Kumar Sangakkara is a man of many talents, having mesmerized the world with his bat- he has proven to be one OF the greatest ambassadors of the country. Having been Sri Lanka’s most consistent batsman and recognised as the best in the world repetitively by the ICC, Kumar is not a man to mince his words.
He is known to call a spade a spade, and today the international cricketing icon and an international citizen of the country in the true sense of the word -Kumar- is embroiled in controversy with the powers that be at the Sri lanka Cricket. ‘Sanga’ as he is fondly known, spoke to the Daily Mirror on aspects both related to and beyond cricket.
Q:Sanga do you think thatSri Lanka Cricket has changed its focus from test to the more lucrative forms of the game?
I don’t think it has changed its focus, around the world what has happened is that financial constraints have dictated that more One day cricket and T 20 cricket be played than Test cricket. Only few countries can sustain a more extended focus on test cricket, countries like England, Australia, South Africa and India. The rest have to earn money to sustain the game they are to run administrations and the rest of the things that come with administering cricket.
The real issue here is how we strike the balance, and also when it comes to developing young cricketers- how best to give them that test exposure, which is required for them to become even better T20 and One day cricketers.
It is a very hard question to try and find answers to but I think most cricket boards are not looking to become profit earning entities and will work towards ensuring that there are at least nine test matches per year.
Q:But don’t you think an attitude of putting financial reasoning above cricket is seeping to this generation of cricketers as a result of this?
Well, there are two sides to it - Cricket is not like in the olden days. It is an accepted and a very viable profession for people to get into. You sacrifice most of your education, especially in a country like Sri Lanka to try and achieve your ambition of playing for the country, and with the advent of the T20 leagues- IPL and the Caribbean league, which I went and played; I think Cricket is a very attractive profession for youngsters to get into, at this moment.
In a country like Sri Lanka a lot of these youngsters sacrifice their education and alternative professions to achieve their dream of playing Cricket at a Professional level. With the advent of the IPL and more leagues around the world, which have been inspired by the IP- there are more avenues for Cricketers to earn a living. And make no mistake this is how Cricketers earn a living.
It is by playing a sport be it for their country or their franchise- and earning a sum of money for their services, this is how the players live and support their families and build security for the future of themselves.
So there is now an opportunity for cricketers to earn a very attractive remuneration even if they don’t represent their country, when the IPL started it was where you had to represent your country to be recognised as a cricketer of worth and to realise even the potential earning of playing in the IPL.
But it has progressed since then and cricketers from various countries who play first class Cricket or at a lower representation than that have also had the opportunity to play in these leagues and become big stars in their own right- and some of them have not even represented their country.
Such has been the case and there are many recent examples of players for the first time who show their skills in these T20 tournaments, and they have suddenly catapulted into national recognition and finding themselves suddenly representing their country as well.
I think that this has most certainly given an opportunity for cricketers to earn a living- and earn a viable living for that matter, but if you take the larger proportion of cricketers, who are coming through the ranks a lot of them realise that Test Cricket should be their ultimate ambition.
They do understand the value and the earnings of the shorter forms of the game, but their focus is very strongly confined to wear the test cap for the country.
There has been a lot of debate on players being accused of being more focused on these shorter versions and these T 20 leagues and franchises. I don’t think that is true. It is a just reward for players who have played for years for their country.
Most players treat the IPL or other franchises as a year end or mid year bonus, having played for their countries, they can go and earn a bonus by playing in these tournaments. Also the countries themselves control the no-objection certificates so there really isn’t an issue when it comes to playing for these leagues, but with focus on test Cricket, which really is the ultimate form of the game.
Q:A notion among the public especially in Sri Lanka is this despise for what can be termed as the ‘commercialisation’ of players, you have been a Brand Ambassador for many brands including brands which came into a lot of flack in the recent past. How do you go about this endorsement process?
Yes, when it comes to the commercial aspect of things- being a cricketer, how I earn and how I feed my family is through cricket and what comes from cricket. If I get injured I don’t have way of finding another job instantly. I don’t have a pension at the time I retire. Of course I am not saying that I earn too little, I think in a Sri Lankan sense we earn a very comfortable living and of course with the IPL coming we have probably earned financial security that we never thought we would have.
Just playing for Sri Lanka over the years will not give you that financial security, you will have to find other jobs, other work after you finish cricket and there is no guarantee that you will become successful at any of those.
