Only yesterday, Kumar Sangakkara was voted by Australia’s Test cricketers as the second-best batsman in the world.
The compact left-hander with the near-perfect technique smashed Australia for 192 in Hobart when the Sri Lankans last toured here 18 months ago, an innings regarded by some as among the most brilliant from any visiting player in the past decade, maybe longer.
Little wonder that Sangakarra was given 36% of the vote by those players on a Cricket Australia contract, in answer to the question: Who is the World’s Best Opposition Batsman? (England’s Kevin Pietersen pipped him for the title of No.1 with 50% of the vote*. Way back in joint third place were the South African pair of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis on 7%.)
On Monday, Sangakarra made 104 in a Sri Lankan total of 606 in the Second Test against Pakistan in Lahore. His teammate, Thilan Samaweera, made a double century batting at No.5 and, in doing so, became only the seventh batsman in Test history to notch double hundreds in consecutive Tests. A third player,opening batsman Tharanga Paranavitana, made 21 in just his second Test.
That was Monday. On Tuesday, all three players were rushed to hospital in Lahore after the bus taking them to the ground for the third day’s play was attacked by terrorists. Sangakarra and Samaweera were hit by shrapnel in the shoulder and chest, respectively; Paranavitana by a bullet.
Paranavitana had made a golden duck just a week ago in his Test debut. As he lay there in a Lahore hospital yesterday, with a gunshot wound to his thigh, that minor misfortune — which must have seemed like a catastrophe at the time — was suddenly put into perspective.
Eight people were killed in the attack and Sangakarra, Samaweera and Paranavitana were among seven Sri Lankan cricketers wounded. Mercifully, none of them appears to be in a serious condition.
Maybe now we can ease off on the war metaphors when we talk about cricket, and all other sport for that matter. Tony Greig in the commentary box routinely says well-struck shots have reached the boundary with the speed “of a tracer bullet”.’ We talk about great players being “guns”’. Umpires “fire” batsmen when they raise their finger. Spinners bowling on a worn pitch get balls to “explode”’ out of the rough.
In far-off Australia, few people outside of the nuff-nuff cricket trainspotting brigade, have heard of many of these Sri Lankan players before. Sadly, those players will become known now not for their cricket prowess but something quite different.
The attack is the latest seismic event to alter the sub-continental cricketing landscape in recent years. Because it will be a long time before international cricket is played in Pakistan again — as International Cricket Council chiefs, and cricket associations around the world, have all stated emphatically in the past 24 hours.
And that is a setback the ICC, battling to regain control of a game now dominated by India and the Twenty20 revolution it has spawned, can ill afford.
*In the annual Australian Cricketers’ Association players’ survey, published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.