x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sangakkara's timely reminder at Sharjah Cricket Stadium

Sri Lankan crafts an old-fashioned century, which marks the return of Test cricket to a historic venue in the shadow of the spot-fixing hearing in London.

Kumar Sangakkara, who scored a century on Thursday, is considered the sport’s good man.
Kumar Sangakkara, who scored a century on Thursday, is considered the sport’s good man.

SHARJAH // Another chastening day for world cricket ended with Pakistan's players seemingly regressing to a time when the sport was still considered a game for gentlemen.

With light drawing in on Sharjah's first day back in top-flight international cricket after a pained, eight-year hiatus, the umpires ushered the two sides back to the dressing rooms.

That was the signal for Pakistan's players to form an orderly queue to politely shake the hand of Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan centurion, and congratulate him on another fine day's work.

It all seemed so civil, a reminder that cricket is only a game, and manners and sincerity can still play a part if the players so wish.

For much of the day, Sangakkara eschewed his batting helmet and wore a cap instead. No sponsors logos there, just some marks from the sweat of good honest toil. Like the good old days.

Even the run-rate was old school, a sedentary 2.84, as Sri Lanka closed the first day of a Test they must win to halve the series handily placed to do so at 245 for two.

It seemed a world away from the UK court where a judge was simultaneously passing down prison sentences to three corrupt cricketers, who he said had besmirched a game whose name once stood for fair-dealing.

Among the Pakistani tour party in the UAE, there is little evidence of the scars of the spot-fixing furore, and the players have been ordered not to discuss the issues unfolding elsewhere.

Waqar Younis, who was the Pakistan coach during that murky series in the UK, is back in Sharjah, however. He is now serving in a commentator capacity, after stepping down from his role due to health reasons.

He expressed sadness for the families of the three jailed players, but said he hoped the episode can signal a new start for the game.

"I hope this will be taken as a positive for the cricketing world," Waqar said. "This was happening, and something like this was needed for this period to be cleaned up.

"Hopefully, now cricketers will think not even twice but 10 times before even thinking about doing something like this."

Perhaps it was fitting that Sangakkara should be the star of the first day of the rest of cricket's life. The former Sri Lanka captain is regarded as one of cricket's good guys.

He recently was granted a standing ovation after delivering a lecture on the spirit of cricket at Lord's, in which he recounted the day he and his national teammates were almost killed when their bus was attacked on their way to a Test in Lahore.

"He is a fantastic player and was hungry for runs here," Marvan Atapattu, Sri Lanka's batting coach, said of Sangakkara. "He looks to me as though he is getting better by the day. He works so hard and is a fantastic role model.

"It is nice to have a senior player like him in the side for young players to follow. Just by looking at his routines, people can learn a lot."

If a symbol for regeneration was needed, there was a ready-made one in the form of the very ground they were playing at.

Until recently, Sharjah was a dilapidated shell of a stadium, being nudged towards ruin by the absence of serious, pays-the-bills international matches.

Having been granted a second crack at the big time when this series was announced, the ground looked neat and ready after two weeks of round-the-clock maintenance.

The batsmen will be delighted by the return of Sharjah to the roster of international grounds.

On Thursday's evidence, the groundsman here is still not keen on the idea of making life easy for bowlers. However, despite the toil, Pakistan were not complaining.

"We are very pleased this ground has been revived," said Naushad Ali, the 68-year-old Pakistan team manager. "A lot of work has been done, it is a wonderful stadium and we have always considered it a home ground."

pradley@thenational.ae

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