Kumar Sangakkara’s astonishing statistical record has often led people to attribute him to be a true great of the game. At closer inspection he has not had as tough a route as others, and this title needs reconsideration.
Before you quit this post because you love watching Sangakkara so much, let’s get a few things straight.
He is cricket as an art form.
I love watching him, and he is certainly in my top one favourite batsmen ever.
Nobody disputes he is an exceptional talent, with longevity, class and ability, but there is certainly a case that two of his major flaws been glossed over because of how good he is to watch.
Let’s take a look.
Sangakkara has done it all. His Test average is nearly 60 (58.66), he has over 12200 Test runs, 38 Test hundreds and 51 Test fifties. This has all been done over the course of 130 Tests, and he is also the fasted batsman, in terms of innings, EVER, to reach 12000 runs, which is an achievement that he reached in 23 innings fewer than Sachin Tendulkar, as you can see below.
He is pretty damn good at batting.
So, I’m guessing you’re now thinking how an earth can this man seriously be brought down..
Sub-Continental runs are not less valuable than runs outside, but Kumar Sangakkara has got a notoriously Sub-Continent heavy record.
It is an undeniable fact.
Sangakkara has scored 30 of his 38 Test hundreds in Asia (75%). He has scored 9158 of his 12203 Test runs (75%) in Asia.
Compared to two other sub-continental greats, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, no number of velvety Sangakkara cover drives can make up for the disparity in consistency.
Sachin, by comparison, of course played more Tests, with 200. But he scored 33 of his 51 Test tons in Asia (64%), which is much better than Sangakkara. Dravid had a better record too, with 22 of his 36 Test tons (61%) in Asia, and 7370 Test runs in Asia (55%), which is again better.
So yes, Sangakkara did get to 12000 the quickest, but he also scored a lot more runs in conditions which were more favourable to him.
In non-Sub-Continental conditions, Sanga has had much more limited success. In South Africa he averages 35, in the Caribbean just 34, and in England 41. This does not extend to Australia and New Zealand, where he has averaged over 60.
It is clear, that Sangakkara, at least compared to the two other Asian ‘greats’ has a poorer record outside of Asia, and heavily relies on conditions closer to home.
For that reason, he is not a great, because his record has been vastly inflated.
The only real other chink in Sangakkara’s record is the fact that he scored a lot of runs against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, compared to his closest contemporaries.
Sangakkara’s seven centuries against Bangladesh, including 1816 runs vastly outweighs his closest rivals, and this also further inflates his record.
Bangladesh are not very good at Test cricket. In their history, they have won seven games, all against the West Indies and Zimbabwe.
Sangakkara’s seven centuries constitute 18% of his overall career Test centuries and 14% of his runs, and they don’t reflect a true great, when considered with the previous angle of having a poor non-subcontinental record.
Versus Bangladesh, Sangakkara’s contemporaries for greatness, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis scored 1957 runs combined. This is only marginally more than Sangakkara did alone, and echoes just how significant Bangladeshi runs are for the Sri Lankan number three, and for Sri Lanka as a Test team as a whole. They clearly play them a lot.
Ponting scored just 6% of his 13378 Test runs against Bangladesh, with Sachin Tendulkar (5%), Rahul Dravid ( 4%) and Jacques Kallis (2%) all taking a much more arduous route to the top.
Now of course, a player can only score centuries against who they play.
Not for one moment would anybody criticise Sangakkara for scoring those runs.
But his nine centuries versus Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in 20 Tests he played against them, causes his average to shoot up from 53.83 to 58.66.
The threshold for greatness must be high, and this must be taken into consideration.
Can he seriously be considered a great when he has ultimately filled his boots against a very poor opposition to prop up his figures?
Can he really be called a great when he has relied so heavily on conditions that are so familiar to him? Perhaps there is an argument that he shouldn’t be.
Of course statistics are not everything.
Players are considered greats for a plethora of reasons.
Don Bradman is considered the best for his average and his consistency.
Brian Lara for his spark, and for twice breaking the world record highest test score.
Sangakkara is seen as a great by many because he makes batting look sexy and easy. He is a joy to watch, and he always goes big, with 11 double centuries to his name , which is second top.
Without a doubt, Sangakkara will be viewed as an incredible batsman, and probably the best Sri Lankan, after Murali.
He plays every shot, he can bat in every style in every format, and he is a very cool and classy head. But great? His reliance on runs versus vulnerable opposition in conditions that benefit him will differentiate him from those that were able to do it against everyone, everywhere.
To prove this is *nothing* personal against you Sanga, here is my an awesome video.