Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara was born on October 27, 1977 in Matale, the youngest in a family of four. He grew up in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s hill-country capital, his family house overlooking the town’s lake and close to the Tennis Club, a favourite hideout in his childhood.
His father, Kshema, also a keen sportsman (who still assiduously analyses his son’s game and offers advice), was an eminent lawyer and a very well-respected member of the local community. His deep love of literature, law, philosophy and art was adopted by his children, all of whom were encouraged to pursue a broad-based education.
The family has a strong educational background with his sister, Thushari, completing a degree at the University of Peradeniya, and his elder brother, Vemendra, completing a degree at Monash University. His other sister, Saranga, was a national tennis champion and played tennis for Brown University in the United States. She completed a fashion degree, worked as a business analyst for Pricewaterhouse Coopers and now lives in Los Angeles.
KUMAR AT SCHOOL
Kumar’s tertiary education was cut short by his cricket career. Keen to follow in his father’s footsteps, he had enrolled at the University of Colombo to complete a Bachelor of Law. But his selection for the Sri Lanka A tour to South Africa in 1998 was the start of a hectic tour schedule that left less and less time for personal study. He still wants to complete his law degree after his retirement as a professional cricketer.
As a boy, Kumar was a voracious reader, a hobby he still enjoys with his favourite author being Oscar Wilde. According to a teacher at Trinity College, a leading independent school in Kandy, he was a “rather naughty child” while growing up. However, it is clear he still had sufficient charm to keep the teachers on his side and he was much-loved within the school.
He explored a wide range of subjects and hobbies at school. He was a chorister and also learned to play the violin. His favourite subjects in school were English Literature and Greek and Roman Civilizations (GRC), and he always displayed a high interest in law. Recently, aside from his reading, he has developed a passion for collecting art.
He was the winner of the prestigious Trinity Lion Award at his school, an award for outstanding sportsmen. This was handed to him for exceptional batting and wicket-keeping during the 1996 season. He captained the Trinity College First XI and was presented with the highly prestigious RYDE Award for the most outstanding all-round schoolboy of the Year at Trinity College.
Kumar has played cricket from the age of seven years, when he joined Sunil Fernando’s private coaching classes. Sunil also used to coach Muttiah Muralitharan during these after-school classes and, although Murali was five years his senior, Kumar first met his future team-mate and friend in Fernando’s back-garden. However, Kumar only started playing cricket seriously when he was around 12 year’s old when he secured a place in the Trinity College U13 team. Thereafter, he was watched over by Bertie Wijesinghe, one of Sri Lanka’s most respected schoolboy coaches.
Kumar is an all-round sportsman who, in addition to cricket, takes a keen interest in golf and tennis. As a child he excelled at badminton, tennis, table tennis and was a good swimmer. He represented Sri Lanka Schools at tennis and could have pursued a professional career in tennis, but, aged 17, he choose instead to focus on cricket, his first sporting passion. It was a difficult decision for him to make, but in the end he enjoyed cricket more because of the camaraderie and fun of playing a team sport.
While Kumar was a prodigiously talented sportsman at school, he did not gain a particularly high profile on the school cricket circuit and he did not play for the Sri Lanka youth teams. Indeed, it was not immediately obvious that he would go on to become one of the world’s finest players when he first joined Nondescripts Cricket Club and started playing first-class cricket in the season of 1997/98.
MAKING HIS INTERNATIONAL DEBUT
However, aged 21, he managed to catch the eye of the national selectors a year later and was selected for the Sri Lanka A tour to South Africa in 1998/9. He did well enough there to gain selection for the A team’s three-match home series against Zimbabwe A in May 2000. This turned out to be a breakthrough tour as he cracked a brilliant 156 not out in the limited over series. The innings, which included one six that smashed the dressing room window, was watched by National Coach Dav Whatmore and paved the way for his inclusion in the ODI squad for the Singer Triangular Series in July 2000 with Pakistan and South Africa.
