LONDON: Such has been the majesty of Kumar Sangakkara for Surrey this season, that cricket supporters of a certain vintage could be forgiven for thinking they had been transported back to 1994.
The Sri Lankan brought up his 1 000th run of the season on the second day of Surrey’s match against Yorkshire at Headingley. Sangakkara’s 180 off just 183 balls was his sixth century in just 11 innings so far this season. A highlights clip of his brutal assault on the Yorkshire bowling should have come with an 18 rating for any locals brave enough to watch it. Preferably from behind the sofa.
His prolific run-scoring brings to mind the similarly remarkable feats of Brian Lara for Warwickshire 23 years ago – a season that saw the Bears celebrate an unprecedented domestic treble.
Lara scored 2066 runs in 1994, including seven hundreds in eight innings. One of them was rather large: a history-making 501 not out against Durham at Edgbaston, which broke so many records that it took The Independent almost an entire page to list them all.
“The Durham scorer, Brian Hunt, said he had never worked as hard in his life but it had been worth it. He looked tired, but elated, just like Brian Lara himself,” wrote Glenn Moore after an innings that turned conventional cricket on its head.
The second and third of Lara’s centuries that season came against Leicestershire in Birmingham – innings witnessed at close hand by the then-Foxes’ wicket-keeper, Paul Nixon, who found himself in a privileged, if unwanted position.
“If you have a world-class batsman, like Brian, in the opposition, then you want them to get a cheeky little 30 and then get out,” he tells The Independent. “You want to see them play a few great shots and just been in awe of it. Then you want them to throw it away. Unfortunately for us that didn’t happen.
“What was amazing for me, and I’ve never really got this with any other player with the possible exception of Brad Hodge, was that once he got to 40 he just hit boundaries. His boundary count was just phenomenal.”
The same could be said of Sangakkara, who went from 100 to 150 against Yorkshire in just 28 balls on Tuesday. Both diminutive in stature and left-handed, the similarities between the West Indian and the Sri Lankan extend beyond their insatiable appetite for runs.
It’s the impact that Lara and Sangakkara have had on their sides, though, that really makes their contributions standout.
The likes of Roger Twose, Dominic Ostler and Keith Piper all benefited hugely from Lara’s presence, raising their game in a bid to get as near as mere mortals could to emulating Lara’s genius.
It’s a similar story at The Oval this season, with Ben Foakes and particularly Mark Stoneman, thriving in the presence of the Sri Lankan.
“You saw it in that Warwickshire side that season – players were playing above themselves,” says Nixon. “You can’t help but do it when you’ve got a player like Lara or Sangakkara in your side. He was always talking to his partner at the other end, always offering advice.
“What was different about a player like Lara is that he could hit your good balls for four, at will. He basically had three or four options to every ball he received.”
Sangakkara’s audacious ramp shot against Yorkshire on Tuesday showed he is equally rich in placement choices, regardless of where the ball was pitched and who was delivering it.
This was, after all, a Yorkshire side containing an Ashes winner in Tim Bresnan, one of the leading wicket-takers in this season’s County Championship, Ben Coad, and England leg-spinner Adil Rashid.
The latter was probably left wishing he had been afforded a break by England after being smashed for 107 off just 16 overs.
With Surrey already in the Royal London Cup final on Saturday, where they’ll meet Nottinghamshire, silverware is already in touching distance. The arrival of Aaron Finch and Kevin Pietersen for the T20 Blast will further boost their chances of challenging in this season’s shortest format.
With Sangakkara in this mood, a first County Championship since 2002 can’t be discounted either. The odds of a similar treble to Warwickshire’s in 1994 must be tumbling.
On a personal front, after bringing up his 1000th run at indecent speed, Sangakkara can now set his sights on a 2 000-run mark not hit in county cricket since Mark Ramprakash’s boundary-strewn summer of 2007. It’s a tally that has been reached just 13 times in the past 30 years.
At the age of 39, even the ageless Sangakkara will admit that time is not on his side. Plenty of counties will wish he was on theirs.