In 2003, three Sri Lankans were charged for excessive appealing. Upul Chandana and Tillakaratne Dilshan accepted their faults in front of match referee Clive Lloyd and were fined 50 percent of match fee. The third, a brilliant law student from Kandy opted to argue his case. Lloyd was impressed but still fined him 100 percent of the match fee. That night, Lloyd, on the way to the team hotel, told the match officials that this guy was exceptional and predicted a bright future for then 26-year-old. And now, he has led to a change of tradition, after being named the first non-British president of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), an institution that has been in existence for 232 years. Kumar Sangakkara is his name.
Sangakkara sets high standards for himself in whatever he does. His father — Kshema had instilled in him the quality to strive hard to be good at whatever he is keen on doing. For 15 years, when he represented the country, Sangakkara invariably would be the first to practice and the last to leave. Off days or optional training for him never existed. It was always a case of committing himself and trying to be the best he can be.
Sangakkara's first love was tennis. He won age group championships at national level. His elder sister Saranga became the national tennis champion at the age of 15. She was national champion for four successive years. Sangakkara's dad, a lawyer by profession, demanded perfection from his children. Not just in sports but in everything they did.
Sangakkara attended the prestigious Trinity College in Kandy, the school that owns a Test venue — Asgiriya International Stadium. In 1996, he won the Ryde Gold Medal at Trinity for being the best all-round student of the year. Among the distinguished Sri Lankans to have won the award is Lakshman Kadirgamar, country's former foreign minister.
Sangakkara wasn't the most talented Sri Lankan cricketer. Both Mahela Jayawardene and him were born in the same year — 1977. When Mahela was playing under-15 cricket, people had little doubt that he would go on to represent the country one day. Sangakkara was a late bloomer. He was perhaps better known for tennis than cricket at school. He was lucky that after the 1999 World Cup debacle, Sri Lankan cricket was looking for new talents and he got a chance — probably more for his mental toughness than his cricketing skills. But, Sangakkara never looked back once the opportunity came his way. He ended his career with most runs for Sri Lanka in both Test and ODI cricket. Safe to say, his Test average of 57.40 is unlikely to be overtaken by a Sri Lankan for a very long time. Whoever overtakes it, would have to work harder than Sangakkara.
The coaches and support staff who worked with Sri Lanka would vouch that Sangakkara and throw downs at training can be a nightmare. He is never satisfied, always fine tuning skills and wanting to be better. At 2015 World Cup, his last ODI tournament, Sangakkara smashed four hundreds in a row. He had trained specifically for the event unleashing a repertoire of strokes not seen in his career before, like the paddle sweep, ramp shot and even the scoop.
Sangakkara had an average record in England as he struggled against the moving ball. In nine Tests, he had averaged 30 in England with just one hundred. In 2014, ahead of his last tour to England, Sangakkara didn't want to leave anything to chance. He skipped the IPL and instead signed for a brief stint with English county Durham. Playing county cricket in the early summer stood him in good stead. What followed was tremendous success as he came up with scores of 147, 61, 79 and 55 in a two-match Test series. The hundred was at Lord's and soon his name went up on the honours board. His dad was the happiest.
Reading is Sangakkara's favourite hobby. Not just about sports, but anything that he can get hold of, from economics, philosophy, politics, literature to art. His library has an impressive collection of books with Oscar Wilde and Sigmund Freud being his favourite. He has gone through Mike Brearley's 'The Art of Captaincy' several times as well and those ideas along with other learnings have been well used during his stint as captain.
The 41-year-old captained Sri Lanka for less than two years but it was a highly successful period with them reaching the finals of two World Cups — T20s and 50 overs. In between, Sri Lanka won T20I and ODI series in Australia for the first time and a whole lot of young players were introduced to the side — Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Thisara Perera and Dimuth Karunaratne.
Sangakkara has been associated with MCC for some time now. In 2011, he was invited by late journalist Christopher Martin-Jenkins, who was the president of MCC at that point, to deliver the Cowdrey Lecture. Sri Lanka were touring England that summer and he spent days preparing for the lecture and delivered a masterpiece that attracted the wrath of his government.
In 2011, he was awarded honorary life membership of MCC. The same year, he joined MCC's world cricket committee and has been instrumental in recommending some vital changes for the playing conditions.
For all its charm, Lord's can be a snobbish place, starting from the attitude of the stewards. Britain has broken an age-old tradition by choosing a non-British to head cricket's most famous club. Sangakkara previously had turned down high profile postings — the government offered him a diplomatic posting to be Sri Lanka's high commissioner to United Kingdom in 2015. He would have carefully weighed the pros and cons of the potion before accepting it.
Like he did with his nation's cricket team, Sangakkara will strive to make MCC and Lord's a better place than what was handed to him. Lord's is by far the premier cricket venue in the world and offers an unique experience for both players and spectators. While trying to maintain it, he will be required to give leadership to take the sport forward as MCC are the guardians of laws of cricket. Introducing measures to ensure that the game continues to be played in the right spirit and handing over it to the next generation without losing its global appeal will be paramount for him as well.
Sangakkara is also heavily involved in charity work, conducting several programs in his native Sri Lanka, helping the poor and the sick. He will also look to expand MCC's charitable exercises.
It has been tough two weeks for his countrymen following the Easter Sunday bombings. The news of Sangakkara becoming MCC president brought smiles back on Sri Lankans' faces. After all, he is the country's most favourite son.
During troubled times, his countrymen will do well to remember his words during the Cowdrey Lecture nine years ago. "I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan."