Kumar Sangakkara will play his final game for Surrey – and the last first-class match of his magnificent career – against Lancashire at Old Trafford next week, with both teams aiming to finish runners-up in the Specsavers County Championship.
Surrey, in second place, are just three points ahead of Lancashire following a six-wicket victory against Somerset at the Kia Oval, after which Sangakkara paid a generous and heart-felt tribute both to the Surrey club, staff and players and to county cricket overall.
“The county professional is a very, very special breed of person and I've found a completely new respect not just for county cricket but for the game as a whole,” said Sangakkara of his three years in the English domestic game.
“To understand that wherever there is first-class cricket, the pride with which they play this sport, the pride in which the club supports the players and the pride with which the fans come and embrace those players, it's something that suddenly hit me and it hit me once I retired from international cricket.
“I regret that but I also thank Surrey for allowing me to rediscover that immense love and passion that first-class cricket and cricketers have for this game, and what an amazing breeding ground it is for players.”
Sri Lankan great Sangakkara, 40 next month, hit a first innings 157 against Somerset – remarkably, his eighth hundred in nine championship games this summer - and then a calming second innings 35 from 47 balls to make sure Surrey made light work of chasing down 143 in 41 overs in the last session of the match. In 14 championship innings, he now has 1,442 runs at an average of 110.92. Talk about going out on a high!
Sangakkara, however, remains modest about his extraordinary personal achievements. "I was just hoping to pull my weight in the dressing room,” he added. “This has been something very special. I don't really know how it happened. I've changed my batting over the last three seasons - I've changed my backlift, I've tried various things. Something this season has worked.”
He also made a point of singling out Steve Howes, Surrey’s cricket manager, for looking after both himself and his family during his stay in London and spoke too of the amount of young cricketing talent in the Oval dressing room.
“What has given me most satisfaction is seeing how the senior players at the club have led the group and that we have become a force in Division One. To watch all the young guys go about their business has rekindled my own passion and I have learned a lot and am very grateful for that. There have been lots of moments I will never forget.”
Sangakkara, though, knows now is also the right time to leave first-class cricket. “Sides need to grow, and need new players coming in,” he added. “Surrey need someone different, to help them grow again, but there is so much homegrown talent in the squad and they are a county producing cricketers for England.”