And one of the things that comes with being a better cricketer or a sportsman are endorsement opportunities and its the same not just in Sri Lanka but in large parts of the world.
In Sri Lanka of course there is a lesser degree of understanding and acceptance of that because we are still not used to that aspect of professional sport. However, you have to be responsible when you chose the products that one is to endorse, we go through a very extensive checklist whenever we are approached, when it comes for endorsing products.
We go into the products, its effect on the public, whether its of benefit not only commercially but brandwise socially. And when the boxes are ticked, then the issue of finance is discussed. If you were to be eavesdropping on a conversation of the negotiating process, the issue of finance would feature last. Everything else would be discussed first.
No matter what you do there are going to be criticisms. But the people have the right to chose and they have to choose responsibly. I however, understand that whatever I do, and whatever I endorse is put through this exhaustive checklist, which allows me to endorse something with a very clear conscience.
But I think what you have to accept is that with both- paying cricket and endorsing products- you will have criticisms, support, encouragement and all of that.
You will be exposed to both sides of the coin, and I think that is something that is good. Open debate and constructive criticism must be welcome and it is something that is common in any sphere of life.
However, in Sri Lanka this takes a slightly different turn because of the role that cricket has played especially during the 30 years of war, and what Cricketers come to represent for the country, so everyone has to be mindful of both of these.
But at the same time it’s very unfair to label a Cricketer be it me or anyone else for that matter- saying that he is money minded or that he is too commercial- because earning a living and earning a living through cricket is our job.
Q:Do you regret the aftermath of the Collin Cowdrey lecture whcih you delivered- about how it was perceived by certain parts of the administration. Do you regret it?
Yes I do, because everything that I said got lost within 15 to 20 words out of about 5000 words that I spoke that day. If you go through my speech at length and if you read or heard what I did say, it wasn’t as bad as some people portrayed it to be.
I think it was a story about Sri Lankan Cricket and my experience playing for Sri Lanka growing up in an environment of cricket and what this sport actually represents in our country. I also spoke of the synergy that players, administrators and the media should have between them that will carry this great game forward.
Q:But have these issues that you raised during that lecture, been addressed? On an administrative perspective- because some of these issues dont really seem to have been resolved?
I think that resolving problems with the administration will not be done quickly but I think that steps are being taken to resolve these issues, however it wont be done overnight. I hope they will be resolved as time goes by.
Q:Many people would draw a comparison with you and Mahela with an era by-gone, an era which spoke of the C.I Gunasekaras, and those of that calibre. Do you think that this era- of producing eminent citizens be it in the spheres of administration, governance, and of course sportsmen, is actually over?
I don’t think it is an era that is by-gone, or it is at an end, I think there are more and people who are now being inspired to take up that mantle be it in cricket, administration or any other sphere. What we need is an environment from a very young age – at school, at home, at universities and at work- where opinion is valued and welcome, criticisms and arguments need to occur. An environment in which it is expected and demanded from people to talk about every single thing that affects them, society and the country at large. I think that an idea that you don’t agree with is something that has to be heard. You have to hear criticisms about yourself and your ideas without which you cant learn. I think individuality and differences have to be respected in every sense of the word and that is how we can be united in whatever that we want to do. It could be working in a charity, playing a sport or any sphere of Lankan society or the international stage- wherever- accountability, openness, discussion and difference of opinion should be welcomed and encouraged. If we can keep doing that into the future and if we can keep a culture within Sri Lanka, which nurtures that - then there will be more and more people taking up that gauntlet so that they better themselves and thereby better others.
Q:You are not only considered as a sportsman, but by and large an ambassador for this country- an international citizen of some sort. I know this is a political question, but what do you actually see as the failing of this country?
I think that is a question that has no simple or exact answer, but it is largely to do with mindset. It is about how we view ourselves and how we view each other and I think there will be a few generations going by from here for us to fully reconcile and fully understand the lessons that the issues have taught us in Sri Lanka.
At this moment we are probably still too close to the real issues that we don’t have a detached objective view, or an unemotional rational view of what transpired. But if we don’t change our mindsets and if we don’t learn to look at ourselves in the manner that is demanded of the current situation that Sri Lanka is in and with regard to the future that we are to build, I think that it will be very sad.
