Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have for long been the pillars of Sri Lankan batting. In most evaluations, the left-handed Sangakkara will remain ahead of his close friend and fellow Sri Lankan great, and justifiably so. However, Arunabha Sengupta says that in major tournament finals it is Jayawardene who steals a march over the classy southpaw.
The two exemplary men have been the bulwarks of Sri Lankan batting for years – the august stepping stones on which the island’s cricket has ascended from the promising to world class.
From the late 1990s to the current day Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara have lent the finishing touches to the craft of the Lankan bat, combining indigenous talent of the island with the blueprint of international class.
Their contribution is seldom disputed, but it is generally concluded Sangakkara is the classier of the two.
While pedigree is aplenty in Jayawardene’s batting, Sangakkara operates in a plane that has remained exclusive to the sublime greats of the game. Jayawardene crosses the threshold of greatness with his Test average touching 50, but doubts remain about his ability away from the familiar surfaces of the island nation.
But, the brilliant numbers that surround Sangakkara have no such loophole – his average after 122 Tests has crossed 58, a realm of a rare breed of brilliant batsmen.
When we take away the 48 Tests he was burdened with the bigger gloves, his remaining 74 outings have earned him a mind-boggling 8034 runs at 69.86 and 28 hundreds. He is perhaps the most underrated phenomenon of the cricket world.
In One Day Internationals (ODI) too Sangakkara leads Jayawardene by about 1000 runs, in spite of playing 369 matches to the latter’s 412. The averages are eloquent in the difference – Sangakkara’s 40.45 to Jayawardene’s 33.17.
However, there seems to be one area where the elegant Jayawardene remains a few steps ahead of his close friend and fellow sculptor of the destiny of Sri Lankan cricket. This was amply demonstrated in that spectacular hundred essayed in the final of the 2011 World Cup at Mumbai, and more recently the 75 in the final of the Asia Cup.
It seems that when the stakes are really high, Jayawardene raises his game to that higher level, which underlines his stature as a big match player. The same cannot really be said about Sangakkara.
In tournament finals, the seven point difference between the averages of the two men is reduced to a rather insignificant one run. Jayawardene, in the 32 finals he has featured in, hikes up his batting average to 38.03 from his overall 33.17, with the help of a hundred and 10 fifties.
Sangakkara’s performance, in contrast, goes down a notch in the title round. His 27 finals have seen him score at 39.34 with 11 fifties – a small dip from the career figure of 40.45.
If we zoom in on their records even further, we find that the bigger the occasion gets, the broader becomes Jayawardene’s blade, while perhaps chinks and crevices make their way into Sangakkara’s classy willow.
In major tournaments involving five and more teams, both the players have appeared in the same seven finals. It is on these occasions that Jayawardene excels way beyond his benchmark, while Sangakkara falls rather short of the enormous expectations.
These showdowns include title round clashes in two World Cups, three Asia Cups and two finals of the same Champions Trophy tournament. Jayawardene has 298 runs at 49.66 at a strike rate of 86.62 in these matches. Sangakkara trails far behind, with 239 runs at 34.14 at a strike rate of 70.29.
Yes, as a batsman Sangakkara has few peers in Test cricket, and will perhaps go down as one of the best of the modern era if not the very best. Jayawardene will stand as the co-architect of the structure of the Sri Lankan batting, but a lesser light in the dazzling brilliance across the batting firmament of the world. In the ODIs as well, the overall record of the southpaw will remain ahead by some furlongs.
Yet, on the biggest of stages, with much to play for, and a laurel to secure for the Sri Lankan crown, Mahela Jayawardene does produce the finest of his innings, with every run worth its weight in gold. He remains an unique asset in the Sri Lankan story.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)