A total of 20,978 runs from 237 Tests* at an average of 78.15. In 649 ODIs, 22,215 runs at an average of 43.24. These are the combined numbers of Kumar Sangakkara and Michael Clarke. On August 20, 2015, both these players will play their final Test match. When the Tests in P Sara Oval in Colombo and The Oval in London end, the two legends of the game will leave the cricketing world poorer.
Cricket is a game that has thrived on comparisons. In the case of Clarke and Sangakkara, there are plenty of similarities and some contrasts.
If one has to look at the way how Sangakkara and Clarke started their cricketing careers, the contrast is evident. In the beginning, Sangakkara did not know whether he belonged to the Sri Lankan dressing room. It took one knock of 98 against South Africa in tough conditions in 2001, one year after he made his debut in 2000, to give him necessary assurance and confidence.
Clarke made a memorable start. On his Test debut against India in 2004, he played a knock that established him as a once in a generation cricketer. He tackled the likes of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh in such spectacular fashion that his 151 put Australia on the path where they would conquer the final frontier after a gap of 35 years. Clarke’s display in Bangalore had made him the golden boy of Australia.
When it came to run-scoring, both batsmen outclassed each other several times. While Sangakkara amassed big scores, including a magnificent 287 in a record partnership of 624 against South Africa in 2006, Clarke was scoring centuries but they were not big hundreds. While Sangakkara’s big appetite for big runs eased, Clarke responded with four double-tons in one year. When Clarke scored 329 against India in Sydney, it took Sangakkara two years to respond with 319 against Bangladesh. Both players almost outdid each other when it came to guts and determination.
Sangakkara’s epic 192 against Australia at Hobart almost helped Sri Lanka achieve the impossible. Clarke withstood a fierce bouncer barrage from Morne Morkel in Cape Town in 2014 but responded with 161 despite a broken shoulder. Sangakkara would be the smooth sledger while Clarke would get down to being mongrel, a case in point being the threat to James Anderson at the Gabba in 2013 when he said, “Get ready for a broken f***** arm.”
If one has to weight the barometer of success in big tournaments, Clarke holds a slight edge over Sangakkara. Clarke was part of an all-conquering Australian team that dismantled oppositions clinically. They won the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup and the 2009 Champions Trophy. Even when the team was in decline, Australia had enough resources to pull of their fifth World Cup triumph at home during the 2015 edition. This was not the case with Sangakkara.
Sangakkara has been part of four heart-breaking ICC tournament finals. In the 2007 World Cup, Sri Lanka were blown away by a blitz from Adam Gilchrist. In the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup, it took an inspired Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi to give Pakistan victory. In the 2011 World Cup, MS Dhoni shattered their dreams while in the 2012 Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, it took a freakish innings from Marlon Samuels to break millions of Sri Lanka hearts.
Sangakkara, though, redeemed himself when he helped Sri Lanka to the 2014 World Twenty20 title in Bangladesh. However, the scar of four consecutive finals losses might never leave him.
A look at captaincy suggests that both Sangakkara and Clarke had mixed results. In Sangakkara’s case, captaincy dented his batting while for Clarke, he had a purple patch with the bat. Both these players took over when the team was in transition. Clarke took over from Ricky Ponting when the Australian empire was crumbling while Sangakkara was shepherding a Sri Lankan team that was dealing with the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan.
A look at Test results suggest that both Sangakkara and Clarke have been home bullies while struggling abroad. In Sangakkara’s tenure, Sri Lanka failed to win a single Test abroad while under Clarke, their overseas record has been poor. With the exception of Sri Lanka and South Africa, Clarke’s record overseas in the last couple of seasons has been woeful. A 4-0 whitewash at the hands of India, a 2-0 thrashing by Pakistan and four consecutive Ashes series losses in England are a damning indictment that Clarke failed to lead from the front overseas.
Both men have been involved with controversies in their cricketing career. Sangakkara had his run-ins with the Sri Lankan cricket administrators while Clarke has often been at loggerheads with the selectors and also for his role in the ‘homeworkgate’ scandal during the India tour.
Both players are leaving at interesting times. For Clarke, the fire seems to have burned down due to a combination of injuries and due to the heartbreak surrounding the death of Phillip Hughes. For Sangakkara, he is leaving at a time when Sri Lanka cricket is in transition and when there are whispers that he prefers County over Country. Yet, greatness has come easily for Sangakkara but for Clarke, it has taken years of toil to make people acknowledge his ability.
In a nutshell, these two cricketers have given us cherished memories. One will miss Sangakkara’s trade-mark punch off the back foot and his bent knee cover drive. In the coming summer, one might not see Clarke’s shot-arm pull or his nimble footed advance down the wicket to the spinners. Sangakkara looked assured while Clarke was a nervous starter. One was smooth and classy while the other was determined, dogged and resolute.
The cricketing world will be poorer with the absence of Sangakkara and Clarke. However, for this generation of fans, it has been a treat to see a Sri Lankan and Australian, two contrasting cultures traversing their own diverse yet similar paths to greatness.
*NOTE: The numbers are before the start of the Tests in Colombo and London