Colombo: None other than Sunil Gavaskar was there to welcome him into the "Former Cricketers' Club" as Sri Lankan batting legend Kumar Sangakkara fought back tears in an emotional farewell where the country's President stumped him by offering the High Commissioner's post in the UK.
It couldn't exactly be the fairytale he would have hoped for as India thrashed the home side by 278 runs in what was Sangakkara's final hurrah.
Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara (C) addresses a ceremony after the second Test cricket match between Sri Lanka and India at the P. Sara Oval Cricket Stadium in Colombo on Monday. Pic/AFP
But the 37-year-old left-hander, who signed off with 12,400 runs in 134 Tests at an average of 57.40, had a wide grin on his face for most part as dignitaries -- one after another -- showered him with mementos and good wishes in an elaborate farewell ceremony after the match.
"People ask me about the big achievements, the hundreds, the World Cup wins, but I just look up at the box, all my friends over the last 30 years have come up here on a Monday to watch me play. To be able to go back to a family that will love me whether I win or lose, that is my greatest achievement," said Sangakkara in a speech thanking everyone from his former school principal to the formative coaches to the visiting Indians.
Much before the actual ceremony, the affable batsman walked out to warm embraces and handshakes with Virat Kohli's men after the fall of the last Sri Lankan wicket on the fifth day of the match.
Signing autographs and posing for pictures with the ground-staff while the presentation ceremony was on, Sangakkara grinned widely when a special ceremony began to honour his contribution to the game.
The dignitaries included Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Gavaskar and Sri Lanka's only World Cup-winning skipper Arjuna Ranatunga.
"I wish you an excellent second innings in life. I hope it is as incredible as your first innings. And now I welcome you to join...drum roll...former cricketers' club," Gavaskar quipped as he handed out an envelope to Sangakkara, leaving him in splits.
Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara bids a tearful farewell to international cricket at the P. Sara Oval Cricket Stadium on Monday and was immediately offered the post of the island's top envoy in Britain where he plays county cricket. Pic/AFP
"You have been the big brother in the Sri Lankan dressing room. The sound of the ball hitting your bat and going for a boundary is the sound that no cricket lover would ever forget," said the former captain on a more serious note. "Fairytale endings are not always possible. Kumar, you manfully shouldered the burden of expectations all these years...You could not go out on a high but what you have achieved over the last decade would be remembered."
An emotional Kumar Sangakkara on Monday said his greatest achievement in life is to go back to a family that has and will continue loving him irrespective of his performances on the cricket field.
Before that, Sirisena created quite a flutter by offering Sangakkara the post of Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in the UK while paying his tribute in Sinhalese.
The batsman, among a select group of 12 who scored hundreds against every Test-playing nation, was also felicitated by Kohli. The Indian captain presented him with a team jersey signed by every member of the visiting side.
The mutual admiration between the two was quite evident as both shared an embrace with huge smiles on their faces.
Finally, the legend took the microphone to share his thoughts and he fought back tears on more than one occasion.
"I have so many people to thank...," said the stylish batsman.
Sangakkara also thanked his former coaches and team-mates and added the current Sri Lankan team headed by allrounder Angelo Mathews should always play fearless cricket.
"To all my past captains, to all my team-mates, the support, the inspiration, the drive you have shown, I value them very highly. All the moments in the dressing room, I am going to miss that very much. To Charlie and Suthami Austin, it has not been as easy job managing me. But you have become much more than a manger. Thank you most of all for making me the godfather of your beautiful children."
The former Sri Lanka skipper also said his biggest inspiration has been his parents and thanked them for their contribution over the years.
"A lot of people have asked me what has inspired. I don't have to look beyond my parents. I am sorry I don't want to embarrass you but you have been my inspiration. And my siblings. Thank you amma and appachi. I had the most amazing parents and siblings. They supported me whether I played well or not. I felt safe at home," said a choking Sangakkara.
