The writer Paul Bowles once said that it would be impossible for anyone to have “less sense of pitch, line or rhythm” than the Sri Lankans.
While he was talking about the musical capabilities of the Sinhalese, perhaps if he’d lived a year longer, and seen Kumar Sangakkara make his international debut, he might have changed his mind.
Chris Jordan runs in and bowls the fifth ball of the 43rd over, the batsmen amble a single as the ball is gently stroked to cover and the crowd goes wild, their home town hero has his hundred in appropriately unassuming style.
Today at Pallekele, 5274 days and 13339 one-day runs after he made his debut, Sangakkara said goodbye in fitting fashion.
It was an occasion that even the cricketing gods thought worthy of blessing, a rare mis-timed drive should have been easily caught by Alastair Cook, instead the ball inexplicably slipped from his grasp, clattering to the turf with the certainty that this was not to be Sangakkara’s time.
Repreived on 41, the masterful left-hander never looked back, delighting the packed ground with every skip of his feet or flash of his bat.
All round the wicket he played, no area safe for England’s bowlers, blending seamless touch with effortless power, his removal from the crease a problem that once again the tiring tourists struggled to solve.
One delivery he was opening the face and delicately running the ball away for four, played so late at first glance it seemed like an edge, two balls later he casually flicked the ball off his pads for six – pointilliste to powerhouse in the space of thirty seconds.
Not everything went his way, a ramp shot, perhaps an attempt to show he could keep pace with the modern game, came off the toe of his bat and squirted ineffectually away.
But next ball the old dog proved he didn’t need any new tricks anyway, stroking a full length delivery perfectly over long on for six with the timing that has brought him 2828 runs this year.
A delivery later and it was all over, a shuffle to the right of the crease, the ball hit sweetly into the offside but straight into the hands of the cover fielder.
Silence. Then immediately the crowd rose, their high-pitched cheers and screams directed towards their favourite son.
He walked steadily off the field, towards the Pallekele dressing room for the last time, slowly turning 360º, bat in one hand, arms outstretched, acknowledging the fans as they chanted his name.
As sendoffs go, it could scarcely have been any better. A match-winning innings, a series-winning innings, an innings to be savoured.
After the game, Sangakkara spoke of his contract with the Sri Lankan public, and for them he appeared one last time, drenched by the cheers of the raucous crowd that had gathered outside the media centre before being hurriedly whisked back inside for fear his mere presence might cause an ecstatic stampede.
And with that he was gone into the evening gloom, King Kumar of Kandy, forever.Reuse content