Sangakkara, aged 22, batted in Arjuna Ranatunga’s old middle-order slot and looked just at home in international cricket as the 1996 World Cup-winning captain, making 35 on debut against Pakistan. Then, in just his second match at Galle, he scored 85 from 115 balls against South Africa. Wisden noted that “Sangakkara showed maturity beyond his years”. He finished as the star of the tournament with 199 runs at 66.33. It was the start of an international journey to the very top.
Sri Lanka’s victory in the Singer Series boosted their confidence ahead of a three-match Test series with South Africa. It also encouraged the selectors to take the plunge with Sangakkara in Test cricket too. This time his performances were more modest with scores of 23 in Galle, 24 and five in Kandy and 25 and six in Colombo. The hard-fought series was drawn 1-1.
Sri Lanka’s next Test assignment was also against South Africa, this time in South Africa. It was also the start of fruitful partnership and strong friendship between Kumar and Mahela (Jayawardena). Kumar was selected as a specialist batsman and was moved up the order into the No. 3 position. He started brightly in the Boxing Day Test at Kingsmead with 74 and 17, struggled in Cape Town with 32 and 11 and then, opening the innings in place of the injured Sanath Jayasuriya, scored a brilliant 98 at Centurion before becoming the victim of a poor lbw decision.
A MAIDEN CENTURY
After being cruelly denied a maiden Test century at Centurion, he had to wait another six months to score that first century in Test cricket – which was also, bizarrely, his maiden first-class hundred too. He nearly secured it with a magnificent 95 against England at Kandy, an ill-tempered and controversial series, but lost his head against Robert Croft and was stumped. However, in August 2001, the special moment finally arrived with a determined 105 not out against India in Galle. While his partners struggled against India’s new ball attack, he soldiered on for six hours to hold the innings together. Cricinfo remarked: “He is a free-flowing stroke-maker by nature, but impressed in this innings with his adhesiveness and determination. During each break in play he practiced studiously, drilling balls into the sight screen beside the dressing room.”
He waited 15 innings for his first Test hundred but only another five innings more for his second: a 140 against West Indies in November 2001. Another century followed quickly against Zimbabwe at SSC and his international career was well and truly off and running.
The first of his eight double centuries [correct as of Oct 2011] came against Pakistan in Lahore during the Asian Test Championship final in 2002. Sri Lanka bowled out Pakistan cheaply for 234 and then piled up a huge 524 all out. Kumar was the cornerstone of the innings, scoring 230 from 327 deliveries, hitting 33 fours and one six. Sri Lanka won by eight wickets. Wisden noted: “It was the patience and determination of Kumar Sangakkara that made the difference; he batted for longer than either of Pakistan’s complete innings.”
There was a gap of 28 innings between that 230 and his next century, 270 against Zimbabwe in mid-May 2004. It was another marathon effort and heralded a mini turning-point in his career, although he made a disappointing start to his Test career against Australia in Darwin with innings of two and a duck. In Cairns, though, and the first Test of the tour by South Africa that followed, he compiled two half centuries followed by 232 in the rain-affected second Test against South Africa at SSC, his second double century of the year.
WORLD CUP DEBUT
Before that, though, Kumar played in his first World Cup in 2003, which was hosted by South Africa. While Kumar was firmly establish by now as the team’s No 3 in Test cricket and he was a regular of the ODI team, his position within the batting order was more unstable and he was moved around frequently as Sri Lanka searched for the best combination. Much of the time he batted at No 6 or even No 7, which partly explains why he did not score his first ODI century until April 2003.
During the 2003 World Cup he generally batted at No. 6 after both Hashan Tillakaratne and Aravinda de Silva were recalled for the tournament. With hindsight that might have been a mistake as Sri Lanka were brittle at the top of the order and Kumar could not make a big impact so low down the order. He scored 176 runs at 25.14 and failed to score a single fifty. Immediately after the tournament he moved up to No 3, a position in which he has since excelled, averaging close to 40.
Kumar was fortunate throughout these early years to have his childhood sweetheart, Yehali, by his side. They had been in love since the age of 17 and they later lived together in a small flat in Layard’s Road. It was no surprise when after eight years together they married in May 2003. They have been happily married ever-since and built their family home in Thalawatagoda in Colombo’s suburbs.
