*This article of mine was originally published in the Sunday Leader a week ago.
We know a lot about Kumar Sangakkara.
For starters, we know the trivial things – he’s almost 38, was born in Matale, and studied law before he broke into cricket. We know the important things – that Sangakkara is one of the influential cricketers in the history of humanity, something not just backed up by the awards he’s won and the records he’s broken, but also by the fact that in the process of batting sixes, keeping wickets and captaining his team, he has somehow won the respect of the entire world.
Let’s examine that last sentence. The respect of the entire world – that’s very hard to achieve. We live in an age where every man’s life and lies are laid bare, and every hero has a dark side appended to his name. Mahatma Gandhi was great, but he was a hypocrite. Thomas Edison invented so many things, but he screwed Nikola Tesla over. Malinga is a great bowler, but he’s got a nasty mouth on him. Mahinda Rajapakse was…but. Maithripala Sirisena is …but. There is always a but suffixed to these sentiments, forcefully gluing on a bit of darkness to dim the lights.
Sangakkara? For Sanga alone, there is no but.
It’s a miracle in itself. Indians respect him. Pakistanis respect him. Sri Lankans respect him. Australians respect him. In fact, he’s probably the one man that all four nations are united in admiration for.
How is this possible? Sanga has presence. To call it attitude would be to coarsen it. Not for nothing is Sanga called one of the most polished and prudent batsmen in the world of cricket. Sanga radiates honesty and fairness. His speeches are not derogatory, but respectful; he does not slander or abuse. To call him a straight bat is difficult, because he’s straighter than most bats.
Take, for example, this excerpt from a speech he gave in 2004:
“The public perception of sledging is to go out there and abuse someone in obscene language, questioning their parentage or sexual preferences. That kind of abuse does not belong on the field of play.”
It’s been 11 years since he gave that little speech, and in 11 years his public face has been very much in line with that of the gentleman cricketer: supremely skilled, and yet polite, reasonable and respectful to a fault. That kind of image builds up.
That said, what should he use this power on?
Opinion is divided, especially after President Maithripala Sirisena offered him the post of High Commissioner to the UK. Many understand that Sanga, with his international fanbase, already has more influence in certain circles than most politicians. Sanga’s celebrity status means that he could hold significant power over not just ministers in the UK but also their cricket-loving constituents. He could very well be the second Lakshman Kadirgarmar, and perhaps an improvement on the old model. There’s definitely no lack of talent there.
Nevertheless, I think Kumar Sangakkara would be right to stay away from that post.
It’s not a question of talent. Nor is it a question of track record. We already know far more about Sangakkara than we do about the politicians we elect into power. Very few people know what school Rosy Senanayake or Udaya Gammanpila went to, much less what they did there. Or what they were even like back then. Sanga? We know a lot.
It’s more a question of legacy.
If Sanga takes the post, he stops being Sangakkara, the Cricketer, and like it or not, he becomes Sangakkara, the Politician. Like it or not, that star will fade. The post of the High Commissioner to the UK only showed up in the news when Chris Nonis decided he’d had enough. Sangakkara the Political Appointee will not be an inspiration, but a bureaucrat.
It’s similar to what happened to Sanath. Sanath Jayasuriya was a superstar; he just stayed on too long past his prime, did too many commercials, until he lost that respect due to a legend. And then this happened.
Thankfully, Sanga’s not dancing with the stars yet. But back to the job. Despite what people say now, somewhere down the line, someone will ask why a cricketer was made a Commissioner. Someone else will say he wasn’t trained for it and didn’t have the skills for it (completely forgetting the fact that most politicians in Sri Lanka are untrained and don’t have the skills for what they do). And thus they will cry havoc and let loose the dogs of slander. What good is a cricket bat against an obituary by a journalist?
If Sanga stays, he retains his status. He stays Kumar Sangakkara. He remains a legend – undiluted, unpolluted, undimmed. Nothing and no-one can take that from him, unless he himself chooses to.
Of course, that’s my two cents. If Sangakkara does accept the post of High Commissioner to the UK, well, that’s probably the best shot this country has right now. But ask yourself: what would you rather remember this man as? A dashing cricketer and a gentleman, or as a stuffed suit who died forgotten?