Surrey 265 for 5 (Sangakkara 113*, Sibley 54) v Middlesex
When they talk about the best players – the very best players – achievements, accolades and statistics only go so far. Kumar Sangakkara, scorer of 38 Test hundreds for Sri Lanka, approaching 20,000 runs in first-class cricket and an impressive humanitarian for good measure, finally has his hook.
Some have statues, others have busts but the only fitting Sangakkara tribute could come via a brush rather than a hammer and chisel. And on the day that a portrait of the 39-year-old was unveiled in the Lord’s Pavilion, he treated Lord’s to the strokes of a genius.
The only part of his innings that showed any force was a succession of sixes off Ollie Rayner, both into the Grandstand on the leg side (the shortest hit), which took him to 95. Otherwise, he was at his majestic best: off the mark, first ball, with a four through extra cover off Middlesex captain James Franklin who, for the most part, had the better of him. Off his 132nd, he drove Rayner through cover for the runs that would take him to his hundred – a third in a row, following efforts against Lancashire and Warwickshire.
It is worth noting that Sangakkara’s portrait is very good. He can count himself lucky: there are a few questionable efforts that adorn the Pavilion walls. Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss must regret whatever they said to their respective artists before they had their sittings. Sangakkara’s too smooth an operator to make that mistake.
You can imagine him walking out to bat on the fall of Scott Borthwick’s wicket, passing his portrait and giving it quick look to check there wasn’t a hair out of place before guiding Surrey out of trouble.
Sangakkara watched on as Rory Burns was caught superbly by a one-handed catch from Ollie Rayner, diving to his right in front of first slip, to leave the visitors 83 for 3 before lunch. Relief came in the form of Dom Sibley – the only right-hander in Surrey’s top five – who helped put on 114.
Sibley’s future lies at the top of the order, but an internship in the engine room will serve him well. He effectively manoeuvred an already spread field and picked off eight boundaries in his 54, his second half-century of the season. It is worth noting that since he became the youngest player to make a double century against Yorkshire in 2013, he has yet to pass three figures in the Championship. Injury and opportunity have played their part in that.
Ultimately, Sangakkara was the difference between these two evenly-matched sides. Both got their wish when the coin toss fell Middlesex’s way but the hosts will know they should already be ahead in this match. Both Franklin and Steven Finn bowled well for their two wickets but it was promising young seamer Tom Helm, in his first Championship start of the season, who summed up their frustrations.
Helm has been talked up around these parts for some time and you could see why in the 19 overs he sent down today for just 1 for 58. With an uncomplicated approach and a tall action that has more of a front elbow than a front arm, he swung the ball and got it to jag up off the surface at impressive speeds.
He had Mark Stoneman dropped at gully by David Malan before Adam Voges shelled Sibley, on 20, at first slip. Voges would make amends later, as the same combination eventually came good. Helm also gave Ben Foakes, a player tipped for higher honours, a relentless working over and could probably lay claim to an assist when Foakes twitched at a full delivery from Finn to edge behind for 19.
The biggest source of regret for Middlesex came when Sangakkara was stranded mid-pitch, after Sibley had called and aborted a quick single, with just 24 to his name. Toby Roland-Jones, the bowler, hurtled into the leg side to pick up the ball, before bracing and firing at the non-striker’s end. Sangakkara was nowhere in sight, as the throw just missed and Helm, backing up from mid off, was unable to convert from the rebound. Sangakkara survived – and did so till rain washed away the remaining 24 overs of the day.
In his first six Test innings at Lord’s, Sangakkara only managed 140 runs. With his seventh in 2014, he finally fulfilled a dream and got himself on the honours board. Three years later, he has got his face on the wall. Should he go bigger tomorrow, they might start calling this place Kumar’s.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport