With 12,400 runs in 134 Tests at an average of 57.41, Sangakkara might be ahead in the number game against Clarke, who has 8,643 runs in 115 Tests at an average of 49.1, but there is no denying that the latter’s contribution to the Australian side is in any way less than the former’s for Lanka.
August 23. The Oval, London. Australia had lost the Ashes but managed to win the last Test by an innings and 46 runs. It was the last walk in the park for Michael Clarke (and batsman Chris Rogers) in whites and the baggy green. ‘Pup’, as the skipper is lovingly called, was all smiles—if losing the Ashes hurt, he did not show it much. His ‘farewell speech’ was more like a chat during the post-match presentation. Customary hugs and ovation, and Clarke walked into the sunset.
August 24. P. Sara Oval, Colombo. The words just flowed, it seemed, directly from Kumar Sangakkara’s heart in his farewell speech, as effortlessly and flawlessly as he would caress the leather into the cover region or transfer his weight to the back foot to launch into his trademark pull or the hook. There was no chit in his hands to take a peek. He forgot to mention his wife and the children by name in his farewell speech. He was never an organised person, by his own admission, except in his batting.
Test cricket had bid adieu to two cricketing stalwarts in two days, with tributes pouring in from fans and players alike. If the social media stats are anything to go by, Sangakkara was the clear favourite. While #ThankYouSanga reached almost 30 lakh Twitter accounts between August 18 and 25, #ThanksMichael managed to reach only around 2 lakh accounts. The exposure (frequency of tweets covering the hashtag) was also high for #ThankYouSanga—almost 33 lakh impressions compared to 2 lakh for #ThanksMichael during the same period.
But then, as Professor Aaron Levenstein famously said, “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital”. With 12,400 runs in 134 Tests at an average of 57.41, Sangakkara might be ahead in the number game against Clarke, who has 8,643 runs in 115 Tests at an average of 49.1, but there is no denying that the latter’s contribution to the Australian side is in any way less than the former’s for Lanka. In 2011, Clarke took over the reins of the team, which had lost its aura of invincibility after the retirement of the greats like Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh and later, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Hussey. True, he could not replicate the feats of his illustrious predecessors, but he managed to lead the team to a World Cup win earlier this year, an Ashes victory in 2013-14 and no. 1 Test team ranking. That he leaves the game as Australia's fourth highest run-scorer behind Ricky Ponting, Allan Border and Steve Waugh, despite a chronic back ailment, speaks volumes of his talent and determination. Clarke played his cricket hard and was not, perhaps, the most popular guy in the dressing room and on the field, but he was a true fighter.
Sangakkara, on the other hand, was an epitome of everything that made cricket “a gentleman’s game”. Passionate but honest on the field (one of the few batsmen who ‘walked’), gracious in defeat and humble even to the ground staff, he was a role model for cricketers worldwide. He and Mahela Jayawardene carried the batting order on their shoulders for close to a decade, with Sangakkara donning the wicketkeeping gloves, too. When the president and the prime minister of the country turn up to bid farewell to a cricketer, you know he is special.
India might have spoiled his farewell party by winning the second Test to level the three-match series at 1-1, but the true sportsman that he is, Sangakkara thanked the Indian team “for giving no quarter” to him in his last series. Only 95 runs in his last four innings must have hurt him more than anybody else, but then, not every story has a fairytale ending.