Sangakkara is a cut above the average

His Test mark of 56.62 per innings is better than Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis and Dravid. Ahmed Rizvi pays tribute to an often unsung hero.

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Any discussion about contemporary batting greats invariably revolves around Sachin Tendulkar or Ricky Ponting. Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid figure prominently in it, and Virender Sehwag makes most of the lists. Kumar Sangakkara is usually an afterthought, if he gets a mention at all. And yet he has scored runs at a better average than any of those illustrious contemporaries. The Sri Lanka captain, in more than a decade of Test cricket, has accumulated 7,871 runs in 90 Test matches.

His run aggregate is dwarfed by Tendulkar's 13,539 and Ponting's 12,206, while Kallis and Dravid have each scored more than 11,000 runs. But Sangakkara, 32, has scored his runs at an average of 56.62, which is the best among modern batsmen. Tendulkar comes next with 55.48, followed by Kallis (55.07) and Ponting (54.66) . Centuries in his last three innings - all against India - have certainly helped in improving Sangakkara's average, and many would point to the placid wickets in Sri Lanka, such as the Sinhalese Sports Club, where only four wickets have fallen in 177.4 overs and 737 runs have been scored in the ongoing Test, as the principal contributing figure to his tally. Facts, however, prove otherwise - he still boasts an average of more than 50 in away matches. And he has just started to reach his peak.

Sangakkara's 219 yesterday was his seventh double century and 23rd hundred in Test cricket. He shares the world record for the highest partnership, 624, with Mahela Jayawardene and his top score of 287 is better than the best of Tendulkar (248 not out), Ponting (257), Kallis (189 not out) and Dravid (270). A trainee lawyer, a lucid writer, a shrewd investor and a habitual sledger, Sangakkara's keen interest in the mental side of the game has been crucial to the increasing consistency in his batting.

"There is a lot of emphasis on mental toughness - being tough enough to last out difficult periods, being tough enough to overcome physical fatigue," he once said in an interview with Wisden Asia. "But there should also be emphasis on mental skills. This refers to how you read and adapt to situations. I am always thinking about what situation I am in now and what situations I am getting into. "Another area that I am looking at is my mental consistency. No matter who I am playing, my approach is the same. I don't take Bangladesh lightly and I don't give extra emphasis to Australia. I respect whoever is bowling to me."

Speaking further on the subject, he said it was important for batsmen to "project an image of dynamism, confidence and, sometimes, arrogance" and "to focus all your attention inward on what you should be doing". That advice could certainly help Harbhajan Singh. The India off-spinner, the highest Test wicket-taker (356) among bowlers still playing the five-day game, took his first wicket of the series after 448 balls (74.5 overs), when Jayawardene chipped him straight to mid-wicket.

That dismissal signalled the end of the trials for India's attack. They had bowled 159.4 overs and been punished for 642 runs, with just four wickets as rewards. In the series thus far, they have given away 1,258 runs in 297.5 overs for eight wickets. Wicketless in the first Test at Galle, where he was recovering from a bout of flu, Harbhajan has struggled to make an impression at the SSC. He has bowled quicker than usual and often defensively to a leg-side line.

The "Turbanator" had accepted there is little to fight for on a batting paradise and instead he tried to entertain his teammates with a few Bollywood dance routines on the opening day. On the second day, even that spark was missing. Harbhajan has been picked by Muttiah Muralitharan as the bowler most likely to break his record of 800 Test wickets. He still needs 445 more wickets to do that and to get anywhere close and he will need a lot better days than these.

1. K Sangakkara (SL) 56.62 2. S Tendulkar (India) 55.48 3. J Kallis (SA) 55.07 4. R Ponting (Aus) 54.66 5. M Jayawardene (SL) 54.63 6. V Sehwag (India) 53.97 7. R Dravid (ICC/India) 53.53 8. Mohammad Yousuf (Pak) 53.07 9. G Gambhir (India) 52.83 10. T Samaraweera (SL) 51.46