SRI LANKAN OF THE YEAR
LMD’s Sri Lankan Of The Year 2019 Kumar Sangakkara is a true son of the soil and among the noblest citizens of them all; a living cricket legend who’s done the nation proud.
Son of the Soil
Kumar Sangakkara is only the second Sri Lankan to win LMD’s annual award twice
Little did we think back in December 1994 – when LMD took the bold step to nominate its Sri Lankan Of The Year (SLOTY) for the first time with our pioneering spirit tested only for a few months – that this award would not only be emulated by others but also rank among the nation’s foremost awards someday.
On the other hand, when one of the nation’s revered foreign ministers graciously accepts an award from a fledgling media house for the first time, it provides the inspiration to do so every year – even as it turns out, we may have erred on more than one occasion.
Sri Lankabhimanya Lakshman Kadirgamar was not only LMD’s first SLOTY but the only Sri Lankan to win the award twice (the second time, posthumously)… until this year.
Kadirgamar’s master class is emulated by a fellow Trinitian who also studied law until he donned his cricketing gear and stunned the world of cricket with stupendous feats, both on and off the field. And like the late foreign minister, he is one of a handful of Sri Lankans whose eloquence stands out in any part of the world.
Kumar Sangakkara was first nominated not for necessarily his obvious cricketing prowess; it followed his sterling oration at the home of cricket in 2011 where the then 34-year-old was invited to deliver the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture – and he not only took our cricket administration by storm but won plaudits from the international cricketing community for having the guts to ‘say it as it is.’
Writing in The Guardian the next day, Andy Bull had this to say: “‘Incredible,’ muttered the old MCC member sitting behind me, his voice cracking in disbelief as the applause died down. Listening to him, it struck me how well Kumar Sangakkara’s speech had gone down. Especially as just an hour earlier, the same man had confessed that he had no idea who Sangakkara was.”
Ironically perhaps, Sangakkara’s SLOTY nomination this year also has its roots at cricket’s headquarters – for he was recently appointed President of the Lord’s based Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and is the first foreigner to be invited to run cricket’s governing body.
Kumar Sangakkara has worn the hat of Sri Lanka’s foremost image builder or brand ambassador for a decade and more, and inspired Sri Lankans from all walks of life, all ethnicities, all faiths and much more to keep their faith in our precious land when far too many of those who call themselves ‘the top brass’ have done quite the opposite.
Most recently, when the Council for Business with Britain felicitated Sangakkara’s appointment at the MCC, the man of the moment simply had this to say: “All of us think we can change the world. We always think that we’re doing great things. But the greatest thing you can do to change the world is to change lives. Because through that… maybe one of them will change the world for you.”
Well, we’re inclined to say that if not the world, LMD’s 2019 Sri Lankan Of The Year has changed his country like few others have done – and may he go from strength to strength… for the sake of Mother Lanka.
The Noblest Sri Lankan of Them All
Wijith DeChickera profiles LMD’s Sri Lankan Of The Year for 2019
Some people are born great. Others achieve greatness. A rare few have it thrust upon them. And with Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara – as with many other achievements in a stellar cricketing career and larger-than-life persona – it is a sublime blend of all three elements.
Well perhaps I exaggerate; but only a little…
For ‘Sanga’ (as he is best and most popularly known) was not ‘to the manor born’ or with a silver spoon in his mouth. In fact, the stalwart lad from the central hill country’s salubrious climes had to work hard to win his spurs.
First at Trinity – for long and recently recognised as ‘the best school of all’ (if we are to take its anthem at face value, that is!). Then in school cricket and the club circuit – Nondescripts Sports Club (NCC) in particular. And last but by no means least, on the world stage where he has shone so bright.
Only those who have struggled to ascend and dwell in the bright sunlit uplands of fame and fortune will be able to relate to the sterling lad who wields the willow like he was Sir Galahad in pursuit of a cricketing Holy Grail.
But it was not all guts and glory alone in the summer game. If the salutary adage of the old schools – mens sana in corpore sano (healthy mind in a healthy body) – is to mean anything, it must be significant that this Trojan on Trinitian fields was also a scholar in the schoolrooms of his alma mater.
Let his ‘Lion’ tell that tale…
That Sanga’s athletic prowess is legendary – he’s no mean opponent with a tennis racket, we’re told, nor any sort of a slouch in a plethora of sporting stakes – almost goes without saying. This however, is not a yarn spun by a hagiographer: full of sound and fury, signifying perhaps nothing much more than shy adulation or sycophantic accolades.
With Sanga, as with his legion of fans and admirers, that wouldn’t wash. Rather, it’s about a measured assessment of the man, his milieu and panoply of credentials for admittance to another exclusive club…
THE WORLD IS HIS STAGE Not the prestigious Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) but yes, that too – and especially that! Not that good wine needs any bush. With that said, it would be remiss not to mention an achievement that gladdened the hearts of all Sri Lankans.