WAVES OF DESTRUCTION
The end of 2004 was marked by tragedy as the Asian Tsunami on Boxing Day killed thousands and destroyed the homes of millions. The terrible devastation unfolded as Sri Lanka’s players started a New Zealand tour that was soon called off. It was not a time for cricket. Kumar returned home and joined with Murali and Mahela to give what small help they could offer, travelling around the island distributing provisions and lifting flagging spirits in towns of Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Galle and Hambantota.
The Tsunami was Kumar’s first major interaction with Murali’s charity, the Foundation of Goodness (FOG), which is run by Murali’s manager Kushil Gunasekara. FOG were responsible for an enormous amount of work in the post-tsunami period, rebuilding over 1000 homes around Seenigama, a small south coast town. The charity also promotes education and grassroots sports development as well as supporting various community-building projects. Kumar later became a FOG patron.
When Sri Lanka finally returned to the international circuit they re-started their aborted New Zealand tour. Kumar failed to impress with a top score of 45 as the series was lost 1-0. But come July he was back in the runs, piling up 157 not out against the West Indies, his eighth test hundred and his first at Asgiriya International Stadium, his old school ground. It was also the only hundred of a series won 2-0 by Sri Lanka.
Kumar’s stature in world cricket had by now grown to the point where he was widely regarded alongside Adam Gilchrist as the premier wicket-keeping batsman in the world. His non-selection for the ICC Super Series Test in October 2005 therefore caused considerable surprise. However, he was selected for the Rest of the World in the three-match ODI series against Australia. He excelled too, scoring 64 in the First ODI and 61 in the Second ODI.
The long tour of India that followed the ICC Super Series, their first proper tour for eight years, proved to be one of the few low points of Kumar’s career. India won the Test series 2-0 and the ODI series 6-0. Kumar’s performance in the Test matches was below-par, the left-hander scoring just 124 runs at 24.80. In the ODI series he fared better, scoring 296 runs at 49.33, including a brilliant 138 not out in Jaipur.
However, the disappointment of the India tour, which had been plagued by injuries and selection controversies, may have been the catalyst for Sri Lanka’s improved run in 2006, which started with a fighting display in the VB Series. Sri Lanka beat South Africa to the finals with Australia and then shocked the hosts by taking a 1-0 lead. They ultimately lost, but with pride intact. Kumar was Sri Lanka’s top scorer with 469 runs at 42.63.
A NEW ERA FOR SRI LANKA’S CRICKET
After Australia, in February 2006, Sri Lanka set-off immediately to Bangladesh for a quick two-Test tour. With Marvan Atapattu struggling badly with a back injury that needed surgery, Sri Lanka needed a new captain. After some debate, Mahela was named captain and Kumar his deputy. It was supposed to be an “interim” arrangement, but in the end it turned out to be the start of a new era for Sri Lanka’s cricket.
The first highlight of 2006 was Sri Lanka’s tour to England. Sri Lanka arrived without Atapattu or Jayasuriya (who later joined) and were expected to struggle in the early-summer conditions. They did. After a miraculous escape at Lord’s they lost at Edgbaston and an England series win was on the cards. But on a sunbaked Trent Bridge pitch they bounced back to square the series. This was followed by a 5-0 rout of the shell-shocked hosts in the ODI series. Kumar played his part, scoring 231 at 38.50 in the Tests and notching up two fifties in the ODI’s.
THE WORLD RECORD PARTNERSHIP
The optimism created by their combative performance in England was followed by a record-breaking run spree against South Africa at home. Kumar, who scored 287, added an astonishing 624-run stand for the third wicket with Mahela at the Sinhalese Sports Club, the highest partnership in Test history. “Their unblinking concentration allowed for near-perfect shot-selection, and the execution was of the highest quality, the ball rarely eluding the sweetest middle of their bats,” commented Wisden.
