No matter where you were, no matter which was your favourite team, if you were watching Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene shaking hands with players in coloured jerseys for that one final time, post a humiliating defeat against South Africa and weren’t emotional, you possibly never were a cricket fan.
Because if you were, you would have been reminded of those infinite moments of pleasure these two gentlemen blessed you with throughout their incredible careers. Not just fans, but also several renowned cricketers, including the ones who were responsible for their early flights back home, took out a moment to congratulate the legendary duo for careers, which are nothing less than dreams for aspiring cricketers.
When South Africa went on to chase a paltry total of 133 runs in the second innings at the Sydney Cricket Ground, even though their batsmen played some wonderful strokes, the cameras were busy capturing images of Mahela and Sangakkara. Their shoulders had dropped and with every boundary that the Proteas hit, their expressions changed and it was only then that we realized we would never see them ever again in ODIs after another few overs.
After Sri Lanka won the toss and Angelo Mathews decided to bat first, the roar that followed made you forget that it was Australia and not Sri Lanka. Just like the match against Australia in the league stages, crowd had turned in massive numbers to cheer the Lankans, who have been extremely consistent with their performances in the ICC’s pinnacle event. Little did they know that it was the first and the last time that they would wave their flags so high, as what followed was a nothing less than a nightmare for them.
But, we have to agree; it just wasn’t Sri Lanka’s day. While the Proteas were determined to prove a point from the word go, Lankans had possibly lost the match before it began. In a high-voltage encounter like the quarter-final, they roped in an unheralded mystery spinner in Tharindu Kaushal, replaced Lahiru Thirimanne with Kusal Perera, while the former had been in red hot form at the top of the order. Then they sent Thirimanne ahead of Mahela following a stunning top order collapse, and last but not the least, the Sanga-Mahela duo wasn’t at its best in their final ODI appearance.
Mahela, who has the reputation of being a big match player, was expected to play a big knock in the first quarter-final as he had a poor tournament as per his own standards. The right-hander had scored one ton against Afghanistan in the league stage and since then hadn't done much batting as a result of stupendous form of Sanga, Thirimanne and Tillakaratne Dilshan at the top of the order.
How can one forget his magnificent knock at the Wankhede Stadium against the Men in Blue in the final of the 2011 World Cup? In a jam-packed stadium where almost every spectator was chanting 'India! India!' Mahela raised the game and stunned the crowd with his ton. Even in the 2007 World Cup semi-final, it was Mahela’s 115-run knock, which resulted into a comprehensive win for his team against the Black Caps.
Something similar was expected from him in the quarter-final against South Africa, but like most of his teammates, Mahela too, wasn't at his best and perished off to a soft dismissal. On most other occasions, it was a delivery he would have hit for a boundary one-handed even in his dreams. But that wasn’t meant to be.
Think about Kumar Sangakkara. The man, who achieved the impossible feat of four consecutive World Cup centuries, fought a slow but lone battle for the Lankans yet again. Bit with wickets falling at other end, it was a matter of time that he joined his teammates in the pavilion.
Considering his purple patch, the strategy would have been to let Sanga bat till the end of the fifty overs, as a result of which he could make the best of those ten overs that were supposed to be bowled by non-regular bowlers. But with early loss of wickets having sent them on the backfoot, JP Duminy, who was out of form right throughout the tournament, stunned the Lankans with a record World Cup hat-trick.
In their final ODI, Mahela and Sanga spent 24 deliveries at the crease. While they were not new to such a high-pressure match, it was proved that they too were human as they added just 12 runs in a fifth-wicket partnership. It wasn’t a fairy tale ending by any means. But these two wonderful ambassadors of the game would be remembered for those 13, 368 runs they scored as a pair – a world record, and not for those 24 balls.
It was painful to see them not leave on a high,
Cricket gets poorer as the legends bid goodbye,
Throughout their careers, their job was to rescue, to resurrect,
And they left with heads held high, with enormous respect!