The unprecedented turn of events that brought about Sangakkara’s recent investiture as the first non-British President of the MCC will always be remembered as halcyon days. That previous incumbents have included a brace of British prime ministers as well as dukes and earls – to say nothing of English cricket captains – puts this honour in context and places our man in Blighty on a high pedestal.
But Sanga’s October appointment to the hallowed portals of England’s most exclusive sports bastion – politically, culturally and cricketing-wise – is no autumn shower. There is a long visual and verbal trail of accomplishments to back up or bolster this ascendancy.
He’s a life member of the MCC. As charismatic a commentator on the international cricket circuit as he was a swashbuckling gladiator in the arena. And his peers and opponents in the box as much as barracking stands treat him with honour if not a healthy respect for this doughty champ.
OUR LAND IS HIS LOVE But Kumar being Kumar, he would be the first to say that the international recognition redounds not only to himself but the land of his birth, origin and belonging.
Was it not this true son of Sri Lanka who brought a tear to even a cynical eye with his stirring oration at Lord’s not many moons ago with his eloquent essay on our own emerald isle while delivering the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture in 2011?
“I am a Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity; and always, proudly Sri Lankan,” he said.
Indeed, he was LMD’s Sri Lankan Of The Year in 2011 too – for having said it as it was… and perhaps still is.
And he has lived like he meant it then, means it now, and intends making a meaningful mantra and maxim of it – for himself and his demonstrably widening circle of influence. Take a dekko at his Facebook fansites or Twitter feed and you’ll see how firm this patriot’s truly national batting stance is.
And it’s not an uncritical love either – for patriotism (like nationalism defined narrowly in ethnoreligious or sociocultural terms) can be the first and last refuge of the scoundrel.
On the other hand, this flamboyant and outspoken personality has managed to showcase all that is admirable about the land of his birth, while speaking truth to power where its leaders and would-be role models have failed.
Let’s not forget the ministerial and administrative flak with which Sanga was shelled when he critiqued alleged corruption in Sri Lanka Cricket’s ranks!
THIS TITLE IS DUE There are many noble Romans (the term referring to a breed of citizen and redolent with staunch republicanism) who have refused the crown. Some like Mark Antony of Julius Caesar fame, for the wrong reasons.
Others such as the less-known Cincinnatus who returned the rods of the fasces, which denoted the investment of dictatorship in him by the senate and people of Rome, because he wanted to retire and tend his garden in a just cause.
Is it too much to essay that Kumar is the noblest ‘Roman’ of them all?
And so Sanga – like the legendary Jon Snow of Game of Thrones fame – has said ‘no’ to the mantle of potential national saviour.
More power to him! Why he would spurn the purple offered to him by those who would see our beloved country rescued by a knight in shining armour is anyone’s guess. But in the end, it is a right as well as business that’s entirely his own.
One can only hope that he would deign to accept this time-honoured token of LMD’s trusteeship of a sort… one that says: you were born to it; achieved it; jolly well deserve it.
What ‘Sir Kumar’ will do with his SLOTY sword is also his prerogative – and no one else’s. But one may feel that as with many other blades placed in his potent hands, he will wield it as a weapon to champion the just cause in his time.
And one suspects that ‘Lord Sangakkara’ will gallantly hold the bridge, storm those bastions and deliver the fair maiden of Lanka from its durance vile… in his time… in his way.
|THE OTHER SIDE OF A HERO AND HERALD OF HOPE
Kumar Sangakkara has a plethora of accomplishments to his credit apart from his prowess as a brand ambassador for our isle in general and against the narcotics menace in particular. His panoply of awards places him in a super-national league, which pantheon includes Olympians Duncan White and Julian Bolling who brought fame and glory to their homeland.
Somehow, he has managed to eschew the shame and stigma that often controversially dog the heels of international recognition.
Be that as it may, it’s as an advocate for sportsmanship and amateur diplomat of sorts that he’s won as many accolades on the field (“The most polished and prudent of batsmen” – Peter Roebuck) as off.
Every inch an empath who seems to want to give back as much as he has received in life, Sangakkara’s hats are many and his heart is large. Close to his career path, he is a member of the Think Wise Initiative (aimed at championing HIV/AIDS awareness and combatting discrimination against those affected) as well as a partner in a charity committed to ‘capacity building’ in Sri Lanka’s rural communities.
Partner of Yehali, and father of twins Kavith and Swyree, this family man is a bold visionary whom fortune has favoured. Perhaps his words could be prophetic: “We should not allow fear and anxiety to stop us from doing something. If you think through it well enough and pre-pare thoroughly, you can do a lot of things you think you can’t.”
|OTHERS WHO HAVE LED THE MCC IN THEIR TIME
The adage has it that men are known by the company they keep. If this is the measure of the MCC’s yardstick, Sangakkara – short of being knighted or ennobled – will have an opportunity to walk with kings while striving not to lose the common touch.