The team soon switched to one-day mode as 2006 drew to a close and the 2007 World Cup approached. Sri Lanka prepared with ODI tours to New Zealand (drawn 2-2) and India (lost 2-1). Kumar starred in New Zealand, top scoring with 219 runs at 54.75, but had a relatively modest run in India apart from a brilliant 110 at Rajkot that helped level the series. Soon, though, they were off to West Indies and the two-month long World Cup.
Sri Lanka had an exciting World Cup campaign that continued right to the end. Kumar played an influential part, scoring 350 runs at 35 including four fifties, one of which he stroked in the grand final, which Sri Lanka lost on Duckworth Lewis after a blazing hundred from Adam Gilchrist and a rain-interrupted chase. He also excelled behind the stumps, picking up 11 catches and making four stumpings.
PLAYING COUNTY CRICKET
After the World Cup Kumar departed for his first stint playing County Cricket having been contracted with Warwickshire. The Bears, as they are known locally, had a mixed season that led to the sacking of Coach Mark Greatbatch. But Kumar was warmly received and performed well, scoring 496 runs at 49.60 with two hundreds and two fifties. Unfortunately, due to international commitments, his stay was limited to just seven first-class games.
The experience of playing County Cricket certainly appeared to help his natural game as he started a prolific run of form from mid-2007, piling huge hundreds against Bangladesh (200 not out at SSC and 222 not out at P. Sara Oval), Australia (192 at Hobart) and England (92 & 152 in Kandy). The spurt of runs lifted him past Ricky Ponting to become the No 1 batsman in the world, according to official ICC rankings in December 2007.
It was during this period too that the national selectors decided that Kumar should focus on his batting and not keep wicket during the Test matches. Although Kumar was a little reluctant at first due to the simple fact that he enjoys his wicket-keeping, the plan made sense due to the heavy physical workload of wicket-keeping, especially to Murali in Asian conditions. The results were immediate and his productivity as a specialist batsman have been second only Sir Don Bradman: his average since giving-up the gloves was 72.20 in 55 Tests as of October 2011.
CAPTAIN OF SRI LANKA
In February 2009, just before Sri Lanka’s two-Test tour to Pakistan, Mahela announced that he intended to retire from the captaincy prior to the ICC World Twenty20. Jayawardena’s surprise decision was soon followed by the unanimous appointment of Kumar as the new Sri Lanka captain in all forms of the game. Murali was appointed as his deputy.
As had been expected, Kumar quickly settled into the job. Building on the solid foundations laid by Mahela, but with his own charismatic and instinctive style, he led Sri Lanka to the finals of the ICC World Twenty20 in England. Just weeks after the team was attacked by terrorists in Lahore – where Kumar himself was hospitalized due to shrapnel wounds, Sri Lanka captured the admiration of cricket followers all around the world for the team’s passion and bravery. The team played some inspired cricket, but was ultimately outgunned in the final at Lord’s by a strong Pakistan bowling attack.
BECOMING A FATHER
Kumar and Yehali’s life together changed dramatically in 2009 when on 29 June, just days after Kumar’s return from the World Twenty20 finals, Yehali gave birth to twins: a son called Kavith Kshema Peiris Sangakkara and a daughter Swyree Kaavya Peiris Sangakkara. A new and exciting phase of Kumar’s life had begun with the twin responsibility of fatherhood and captaincy.
Despite some sleepless nights during the first few weeks after the birth of Kavith and Swyree, Kumar’s dream start as captain continued with a maiden 2-0 Test series victory against Pakistan, the first ever against Pakistan at home, a 3-2 one-day series against the same opponents, and also a Test series win against the touring New Zealanders in August 2009. Along the way, Kumar showed a natural instinct for the job, tackling hard decisions head-on and displaying a razor-sharp cricketing brain.
