Sangakkara: Captaincy ages you quickly

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The Independent Online

Without their greatest bowler, without their two most accomplished batsmen in form and now without their captain. The difficulties for Sri Lanka show little sign of receding.

Into the breach yesterday stepped Kumar Sangakkara, who has reluctantly agreed to resume the captaincy for one match only in the third Test starting today. His insistence on the short-term nature of the appointment and that it could never be repeated was hardly deemed to enhance his side's chances of squaring the series.

The tourists were up against it, of course, as soon as they arrived because they did so without Muttiah Muralitharan, the singular off-spin bowler responsible for so many of their victories and taker of 800 Test wickets. Since his retirement last year, they have yet to win another Test.

As if that were not enough, Sangakkara and his predecessor as captain Mahela Jayawardene have struggled in the two Test matches so far. The new captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan, had thrived on the responsibility, declining to suppress his glorious attacking instincts and being rewarded with a score of 193 at Lord's, the highest by a Sri Lankan at the ground.

But in getting there, Dilshan had a thumb broken which will prevent him playing at The Rose Bowl today. Sangakkara was not easily persuaded to return and in explaining his hesitation provided a brief inkling into the political burdens involved in being the captain of Sri Lanka.

"When I was first approached to captain the side I wasn't ready to take it on," he said yesterday. "The fact was I had given it up, with a view of having finished my role as captain after two successful years. Unfortunately there was no vice-captain appointed for this Test series, and the side was left in a bit of a problem with no-one to step in to captain. So with a lot of deep thought and considering the needs of the side and Sri Lanka I decided to say 'yes' to captaining Sri Lanka again for a final time in this Test."

Observers could hear his arm still being twisted as he spoke. But Sangakkara said that 'yes' meant 'yes' and he had no second thoughts.

"I actually made my decision to resign a month or two months before the World Cup," he said. "Looking from outside in, it's sometimes difficult to fathom why a decision like that could be made, but once you're in the team, and in that environment, captaining Sri Lanka is a job that ages you very quickly, and that's a challenge of the job as well. You say 'yes' to a job knowing full well the challenges you will face.

"But it's rarely a job you will last long in. Mahela Jayawardene was a fantastic captain for us for two years, and he also resigned. I also had a two-year stint, and I enjoyed it at times, certainly on the field. Our results showed we were one of the top two sides in the world for one and a half years, especially in the shorter form of the game, we reached three World Cup finals in a four-year period, two in 50, one in Twenty20 format, we beat Australia in Australia after 26 years."

But whether they can beat England in the third Test is much more doubtful. Without Murali, and with Ajantha Mendis, his intended successor, effectively neutered, they are struggling for wickets. Their seam attack looks short of the necessary nous, skill or pace, their much more illustrious batsman have so far failed to score enough runs.

Sangakkara, who has had a lean time on three England tours, deserves to make amends.

Rose Bowl details

England (probable): AJ Strauss (capt), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, IR Bell, EJG Morgan, MJ Prior (wk), SCJ Broad, GP Swann, CT Tremlett, JM Anderson.

Sri Lanka (probable): HDRL Thirimanne, NT Paranavitana, KC Sangakkara (capt), DPMD Jayawardene, TT Samaraweera, HAPW Jayawardene (wk), HKSR Kaluhalamulla, HMRKB Herath, CRD Fernando, RAS Lakmal, UWMBCA Welegedara.

Pitch The rain this week may have changed its complexion slightly. But the groundsman will have taken no chances and a flat, fairly slow surface can be expected.

TV 10.30-19.00, Sky Sports 1, HD1

Umpires R Tucker (Aus), A Dar (Pak), Third: B Doctrove (WI)

Weather Heavy rain showers. Top temperature: 16C.

Odds Eng: 5/4. Draw: 8/11. Sri Lanka: 12/1

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