But the great thing I always see in Sri Lanka be it in any sphere, there is this great joy for life. There is a great attitude in Sri Lanka among all its people and this will always enable the good to shine through. Even though you think times are not as good as it should be. I always hope in that and that is what has withstood us as a nation throughout history and what will help us withstand the future.
The lessons we teach our children, the way we speak to them the way we inspire them is going to be key. From our education, from the examples in society- we have to ensure that these lessons are good wholesome lessons, because when they grow up – everything I lived through and all the people of this country lived through, have to be history that has enabled them to forge a very successful country to the future.
Q:Moving on, is there any chance of us seeing you donning the black court?, Do you intend on completing your studies in law?
I have had encouragement to come back and finish it in Colombo (university), and finishing it is very important to me. If you start something you have got to finish it, it will give you a sense of closure. Hopefully I would be able to do that, my father also would be very happy if I do. So that’s something that I want to do once I hang my boots.
Q:How long before you call it a day Sanga?
It won’t be too long before i do, I really cant at this moment say that I will play for this amount of time because that is definitely not a decision which is in my hand other than the fact that I will have to perform on the field for me to earn that right.
The selectors will definitely look to discuss with people of my age, with Mahela and Dilshan whether we fit in to their plans, and about our plans and how they both gel in if they want us to continue till the next world cup.
Of course my performance has to stay at a level where someone could pick me into the side, not just because I am Kumar Sangakkara and because I’ve scored more than 11,000 One Day runs. The decision has to be based actually on the fact that I’m a performing member of the side, who has earned and continues to earn his right to represent my country.
So we have to wait and see, I would love to play for as long as possible, but in this day and age with the younger cricketers coming through and the volume of cricket being played you get older far quicker than you used to.
But if I do get to the World Cup and I am selected then definitely that will be it.
Q:Is there one moment that you look back and say “ this never should have happened”?
There are four - four finals- where you look back and think that there were so many things that you could have done differently. But you could look back and have that regret, and you can also be proud that you have been in a situation of being able to go into a World Cup final- being one of two countries that are recognised as the very best. The regret and disappointment will never go away. It was so close but yet so far.
I want players in the next World Cup or someday to taste that and hold aloft the cup because I was inspired by the 1996 World Cup team to take up cricket and I want future generations to be able to look up to a side which won a world cup, and inspire another generation of cricketers in the country.
Q:Is there one moment in life that you look back and say that was ‘the turning point’, this was what made Sangakkara the man he is today?
There is no turning point as such, it was s series of events and the gratitude always goes to my parents, the way they raised me and my siblings led a lot towards me doing what I do now. Without that base and foundation I don’t think I would have got very far. Also Yehali, my wife and my children- because cricket is very tough on the players but it’s tougher on their families- and I have that security of home, that sense of belonging, that hold that is given at home, to keep your feet grounded especially when you have your children.
Q:And finally is there any chance of us seeing Kumar Sanagakkara as the next foreign minister of Sri Lanka, one fine day?
If my wife divorces me may be( Laughs) . Doing good things, inspiring people, changing lives can be done in any form. I’ve seen people, who we have never heard or read about doing amazing things. You will read about what a cricketer does because he is in the limelight but the others rarely get a mention. In whatever role therefore you have the ability to make that change, so in the future whether I am in the limelight or if I fade away- I hope, I keep taking these opportunities and giving back to society as much as I can.
You are the top most Gentleman Cricketer sri lanka has produced. Undoubtedly, the very best. Hence, you will never fit into srilankan politics. You will stand a good chance in a developed country, which is high on the Human index.
Mario Monday, 02 September 2013 10:48 AM
Mark my words, one day he will be the president of the ICC and it will be great for SL cricket.
baba Monday, 02 September 2013 11:37 AM
Proud to be a lankan.wish u d v best
Anonymous Monday, 02 September 2013 01:04 PM
wallippuwa Tuesday, 03 September 2013 02:13 AM
Sanga, you will have to plan out your career after cricket very carefully. First get your law degree done and then slowly start turning yourself to international cricket administration. You also can become a motivational speaker in international business and related forums. this will be another professional side for you. You don't have to worry, you can do lot of things after hanging the boots. both in cricket, business and in general for the society. Ah... also International cricket commentator job as well.
Mahes illangakoon Tuesday, 03 September 2013 10:54 PM
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