Those who have served as President of the MCC – the mecca of England’s gentlemen’s game – comprise a veritable who’s who of summer sportsmanship as much as statesmanship.
They include a royal (Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh); dukes (10); marquesses (5); earls (a whopping 39); viscounts (17 including one Speaker of the House of Commons); barons (19); baronets (8); knights (8 with a Lord Mayor of London and Tim Rice of Andrew Lloyd-Webber fame); judges (6); career diplomats (3); British Army officers (34 in whose ranks are a Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Chiefs of General and Defence Staffs, and at one time the Admiral of the Fleet); and numerous colonial governors and governors general.
Of course, there are cricketers of every stripe too: amateur, first-class and international (an unsurprising 43, with coaches and historians, and two cricket journalists, as well as the redoubtable English skippers Ted Dexter, Mikes Brearley and Gatting, and Peter May). Sir Pelham (‘Plum’) Warner is there as are Colin Cowdrey and Tom Graveney.
A brace of British prime ministers who helmed MCC’s destiny were Stanley Baldwin and Alec Douglas-Home. The list stars a dozen or so secretaries of state, and Lords Chancellor and Chamberlain.
In all, 86 of 157 (that’s nearly 55%) MCC presidents were politicians. Here is something that may give Sanga food for thought before a future opportunity peters out?
If you’ve seen his cover drive, you’ve lived. But a panoply of other strokes would serve equally well to transport you to a cricketer’s paradise – for Kumar Sangakkara was the classic stylist who put a dash of elan into virtually every stroke he played.
From being described as one of the most polished and prudent batsmen to demigod status as not only one of the world’s most influential cricketers but also ‘one of the greatest batsmen of all time’ is not a hard slog to an all-rounder of Sanga’s calibre.
A left-handed top order batsman, he’s also a record-breaking wicketkeeper. Sangakkara retired from the game as the second highest run scorer in ODIs and sixth highest in Test cricket.
In a spectacular 15 year career, the prolific batsman amassed 28,016 runs in international cricket to his credit and dominated the top slot in the ICC’s Test batting rankings for almost a decade.
Far from being a cavalier soloist, Sangakkara is a considerate partner. He co-starred in many formidable partnerships with longtime teammate and close friend Mahela Jayawardene. The duo holds numerous batting records in all formats of the game.
A team player for all the splendour given his leadership, Sangakkara was a key member of the teams that won the 2014 ICC World Twenty20, and starred in the finals of the 2007 and 2011 ICC Cricket World Cups, as well as the 2009 and 2012 ICC World Twenty20s. Sangakkara was Man of the Match in the final of the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 – he was after all, instrumental in Sri Lanka winning its first T20 title.
Kumar, Sangakkara made an impact from his early days, having featured in his alma mater Trinity’s under 13, 15, 17, 19 and first XI squads. And he was awarded the Trinity ‘Lion’ – the Kandy school’s most prestigious prize awarded to a sportsman – for his exceptional batting and wicketkeeping in 1996.
Sangakkara was selected for the Sri Lanka A team’s tour to South Africa in 1998/99 where his unbeaten 156 against Zimbabwe A in a One-Day match won him a place in the national side a year later.
Sanga has gone from early strengths to iconic status: he is the fastest to reach 8,000, 9,000, 11,000 and 12,000 runs in Test cricket, and joint fastest to 10,000. He was the ICC’s Cricketer of the Year and its Test Cricketer of the Year in 2012, and ODI Cricketer of the Year in 2011 and 2013.
He has also won the LG People’s Choice Award twice (2011 and 2012) and LMD’s Sri Lankan Of The Year award in 2011, and was Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World in its 2015 edition. And to cap it all, Sangakkara was voted the Greatest ODI Player of all time in a public poll conducted by Cricket Australia in 2016.
The plethora of awards reflects the suave gentleman’s many achievements. Since space constrains their mention in full, suffice it to select the following as being representative: a record-breaking 624 run partnership with Jayawardene in Test cricket; Sri Lanka’s highest ODI run scorer, the record for ODI wicketkeeping dismissals; and the first batsman to score more than 150 in four consecutive Tests – and there are a legion more…
And to cap it all, his count of double centuries in Test cricket (11) is second only to the legendary Don Brandman (12).
Upon his retirement, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation recognised Kumar Sangakkara as the Player of the Century, citing many of his past achievements. Despite state TV’s usual hyperbole, Sangakkara – who has steadfastly refused his public’s entreaties to essay an innings in politics – may have felt it wasn’t unwarranted.
|Reproduced from the limited edition coffee-table book – Lions of Sri Lanka (Cricket Edition) – published by LMD in May this year, in which Kumar Sangakkara is featured as being among the 30 greatest cricketers produced by Sri Lanka.
NOTE To purchase the book, use the following link to our e-commerce site The LMD Mall – https://bit.ly/2oaKyHA