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Kumar Sangakkara could have been even bigger and better, says father

35 Kumar Sangakkara touched almost every cricketing high in an international career spanning 15 years. Father Kshema Sangakkara though mentored his cricket from an early age and feels there was still room for perfection.
Cheered, celebrated and commemorated for being a champion cricketer, Kumar Sangakkara has been a leading face of international cricket for a decade and half. There is not an iota of doubt that he truly deserves his place amongst the legends of the sport – now that he has hung up his boots. Hardly anyone would dare ‘doubt’ his achievements. Unless of course, it is Senior Sangakkara!
Kumar Sangakkara scored an astounding 12400 Test runs – the fifth most by any player. He crafted an astonishing 38 Test tons – the fourth most by any player. In all formats, he has 63 tons and 153 fifties — far more than most players ever to have wielded the bat. For Kshema Sangakkara though, his son was not just meant to overshadow most but all — and that there was still some way before he truly reached his potential.
Legends may not be in the habit of being shown their flaws. Even a legend as humble as Kumar. Most fathers though have a habit of seeing their sons as sons and not demi-gods fans make them out to be. Little surprise then that Sr Sangakkara feels the most celebrated figure in his family could have been even greater than he already is.
“I have always been his harshest critic. And he knows about it all too well,” wrote Kshema Sangakkara in a column for Indian Express. “For the world, Kumar was this venerated technician. But in my opinion, he never reached that level. He could have done so much better with the skills he had.”
Kumar Sangakkara called time on his career on Monday after featuring in 134 Tests, 404 ODIs and 56 T20Is. Almost every cricket fan and expert united over a decade and a half since Kumar’s debut in 2000, in equating him with the best in the business. Not Kshema Sangakkara.
“Everybody speaks about his average being in the same league of Graeme Pollock and Garry Sobers, but Kumar could have done better. He too often let bowlers dismiss him rather than them having to get him out,” he wrote.
Interestingly, Kumar’s farewell speech had specifically highlighted his family for being his biggest inspiration and achievement. It was not without reason.
“I started working on Kumar’s cricket from a very young age. He always had great touch. You could see that from the way he connects his shots. But touch and technique are two totally different concepts,” wrote Kshema Sangakkara, adding that Mahela Jayawardene, Marvan Atapattu and Aravinda de Silva were always more in control of their games than his son.
“Jayawardene had a much better technique, and a much tighter defence. Kumar’s temperament and grit is what ensured he scored more runs.”
Cricket’s history has similar instances of a father being his sons most honest critic – only to see him achieve perfection that others felt he had already mastered.
Lala Amarnath was one such father who was known to be a strict disciplinarian and closely watched sons Surinder and Mohinder. The influence of West Indies’ Lebrun Constantine on son Learie’s cricket is also well known. While Lebrun’s grandfather was a slave, Learie eventually became a knight for his cricket – a splendid tale of human excellence over four generations regardless of race and colour.
It’s not always about pointing areas of improvement though. Kshema Sangakkara does highlight what impressed him most about his son’s cricket.
“There is hardly a shot Kumar plays that I haven’t mentored him or harangued him about. He was always very competent against the short-ball. He had a very good back-foot technique.”
Kshema Sangakkara also revealed that his son was a strong tennis player as a child and that he took to cricket only when his sister beat him on the court. It was then that Kumar was made to watch legends like Don Bradman and Sunil Gavaskar bat.
But now that his playing days are over, what would be next for Kumar?
“He’s been a professional sportsman for two decades now. That competitive spirit will never die. Golf will provide him that opportunity and at the same time it’s a sport that he can pursue for another 30 years,” he wrote. “And I can assure you this: I will not be half as nervous watching him on a golf course.”
Simple, straightforward and sincere – the Sangakkaras indeed know how to be perfect gentlemen!