Kumar Sangakkara stroked an elegant 113 not out in Surrey’s opening day 265-5 against Middlesex at Lord’s after enjoying the rare distinction of walking through the Pavilion past his own recently-commissioned portrait.
The MCC unveiled portraits of both Sangakkara and his fellow former Sri Lankan international batting great Mahela Jayawardene, a close friend, before Surrey – who themselves declined the option of bowling first – were put into bat by Middlesex captain James Franklin in an eagerly-awaited Specsavers County Championship London derby clash between the champions and the early-season Division One leaders.
The paintings were on display for the first time as, out in the middle, the 39-year-old Sangakkara showcased his enduring class to lead a Surrey recovery from 83-3.
That represented a worrying slide from 55-0, but Sangakkara was then joined by Dom Sibley in a fourth wicket partnership of 114 in 33 overs which steadied Surrey’s ship.
The 21-year-old Sibley fought hard to reach 54 from 111 balls, with eight fours, before edging a deserving Tom Helm to Adam Voges at first slip. Earlier, when he had made just 22, Sibley was dropped in the same position, waist high to his left, by Voges off Helm.
Sangakkara, on 24, would have been run out if Toby Roland-Jones, veering across the pitch in his follow through to get to the ball, had hit the bowler’s stumps on the turn from short mid-wicket when the left-hander with 134 Test caps and more than 28,000 international runs to his name had been sent back by Sibley.
That scare apart, however, there was little in the pitch or from the Middlesex attack that seemed to trouble Sangakkara as he drove beautifully through the covers, picked up further runs with a succession of flicks off his pads and, when Franklin twice overpitched, punched the left-arm seamer down the ground for two of his 11 fours.
There were also two sixes from successive balls for Sangakkara, playing in his 254th first-class match, with both blows struck into the stands over mid-wicket off Ollie Rayner’s off spin. They took him to 95 and, soon, he was easing Rayner through the cover ring for three runs to go to his 97th century in all senior cricket.
Ben Foakes, for 19, also fell to a thin edge behind off Steven Finn just before heavy rain arrived to wash away the remaining 24 scheduled overs of the day.
Earlier, a spectacular catch at second slip by Rayner was the highlight of a fascinating morning session as Surrey started well but then lost three wickets in quick succession before Sangakkara and Sibley counter-attacked after lunch.
Rayner dived to scoop up right-handed and just millimetres from the turf an edge from Rory Burns that looked as if it could not possibly carry to the waiting slip cordon. That ended a defiant 33 from the left-handed Burns and gave Franklin, Middlesex’s captain, the second of two crucial wickets.
Franklin had also pinned Scott Borthwick lbw for eight with one that skidded on and defeated the Surrey number three’s attempt to flick it to leg off the back foot, while Finn earlier made the initial breakthrough by tempting Mark Stoneman, on 33, to chase a widish ball and edge to keeper John Simpson.
Stoneman, who survived a chance to gully when 20 during a testing new ball spell by Helm, had put on 55 with Burns after Surrey had declined the chance to bowl first themselves under cloudy skies – forcing a toss which Middlesex won, prompting Franklin to choose to bowl.
The surface, though, looked a good one although there was always something in it for the faster bowlers and, either side of losing their first three wickets, Surrey’s excellent progress certainly supported their decision to bat first.
By the close, though, it had become clear that Sangakkara’s brilliance was simply the difference between the two sides in these opening exchanges.
Both Sangakkara and Jayawardene took part in multiple sittings with Surrey-based artist Antony Williams, and the completed images now take their rightful place in the Lord’s Pavilion alongside pictures of other cricket heroes such as Sir Viv Richards and Glenn McGrath.
Sangakkara said: “I was humbled when I was asked to sit for the portrait commissioned by MCC. It is a great honour.
“I wanted to know how I would be represented through Antony’s eyes; not just my expressions or my physical appearance but how he would interpret me as a whole.
“Having seen the final portrait, I was so very pleasantly surprised, unnerved and a bit embarrassed seeing myself in a frame on canvas but thoroughly happy with the work done.”
Middlesex fast bowler Helm added: “The pitch did a bit this morning, but looked better for batting as the day went on.
“We felt we let them get too many runs in the middle part of the day, but then pulled it back a bit towards the end.
“I’d say it’s pretty even at the moment, so we need to take a couple of early wickets in the morning.
“Obviously Sanga is a class act, and you have to take your hat off to someone with 59 first-class hundreds, but it was a nice challenge bowling at him and it would be very nice to get him out early tomorrow!”