournaments and trophies, but the best moments were in the dressing room, and all the chit-chat. Just the small things like travelling on the bus together, and listening to Murali talk non-stop for four hours.
Can you pick out your best moment on the pitch?
KS: It has to be 2014 Dhaka, and finally winning a world trophy. It was really special, and a relief. This was the fifth chance, my fifth final and I finally got over the line. It was a wonderful moment to win the T20 World Cup.
How about your favourite innings throughout your career?
KS: It was not a century, no, it has to be when I scored 74 in my second ever series against South Africa, in Durban in December 2000. This was my first Test away from home. This was the first time
I thought maybe I could play Test cricket. It was very important to get that feeling, and to get that confidence.
What was the lowest moment of your career?
KS: I have four World Cup finals to choose from! Any of those would certainly qualify as the lowest moment.
But you won the Champions Trophy in 2002. Does that offer you some consolation?
KS: The 2002 tournament was very special, as it was the first time I had reached a final. It was disappointing that the rain ruined it. I didn’t get too many runs myself in the tournament. In the first final we batted first and got over 240, back then you would fancy yourself to win if you got that much. It was a challenge; India had a great side with Sachin and Dravid. But the rain came, and I was happy to share it.
Do you have any regrets from your career? Was there something you would have liked to have achieved?
KS: You always have times when you look back and think about what might have been, but I have to be honest, I am pretty happy with my career when I look back. Regrets are really not a big part of my career, how could they be? The good memories far outweigh the bad memories.
Who was the best bowler you faced in your international career?
KS: I would say Shane Warne, Zaheer Khan and Graeme Swann would be the top three on my list. I found them all very difficult for their variation, their control, and their skill. Luckily, I didn’t face Wasim Akram too many times.
Who was the best captain you played under?
KS: There have been a few for me. Sanath Jayasuriya had an amazing knack for winning games; he was great to play under, and gave me lots of support. Mahela Jayawardene was also a great captain. And Angelo Matthews too, people forget how good his record is. The tour he captained to England in 2014 was exceptional. That was my last tour, and was one of my best.
How have you enjoyed playing at The Oval this season?
KS: It is a wonderful place to play cricket with so much history. The first Test ever was played there. It is amazing to walk through the gates and play on that historic field. It is also the best ground to watch One-Day and T20 cricket. You are right there in the action. The Oval doesn’t have the stiffness and formality that others have.
What advice would you give players about playing at The Oval?
KS: It is one of the best pitches in England. If you’re a batsman you will enjoy it. You just need to be patient, take a little bit of time, because the longer you spend there, the more runs you will make. It really is a fantastic pitch.
Over the last ten years, how has the emergence of T20 influenced one-day cricket?
KS: T20 has had a huge impact on the one-day game, with fielding standards, power hitting and a complete change of mind set. I love both formats.
Who is the leading player in the world at the moment?
KS: Virat Kohli stands head and shoulder above the rest of the world, certainly in the one-day game. Maybe Joe Root and Kane Williamson are marginally ahead of him in Test cricket. But Virat will overtake them very, very soon. He wants to challenge himself, and get even better. He wants to do well in England, because he missed out last time. He is a very passionate player, and I love that.
Which young emerging players do you most admire?
KS: I really like Hardik Pandya. He is very relaxed, and slightly different to the usual mode of Asian players. There then is Kusal Mendis from Sri Lanka, who has a lot of potential and can be a great player.