Under Kumar’s captaincy, Sri Lanka continued to punch above their weight and his own batting appeared to benefit with the added responsibility, averaging 10 runs more per innings in both Tests and ODIs during his tenure. In 2010, following a century against the Indians at Galle in the first Test, Kumar notched up his seventh double-century in the next game at the SSC to join Wally Hammond in third place behind Sir Don Bradman (12) and Brian Lara (9) for the most number of double centuries scored. In the third Test of that series at the P. Sara Oval Kumar also passed 8000 runs in Tests, the fastest to reach this landmark with two fewer innings than the previous record-holder, Sachin Tendulkar (154 innings).
THE 2011 WORLD CUP
In 2011 Kumar led Sri Lanka at the much-anticipated ICC Cricket World Cup (50 overs), a tournament co-hosted by Sri Lanka. The team played brilliantly but sadly stumbled at the final hurdle, losing to India in Mumbai. Kumar led from the front, averaging 93 and finishing as the tournament’s third highest run scorer, but the disappointment of losing in the final was immense and that defeat ranks as one of his greatest disappointments.
Following this World Cup, Kumar stepped down as captain, allowing the selectors to groom a successor to lead them at the World Cup in 2015 to be held in Australia. The decision was not an easy one to make which came as a shock to many people, but he had decided several months before the World Cup to relinquish the captaincy. He did offer to retain the Test captaincy for the tough series’ against England and Australia that followed the World Cup, to help the team’s new leader, but the national selectors opted to start afresh.
Shortly after the World Cup and a full season with the Deccan Chargers in IPL4, a tour of England beckoned. England was one of the few countries he had hitherto not scored a Test century and he was determined to improve his record there. It was a difficult series, though, against one of the strongest English bowling attacks in years. The team struggled, losing the first Test at Cardiff after a spectacular second-innings collapse. Kumar was also below-par in the first two Tests. Finally, in the second innings of the final Test, he scored a brilliant 119 on a lively pitch at the Rosebowl to save the game.
A STANDING OVATION
Kumar’s form continued to improve during the five-match ODI series that followed, but it was his performances as an orator that caught the attention of the world. Asked to deliver the 11th MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture, the first active player to be invited, he left a full-house at Lord’s spellbound during a brilliant 62-minute speech about the unique spirit of Sri Lanka’s cricket. His speech received a standing ovation and was lauded around the world for its insightful analysis, dry wit, brutal honesty and eloquent delivery.
BEST-EVER TEST SERIES
The England series was followed by the Australian tour of Sri Lanka in August 2011. While Kumar failed to score a hundred in the Tests, a rare occurrence for him, he was still able to average 45 against an opponent that played much better cricket.
Fortunately, in the series that followed afterwards in UAE against Pakistan, he rediscovered his best form. He became only the third Sri Lankan to score more than 500 runs in a series (after Sanath and Mahela) and his double century in the first Test – the eighth of his career – was one of the great rear-guard match-saving knocks ever by a Sri Lankan batsman. He followed that with scores of 78, 30, 144 and 51. Those scores ensured that he became the ninth player in history to reach 9,000 Test runs and did so in record time – four innings less than Rahul Dravid, the previous record-holder.
The intense and testing schedule continued immediately after the Pakistan series with Sri Lanka embarking on the toughest of assignments: a full tour of South Africa comprising three Tests and five ODIs. Despite being understandably written off, especially after their loss inside three days in the first Test at Centurion, Sri Lanka defied the huge odds to pull off what is arguably their greatest-ever Test win in the second Test at Durban. There were numerous architects in this famous 208-run victory, which included Kumar, whose brilliant second-innings century enabled Sri Lanka to set the South Africans an insurmountable run-chase.
AWARDS AND HONOURS
Kumar’s stature beyond his cricketing prowess continued to grow with the prestigious and pioneering LMD magazine nominating him as their Sri Lankan Of The Year (SLOTY) for 2011. Announcing their choice, LMD wrote, “The celebrated cricketer has charmed an entire nation with his heroics on the field and charisma off it.” Having earlier in the year become the first active cricketer to be invited to deliver the Cowdrey Lecture, Kumar was invited to join the MCC World Cricket Committee (WCC). At 34, he is the WCC’s youngest member and the second Sri Lankan to be invited to the WCC after Michael Tissera.