Kumar Sangakkara is a name which evokes many emotions. They range from awe at his cover drive and the thrill of watching him in full flow, to the horror of knowing your team is about to bowl against him.
Yet, it’s not a name that is thrown around as “all-time great” as often as it should be. Nobody denies his greatness, but he is often not mentioned in the same breath as some of the other modern-day legends.
He was the fastest player to score 11,000 Test runs, and earlier this year he reached his first 300 ever in Test matches. The last 52 runs of that knock came off just 30 balls. It went by almost unnoticed in Chittagong and there was nothing really different about his knock. It was classy, textbook and to the point, much like all of Sangakkara's other knocks.
Many will argue that the reason Sangakkara is not really talked about so much is that most of his runs have come on Sri Lankan wickets.
But just over half his runs have come at home. In total, 6,138 runs have been scored on home turf, with 21 fifties and 21 hundreds. His average at home is 63.27. Away from home, he's scored 5,013 runs with 24 fifties and 14 hundreds at an average of 52.76. Those are hardly amateurish stats.
He has been impressive away from home in many countries. In Australia, he averages 60.33; in New Zealand 66.80; in Pakistan 86.87 and in the UAE, 62.
However, he is not statistically in between the “greats” for his average against cricket’s top eight teams, but stats are like puppets: If you reach deep enough you can make them say anything.
The thing with greatness is that it is highly subjective. Many will believe that nobody trumps Sangakkara; not in the past and not in the present. But what defines greatness in cricket? Sangakkara’s greatness is defined by many things. For him, it is defined by being dependable on home soil. It is defined by his textbook cover drives, and his ability to seemingly never flinch.
It’s also defined by his dogged determinedness, his will to always want to do better. It is defined by the fact that he has often had the extra burden of keeping wicket added to his responsibility. It’s defined by the fact that when stats are measured about him without his gloves, he makes the average of 61.41 against top teams; third on the list of all-time averages against top-eight teams.
Sangakkara has scored a ton against every Test nation, but he has a dubious record in England, where he averages just 30.58. He has a chance to work on that in the upcoming weeks.
Sangakkara's greatness is also defined by his modesty. Despite having the same number of double tons as Brian Lara, the Sri Lankan legend does not see himself in the same frame. ESPNCricinfo quoted him as saying:
'I grew up watching and idolising sir Vivian Richards,' Sangakkara said. 'Then Brian Lara came along and he was magical to watch so I am pretty happy to have equalled him in some kind of way. But I don't think I will equal him as a batsman, because I think he is on a completely different level to most of the batsmen I have seen.
'I think I have surpassed him in very little. I may be fastest to 11,000 or whatever, but I don't think I compare myself to him at all. There is no use of comparing myself to him. To me he is beyond reach.'
Cricket, although heavily dependent on stats, does not lend itself to black-and-white answers when it comes to defining greats. Sometimes, though, they do help aid the argument, and for Sangakkara, that certainly is the case.
All statistics are via ESPNCricinfo Statsguru unless otherwise stated.