Easily the most well-read cricketer to have emerged from the Sri Lankan shores, Kumar Sangakkara leapfrogged all batting greats from the small Island with his sheer tenacity and mental strength, the ability to churn hundred after hundred in an astounding Test career that has already included 130 Tests.
The Sri Lankan summer of 2015 is going to bring down the curtain on his international stint, and Sangakkara will be looking for one final hurrah against his favourite whipping boys — Pakistan.
The wicketkeeper-batsman has thus far notched no less than 38 Test tons at a world-class average of 58.66. Against Pakistan, Sanga’s figures are astronomical. In 21 matches, the southpaw has amassed 2,809 runs at an average of 80.25 runs.
Sangakkara has mustered these runs through the help of 10 centuries, including three double centuries and two scores in the 190s and a 185-run knock.
The former captain has the most runs against Pakistan to go along with his record century tally. His closest rival in terms of runs scored is Sunil Gavaskar, who made 2,089 runs at just under 57 with the help of five centuries over 24 Tests.
He is 191 runs away from being the first batsman to score 3,000 Test runs against Pakistan — Gavaskar is the only other batsman to have scored more than 2,000.
The 37-year-old played his first Test against Pakistan in March 2002 — the 20th match of his career — at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium and took a liking to them straight away.
In his first 19 Tests, Sangakkara had hit hundreds against India, the West Indies and Zimbabwe. The then 24-year-old walked in to bat in the dying minutes of the first day after Waqar Younis — the Pakistan captain — had accounted for Marvan Attapatu on the first ball of the Sri Lankan innings.
But Sanath Jayasuriya’s presence at the other end eased Sangakkara’s nerves and he started caning an attack that included Shoaib Akhtar, Muhammad Sami and Shahid Afridi besides the Burewala Express.
By the time the young sensation finished, he had battered a world class attack on a greenish wicket for 230; his heroics leading his team to an eight-wicket win and the title of the Asian Test champions.
Four years later, he posted a fighting second innings century in Karachi , but the 138-run effort was ultimately in vain as Pakistan won the Test by six wickets.
The next big one came in the Colombo Test of the 2006 series — the last time Pakistan won a series in Sri Lanka — a knock of 185.
At the same venue (Sinhalese Sports Club) Sangakkara played a stoic match-saving unbeaten 130 in the fourth innings to thwart a victory thrust by the visitors in the presence of Danish Kaneria and Saeed Ajmal on the final day of the Test of the 2009 series to hand Sri Lanka their first-ever series win at home against Pakistan.
The opposition once again found the man from Kandy an immovable object in the 2011 Abu Dhabi Test.
A deficit of 314 stared the Lankans in the face and Misbahul Haq’s side, smelt blood. But in a stunning 644-minute marathon, Sanga hammered 211 to defy his opponents.
A pair of 190s scored in back-to-back games during the 2012 series at home sealed a 1-0 series win for the hosts — a second consecutive series win at home against Pakistan.
The unbeaten 199 at Galle set up a 209-run thrashing as the hosts posted 472 before dismissing the visitors cheaply in their two innings.
However, there has been some semblance of a respite in recent times and in the last 13 innings the left-hander has been kept relatively quiet by Pakistan. The numbers are still impressive, with a colossal 221 in the Galle drubbing last year standing out, but not as devastating as they once were.
The visitors had hoped for at least a draw after amassing 451 in their first dig but those hopes evaporated quickly after Sanga’s double took the Sri Lankans to 533-9. Pakistan collapsed inexplicably on the last day to hand a seven-wicket win to the hosts.
The breakdown of the 10 centuries is also a tale on its own. Three were scored in wins, six in draws (including two match-saving ones) and only one in a losing cause.
The veteran Misbah is reportedly ‘tired’ of watching Sanga dismantling his bowlers almost every time he confronts them in Tests, with the 41-year old joking that if Sanga was playing the 2015 series he would prefer to stay on the sidelines.
The Galle Test begins on June 17; the series can well be a bittersweet moment for Misbah and his charges. Bitter, because Sanga might once again stand in their way and sweet because they won’t have to endure his wrath after this.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2015.