Sri Lanka pulled off a historic series victory over South Africa Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Kumar Sangakkara, the legendary Sri Lankan batsman, has always been an interviewer’s delight. While his batting exploits in all formats makes him one of the modern greats, the former Sri Lankan captain’s articulate replies make him a favourite with the media — and it’s no wonder that he is now a respected commentator after his retirement.

Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, the eloquent Sangakkara was all praise for the manner in which Sri Lanka raised their game to upset South Africa in the away Test series recently. “The team has struggled for the last two years,” he said. “We saw a glimpse of what they can do when they achieved the amazing victory in the Test series against South Africa. They just need to keep understanding how they play and how they play best. Keep making sure that they do their best and keep building on their best performances. They are a very talented side, they need experience and they need a probably a few clear heads out there in the middle when the pressure is on. but I am sure they will regroup into a good team as time goes on.

Asked about Virat Kohli’s superhuman feats with the bat and the factors behind such prolific scoring, Sangakkara said: “I think Virat is an absolute genius. He is concentrating on every aspect of his game. It is not just about his on-field run scoring, it is about his fitness levels what he eats and it is about how he thinks about the game. The passion with which he plays is such that he is such a confident, secure player in his own abilities. If you take his method of run scoring, it’s always a very simple method that he uses to score and he repeats from series to series. Undoubtedly, he is one of the greatest-ever players.”

There are quite a few sides who can challenge for the World Cup.

- Kumar Sangakkara, Former Sri Lankan captain

How does Sangakkara compare Virat with Sachin Tendulkar? “They are different people and different players,” he said. “They go about their work differently. Sachin showed us that immense responsibility, for such a long time of 25 years and he did it incredibly well. Here (in Virat) we have a young player who is now challenging all the records that Sachin has held and he might very well beat most of those records. It just goes to show what a great player Virat has become and what more that he can do — that is the scary part. He just in the middle of his career and so he is just going to get better in the next few years and he has been phenomenal for India and for world cricket.”

Which sides, according to him, are the favourites to win the World Cup, which starts in May? “There are quite a few sides who challenge for the World Cup. India and England are probably in the top two. Australia had an amazing victory chasing down 360 or more (in Mohali). South Africa can challenge. New Zealand, they fly below the radar but they are very tough side. So it will be an interesting World Cup.”

Very few know Sangakkara had learnt the game by reading about it. “It is a combination of everything. You need to have education in the roots of the game, the history and the culture of the game. So, reading about past players, anecdotal stories of past players — it all adds to your character as a player and your knowledge base. Then watching cricket gives you an idea of how players go about things, about technical aspects of the game, the analysis of it and then actually playing the game. It gives you first-hand experience of how to apply what you learnt in terms of technique and skill on the cricket field. It is a combination of everything that makes you a good player.”

Sangakkara, who had piled up 12,400 runs in Tests and 14,234 runs in ODI internationals, explained what makes a prolific batsman. “First of all you as an individual player need to realise how you score your runs best,” he said. “Make sure you have that plan down to achieve and you train the same way and make sure that you hone your skills — day in and day out. During practice, make sure your fitness is on an absolute high and then keep adding good things to your game as you progress. It is always a work in progress and year after year, more you mature the better you get as long as your fundamentals are right.”

Quote/Unquote

On Virat Kohli:

“What a great player Virat is become and has become and what more that he can do and that is the scary part. He is just in the middle of his career and is just going to get better in the next few years.”

On Sri Lanka

“We saw a glimpse of what they can do when they achieved the amazing victory in the Test series against South Africa. They just need to keep understanding how they play and how they play best.”

On World Cup favourites:

“India and England are probably in the top two. Australia had an amazing victory chasing down 360. South Africa can challenge. New Zealand, they fly below the radar, but they are very tough side.”

On reading about cricket

“Reading about past players, anecdotal stories of past players it all adds to your character as a player and your knowledge base. Then watching cricket gives you an idea of how players go about things.”

On how to be a prolific scorer

“Make sure you have that plan down to achieve and you train the same way and make sure that you hone your skills day in and day out. During practice, make sure your fitness is in absolute high, and then keep adding good things to your game as you progress.”