"They say you can't choose your family, but I am thankful I was born your children and your sibling. I am sorry I don't always get emotional, but this is the rare time that my parents and my siblings are here."
Sangakkara also thanked his team and the visiting Indians for giving him an emotional farewell. "To Virat and the Indian team, thanks for the kind words and more importantly the quality of cricket you have brought here. I couldn't have asked anything more than tough cricket when I am leaving. You have been our toughest opponents. We have planned to beat you. Sometimes we have succeeded, sometimes we haven't, but thanks for being there," he said.
"Finally to Angelo (Mathews) and my team. Angie, you have an amazing team. You have an amazing future. Just be fearless. Don't be afraid to lose when you are going for a win."
Among the greatest batsmen of all time, Sangakkara's ODI run haul stood at 14,234 in 404 matches at an average of 41.98, including 25 hundreds.
THE FULL SPEECH:
Your excellency, the President of Sri Lanka, the honourable Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, all the well wishers and the invitees, fans, all my friends, my family - who are all here, which is a rare occasion that all of us are together - Virat Kohli and the Indian team, Angelo and my team, I have got so many people to thank here.
Starting of with my school, Trinity college gave me a fantastic grounding in life and I owe a lot to that for what I've achieved to today. To all my coaches, my father used to take me to so many coaches when I was young. Mr. Sunil Fernando, he has coached me from the age of 12, everything that he's taught me has stood me in very good stead. He was from my rival school but he was kind enough to coach me.Whenever I go to Kandy, my father still takes me to him and I spend a couple of hours in the cement nets where I used to play as a kid trying to refine my basics a little more.
To all my past captains and my all my teammates, thanks a lot for all that you've done for me. The support that I've achieved, the inspiration, the drive and the commitment you've shown, not just to the game, also to each other, I value them very very highly. I am going to miss all those times in the dressing room talking, laughing...talking about nonsense, talking about cricket, I am going to miss that. To Charlie and Suthami Austin, you've become much more than a manager, you've become family. I know I've not thanked you enough in the past, but today I'd like to say a huge thank you for being friends, my manager and most of all for making me the god-father of your beautiful children.
A lot of people asked me who inspired me, I didn't have to go far for inspiration because I have my parents here with me. I am sorry but I don't want to embarrass you too much but I didn't have to look too far from home for inspiration because I've had the most amazing parents anyone could wish for. I've had amazing siblings and all the support and love they've showed over the years whether I played cricket or not, whether I did well or not the only place I could go and feel safe was at home. A big thank you to all my in-laws, I've been blessed with an extended family. They always say you can't choose family, you can only choose your friends but I am glad I was born as your son and your sibling, thank you very much.
I am sorry I don't usually get emotional but it is very rarely when my parents and my siblings come and watch me play and I am very very thankful. To cap it all off, I've had 15 wonderful years and everyone asks me what my achievement was the World Cup win, the hundreds I've scored. But I would like to say, when I look up at the box today and see all my friends, the people I've known for 30 years of my life, people I've met later in life, all coming here on a Monday to support me. To have all my family here, my friends here and after this day is over to sit down at home and spend some time with my family and to see that they still love me no matter what happens, no matter whether I win or lose that their love is unconditional that will be my greatest achievement. To all the Sri Lankan fans, it gives me immense pleasure to represent all of you.
To Virat and the Indian team, thank you for everything, your kindness and all the words. I can't ask for anything more than tough cricket when I am leaving. Thank you very much for putting in the effort. You guys over the years, have been our toughest opponents. Doesn't matter if we've lost today, we'll try and beat you in the next team (smiles). Thank you for the toughness and thank you for really making it a privilege of mine to play against you. Angi (Mathews), you have an amazing team and an amazing future. I just hope you will work hard and enjoy this sport, the sport we have only for a short time - it comes and goes but don't be afraid. Take pride in what you do and don't be afraid to lose when you're searching for a win and keep the the Sri Lankan flag flying high.
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