The Kumar Sangakkara Farewell Tour rolls into Chelmsford tomorrow, when Surrey start a four-day game against Essex that is also a battle between the top two teams in Division One of the Specsavers County Championship. With Alastair Cook due to play for Essex, moreover, it is a chance for cricket fans to see two modern batting greats in an intimate domestic setting.
Former England Test captain Cook plans to bat on for several years to come, but for Sangakkara this looks certain to be his last summer in the first-class game. He will be 40 in October and indicated, following Surrey’s hard-fought draw at champions Middlesex earlier this week, that it is only the global T20 circuit which is likely to see him once he finishes the county season in September.
The great Sri Lankan veteran of 134 Tests and 404 ODIs has been in magnificent form since Surrey’s championship campaign began in early April. He has plundered 592 runs from Surrey’s first four matches, at an average of 98.66, dwarfing Cook’s efforts for Essex so far; the prolific England Test opener has ‘only’ 337 runs from three games at 67.40.
Moreover, Sangakkara’s two centuries in the match against Middlesex at Lord’s last week meant he joined Jack Hobbs, Tom Hayward and Ian Ward in scoring four successive first-class hundreds for Surrey. He had also made 105 against Warwickshire and 136 against Lancashire in April in his previous two championship knocks.
Gareth Batty, the Surrey captain, said: “You only need to look at the way Kumar plays to know that he will go down as one of the greats of the game, whenever it is he decides to finish. Until then, all I can hope is that our youngsters learn from him because that is the greatest gift that Kumar can pass down to our players while he’s with us.
“If you look at the way Ben Foakes, Sam Curran and Dom Sibley are developing this season, however, then I’d like to think that’s already happening. If I were to find slight fault with them it’s that they maybe need to convert and extend into three figures a little better than they have been doing and to get themselves into the hundreds like the great man does. But there’s no doubt it’s a privilege to be batting at the other end to him.”
Surrey’s two winter recruits from Durham, Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick, have also been in fine batting form this season, with 388 runs at 64.66 and 257 at 51.40 respectively, but despite that, and Cook’s presence, there is no doubt that it is Sangakkara who will be the centre of attention at Chelmsford over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Just look at his championship scores so far this season: 71, 46, 136, 105, 114 and 120. And, in the Royal London One-Day Cup, Sangakkara has also had innings of 124 not out, 59 and 81 not out.
Leaders Essex are just one point ahead of Surrey, 57 to 56, and Batty added: “Essex are running hot right now. They’re playing on result pitches and getting on the right end of those results 50 per cent of the time, at least.
“But we go there very confident about how we’re playing our cricket and hopefully it’ll be a result surface that we’re on the right end of. There are a few niggles about just now, but we’ll see how the guys pull up once we get down to Chelmsford and have some nets.”
Surrey are expected to travel with the same squad of 13 as for the Middlesex game, which included 18-year-old off spinner Amar Virdi, and with fast bowler Jade Dernbach still unavailable through injury.