Rahul Dravid and Kumar Sangakkara have been two individuals with a lot of similarities. The first and foremost being that both have been the pillars of the batting line-ups of their respective teams. The two have been great ambassadors for the sport as a whole, and their attitude is an example for millions across the globe. The two gentlemen remain gracious even in defeat, and when they win, it’s just a million dollar smile that does the trick.
When Kumar Sangakkara recently called it a day, it was obvious that Dravid, himself a legend, wouldn’t step back from paying tributes to the great Sri Lankan. In his article for ESPN Cricinfo, Dravid showered praises on Sangakkara and thanked him for being a great ambassador of te game.
“He didn’t let himself get complacent. From whatever I heard of him from those who have played with him, he is a thorough professional,” wrote Dravid in his column. “What a cricketer he was. Even before I first played him, in an ODI in Sharjah in 2000 and then a full Test series in Sri Lanka the next year, I had heard of this dashing young wicketkeeper-batsman who was going to take over from Romesh Kaluwitharana. When we played him in a Test for the first time, I knew this guy was going to be around for a while. He was not your run-of-the-mill wicketkeeper-batsman. He was a proper batsman who could keep wicket really well. In that first Test, he scored an excellent hundred (the first of his Test career) against us – and he hasn’t stopped since.”
Dravid continued, writing, “I went on to become captain and had the unenviable task of planning how to get Sangakkara out. When we sit in our team meetings, we look for weaknesses in batsmen and make plans to prey on them. The best of them had weaknesses. With Sangakkara, though, we would spend hours wracking our brains. There wasn’t a lot you could throw at him. There was no apparent weakness in his game. Maybe you could tire him out with the big gloves, and then get him in early, but he still averaged 41 when keeping wicket, and when he gave up the gloves he averaged close to 70, next only to Don Bradman.”
“Once I crossed the age of about 34, I realised I had to work much harder on my body to meet the challenges of international cricket, which is getting physically more demanding by the day. From personal experience I know it would have taken a lot of dedication, hunger and desire, in addition to his ability, for him to have scored 17 centuries and averaged 63 over the last five years of his career. What a big inspiration he must have been for the youngsters towards the end – just for them to be able to watch him go about his fitness routines, his preparations,” wrote the former Indian captain in his column.
Dravid also mentioned the way youngsters could look up to Sangakkara for inspiration. “Another thing the youngsters could learn from Sangakkara is his toughness. Although we never faced that side of him – at least, I don’t remember doing so – he could be cheeky with his gamesmanship and his sledging. He was a tough competitor. He was never shy of a word. He liked to fight back. He was not scared of competing and he didn’t make an apology of it. He was a tough competitor on the field, which is how it should be. India and Sri Lanka, though, have not played their cricket in the manner where competitiveness comes down to sledging. A lot of the credit there should go to some of the senior players on both sides, Sangakkara included.”
Finally, Dravid concluded his article by writing, “Back to how to get him out. Now that he is retiring, I can give out the secret: there isn’t one! The only weakness we could work out was, he tended to play across the line early in his innings. We tried to get him out that way by bowling full and straight, trying to bring the ball back in, but that’s clutching at straws really. It shows in his record against us, and against others. You had to get him out early. Otherwise, you had to be really patient, try to frustrate him by bowling dry. Attacks have tried all these tricks, but such amazing consistency over a 15-year-long career shows that nothing has worked against him for long.”