James Lawton: Flailing David Warner should learn from the subtle blows landed by Kumar Sangakkara
The warner affair made Sangakkara’s taming of the fearsome Jimmy Anderson required viewing at several levels
When David Warner got through with his serial apology for picking on the tenderfoot star Joe Root he still had plenty of time to see how a real cricketer and a brave man might handle himself in a rather bigger arena than a time-expired pub in Birmingham.
Cricket in general and the embattled Australians in particular can only hope fervently that he did.
Despite suggestions to the contrary, Warner’s crime was maybe not so great to put in the very top echelon of late-night indiscretion – young Joe still seemed as fresh from the christening font as ever when he re-appeared to play so judiciously against Sri Lanka – but it was a shoddy performance by any standards, let alone a hugely rewarded representative of one of sport’s finest traditions.
Certainly it made Kumar Sangakkara’s taming of the fearsome Jimmy Anderson required watching at several different levels. In Warner’s case it had to be seen as an object lesson in that concentration of mind and spirit which separates truly serious professionals from those who seem much more intent on simply taking a ride.
Anderson, apart from being one of the world’s two or three best bowlers, prides himself on backing up his huge talent for swinging the ball with a demeanour guaranteed to chill the bones of all but the most obdurate batsmen. Yet at The Oval he found himself in pretty much a no-contest. Sangakkara was a lot more than obdurate. He was a man of nerve and character for whom the merest hint of intimidation was no more than an invitation to dig ever deeper into his reserves.
In the end Anderson shook hands with that grudging admiration the most superior fighters use exclusively for each other.
As he did so you could only refresh your admiration for Sangakkara, who at 35 stands behind only Sir Don Bradman (11) and Brian Lara (9) in the persuasive matter of Test double centuries. Sangakkara has eight and the enviable reputation of being arguably one of the most intelligent performers the game has ever known.
If he did not stand so high in the all-time batting averages – Sir Gary Sobers is one place in front of him and he is immediately followed by Sir Jack Hobbs, Clyde Walcott, Sir Len Hutton and Jacques Kallis – he would hardly want for other extraordinary distinctions.
As Anderson was reminded out at The Oval this week, Sangakkara is also a master of that kind of sledging which works on a man’s mind rather than his entrails.
He explains it not so much as a competitive device as a cultural liberation, one set in his mind by Sri Lanka’s highly combative, World Cup-winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga.
Sangakkara says: “Sri Lankans, Indians and Pakistanis had always been very passive with regard to any verbal aggression on the field. As a result we have at times been on the receiving end of a virtual running commentary of personal abuse and sledging designed to make us feel inferior cricketers from inferior countries.
“What Arjuna understood was what kind of counter-attack should be launched when it got out of hand. He once said to the Australians, ‘Look you fellows this has gone too far. If it doesn’t stop, we will respond.’”
The generously-rounded Sri Lanka captain was reacting to Aussie claims that he couldn’t call for a runner just because he was too fat.
Sangakkara has somewhat refined the old debating style, saying: “The public perception of sledging is to go out there and abuse someone in obscene language, questioning their parentage or sexual preference. That kind of abuse does not belong on the field of play. Sledging should be a measured comment designed to provoke a reaction. It can be something as simple as, ‘Let’s leave a bit of a gap there, he can’t score through there.’ Even if you’re mentally strong, something like that can still work in the mind. You might be keen to hit the ball through the gap. You might be keen to avoid it. Either way, a seed has been sown.”
This week the seed swiftly blossomed as the Sri Lankans played their way back into an intriguing Champions Trophy tournament at the expense of England. They might have been seen as a cricketing version of young Root in the late Birmingham bar – a pushover if the right level of force was applied.
Sangakkara’s beautifully controlled unbeaten century, his willingness to challenge every English assumption after their stroll against the desperately diminished Australians, carried the mark of a fully matured, superbly committed adult sportsman. It was the perfect antidote to the sad and demoralising spectacle of Warner which had so depressingly dragged down the image of his country, his game and his own ability to take what he was doing at all seriously.
It was also pretty much first-class business as normal. Two years ago Sangakkara brought a Lord’s audience to its feet when he used the MCC’s Cowdrey Lecture as the platform for a biting, and fearless, attack on the political interference in the administration of the game back home in Sri Lanka. He has, of course, experienced a more extreme form of violence than any you are likely to encounter in an early-morning bar.
He was there when the bullets flew from the guns of Pakistani terrorists raking the Sir Lanka team bus in 2009. He knows of the conflict of real war as well as the pressures of big-time sport.
This week, with timing that might also have brought him much reward had he not chosen cricket before his studies at Colombo Law School, he reminded us of what a front-rank cricketer should really be about. It is not, David Warner might care to note, throwing one drink-fuelled punch in a murky place. It is standing up for everything you are supposed to represent.
History beats corporate hucksters at old Merion
Merion, we keep being told, is a remnant of golf history being visited maybe for the last time. It has a plaque honouring the great one-iron of Ben Hogan in 1950, some of the most deliciously challenging holes you would ever care to see, but it is somewhat short of infrastructure and doesn’t purr along under the pressure of a modern sports spectacular.
Too bad, presumably we have to say. That at least is the dictate of the corporate armies. Still, there is no law against yearning for a time when the thrill of the game was more important than the tinkle of the profit.
Chelsea look poor in boardroom experience
Chelsea may understand if the appointment to the club board of Roman Abramovich’s trusted adviser Marina Granovskaia is not automatically reassuring at the dawn of the second age of Jose Mourinho.
Ms Granovskaia, a graduate of Moscow State University, apparently first impressed the oligarch when she worked for his Sibneft oil giant, a foundation stone of his vast wealth. Her football experience, though, is not of the weight to suggest that she is going to provide a much wider perspective than the one already enjoyed by a board which lacks anything like the kind of football knowledge favoured by, say, reigning European champions Bayern Munich.
Bayern muddle along with the input of men like Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Given his previous problems at Stamford Bridge, one can only say, good luck Jose.
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