Tuesday, 16 December 2014 00:07
As Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara prepare for their final ODI together at home, the aspects of their partnership that will be celebrated the most will be their humility and altruism.ESPNCricinfo: Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are shooting stills for a clothing sponsor in April, when the photographer asks Sangakkara to stand behind his friend and pose as if helping him into a jacket. Both men get into position. Upon realising how intimate the shot would turn out, they begin to cringe aloud.
“With what people say about us already, imagine what it will be like when this goes up on a billboard,” Jayawardene says. Laughing, Sangakkara takes the gag further: “Maybe for the next one I could be undressing Mahela.”
This is what their world has come to. A world in which they have so many matches, net and gym sessions, speaking engagements, sponsored photo shoots, business ventures and family occasions together, that they meet virtually every day. A world in which the depth of their friendship is a point of mild embarrassment for them and their families. A world in which Mahela-Sanga slash fiction now exists.
As the nation readies to witness their final match together at home, on Tuesday, the men themselves can’t complain they didn’t ask for it. United in battles in Sri Lanka, against administrators, as they have been on the field, at each end of the pitch, or at keeper and slip, Jayawardene and Sangakkara have lived out perhaps the greatest cricket bromance of all time.
On the surface, they are a classic buddy-cop duo, opposites in so many ways, yet profoundly in sync at an elemental level. Jayawardene is well-organised and punctual in his personal life, while Sangakkara is habitually half an hour late to appointments, meetings and sponsor events - a trait he shares with most others on the island.
At the crease, it’s Jayawardene who is on Sri Lankan time. So delicate is that cut, and so sleepy is that cover drive, that he seems to hit the ball half an hour after it has been delivered. At the other end, Sangakkara is all business, straight lines and optimum angles; the Vitruvian man of cricket. He drills one to deep cover for a single, then watches his friend, the batting Picasso, transition from classical to surreal, sometimes within an innings, other times inside an over, however the mood strikes.
Their achievements together are so immense, though, that even the buddy-cop analogy doesn’t quite do them justice. The biggest-ever Test partnership is theirs. They have also shared 36 century stands, across all formats, among numerous other records. Did Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker ever beat up 624 triad thugs in one scene? Did Mel Gibson and Danny Glover ever take down three dozen kingpins? Starsky and Hutch didn’t co-own a seafood joint either. So sure are Sangakkara and Jayawardene of the success of their partnership that, in a country notorious for its crooked politics, they named their restaurant the Ministry of Crab. The food is as delicious as their batting. The prices, many Colombars complain, are nearly ludicrous enough to match the state of the nation’s governance.
Perhaps two such dissimilar people should not be so in tune with each other, but in over 14 years together at the top level now, there are only rumours of minor rifts between the two. The most serious of these appears to have happened in 2007, when then-captain Jayawardene was going through such a lean ODI spell, he had wanted to drop himself from the side. Sangakkara had staunchly opposed this. That was the extent of the “fight”.
In the weeks leading up to Jayawardene’s Test retirement this year, each cricketer was in turn asked whom they thought was the better batsman. Jayawardene said this: “Sanga has been so consistent, that over the past six years you have to say he has gone past me, definitely.” Sangakkara responded with the following: “In my mind, there’s never been any doubt as to who is the better player, and it’s not me. Maiya makes those runs that really count, and takes pressure off the rest of the top order so well.” Surely, it is this kind of one-upmanship that turns their relationship from sweet to sickly saccharine. If a couple in your acquaintance said things like this to each other in public, you would want to punch them both in the face.
They think alike, their team-mates say of them, but miniscule moments of cricketing candour perhaps best reveal why they click so well together. Between them, Jayawardene and Sangakkara have hit 12 tons and 29 half-centuries across formats this year. Yet the milestones that brought them most visible joy weren’t their own. Jayawardene’s surprise bear-hug to Sangakkara at Lord’s warmed the cockles of even the stoniest hearts, in May. Four months before that, Kumar Sangakkara hit 424 runs in Chittagong, but had been more elated when Kaushal Silva got to triple figures opposite him in the game before that.
In a culture that values humility and altruism more than many, these are the snapshots the public will treasure, that will ensure the memory of their great stand endures long after their careers have ended, because while they have come to mean plenty to each other, little else means as much to their nation as Sri Lanka’s brothers-in-arms.