Sri Lanka have produced many highly talented batsmen over the last couple of decades, from Aravinda de Silva to Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu to Mahela Jayawardene. Another name that would easily slot into this category is that of Kumar Sangakkara. The elegant left-hander with his magnificent figures can lay claim to being Sri Lanka's best ever. Whether that is indeed the case can be a subject of great debate. However, no one can confront the fact that Sangakkara is one of the modern greats, not only of Sri Lankan cricket, but of world cricket as a whole. His penchant for big runs and unwavering consistency stand testimony to the same.
Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene came into the Sri Lankan side as the team was getting ready to enter a transitional phase. The euphoria of the defining 1996 World Cup triumph was beginning to die down. Two heroes of that triumph, Arjuna Ranatunga and de Silva, were on their last wings as far as their international careers were concerned. Also, wicket-keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana hadn't quite built on his success in the World Cup. He was beginning to become a liability on the side, and was no longer an indispensable part of the side. It was still difficult to displace him, but Sangakkara did.
The elegant left-hander came into the team in 2000, just a couple of years after Jayewardene's entry, as an elegant left-hander who was equally good with the bat as he was behind the stumps. Those were the days when Adam Gilchrist was already beginning to make his presence felt as a dashing wicket-keeper bat, who could play match-winning knocks. In terms of aggression, Kaluwitharana was equal to Gilchrist, but he did not have the consistency. This is where Sangakkara stepped in. He was not as spectacular as his Aussie counterpart when it came to strokeplay, but he got the runs needed and did his job behind the wickets without being noticed.
What was most amazing about Sangakkara was his transformation from a steady wicket-keeper bat to a legend. He began slowly, but gradually developed into one of the best the world has ever seen. While Sangakkara was a consistent batsman right from the start, it was the team management's decision to take the gloves away from him that really transformed his career, and in a way, bettered Lanka's fortunes. This is something the retiring batsman has himself admitted. Ever since the responsibility of wicket-keeping was taken away from Sangakkara, he could concentration on his batting solely. And the results were for all to see.
If there is one aspect that differentiaes Sangakkara from Jayawardene, it was his success away from home. With all due respect to Jayawardene, he could never get his act together in countries like Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa. Sangakkara, on the other hand, scored runs everywhere, and big one at that, even famously leading the Lankans to a victory at Durban with the bat. Over the last five years, few batsmen have been able to match Sangakkara's consistency. Even as Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting bowed out struggling, Sangakkara has remained prolific. That would be the legacy of Kumar Sangakkara -- the last link to Sri Lanka's golden era.
-- By A Cricket Analyst