World Cup knockout games are funny events. The pressure is immense and an attacking batsman is always in a quandary. Should he attack or should he consolidate and hit towards the end? The great Kumar Sangakkara had a clear game plan.
He chose the slow and steady path and more often than ended up bogging down Sri Lanka with this strategy.
Sanga debuted in 2000 and got his first chance at a knockout game in the 2003 World Cup semi-final with Australia. Batting first, Australia made a low 212-7. Many would have fancied Sri Lanka's chances especially with the likes of the attacking Sanath Jayasuriya in the batting line-up.
However the Lankans kept losing wickets regularly and Sanga came late down the order. He played a super slow 39 off 70 balls. Rain came and the revised Duckworth/Lewis target was 172. Sri Lanka was stranded at 123-7 and probably Sanga needed to score maybe 90 off his 70 for Lanka to have any chance.
In the 2007 semi-final with New Zealand, Sanga scored just 18 off 42. However, Upul Tharanga's 73 off 74 and Mahela Jayawardene's 115 off 109 saw Sri Lanka make a formidable 289 and New Zealand bit the dust.
The final was the only match which the script was changed a bit. Maybe because this time instead of batting first or chasing a low target, they were chasing Australia's 281. After Tharanga went early, Jayasuriya (63 off 67) and Sanga (54 off 52) put on a century partnership but both perished and so did Sri Lanka.
Sanga returned to his slow and steady state for 2011. In the semi-final with New Zealand, they were chasing a low target off 218. Sanga hit 54 off 79 balls and that proved to be enough. In the final with India, Sanga hit another slow 48 off 67.
Again, he was saved by Jaya who hit a blistering 103 off 88. A target of 275 seemed more than enough, but India chased it down with 10 balls to spare. A lot of fans might have thought that had Sanga played faster, maybe Sri Lanka might have done 300!
However, in the 2015 quarter final with South Africa, Sanga played the slowest knockout match innings off his life. He made just 45 off 96 balls at a strike rate of 46.9, which is really slow by even Virender Sehwag's Test standards.
Again there's no way to berate Sanga because the entire Lankan batting collapsed with the only decent knock by Lahiru Thirimanne, who hit 41 off 48. But still one wonders if Sanga had gone ballistic would they have a chance of posting 200 and putting pressure on South Africa which had choked in every World Cup knockout match before this?
The real tragedy is that Sanga was in the form of his life or rather the form of any World Cup.
His four innings before this read…
105* off 76.
117* off 86.
104 off 107.
124 off 95.
To follow that up with a 45 off 96 is a travesty indeed!
In 2003, Sri Lanka reached the World Cup semi-final, after that they reached the final in both 2007 and 2011 and finally a quarter-final berth in 2015. That's quite a consistent performance.
For Sanga, it has been a case of so near and yet so far.
Sanga has played more than 400 ODIs and has more than 14,000 runs, second only to the great Sachin Tendulkar. He has 25 ODI centuries.
In all World Cup matches he has scored more than 1500 runs with a great average in the range of 55.
But sadly now Sanga will go down as one of the all-time greats of ODIs who never won a World Cup. That is a tragedy indeed. He is already 37 and has announced that he wants to retire and it is inconceivable that he will play in 2019 at the age of 41.
But it has been a terrible farewell for the great Sanga.
First Sri Lanka crashed to 133 all down in 37.2 overs and then South Africa chased it down in 18 overs after losing just a wicket.
With South Africa's jinx finally broken, the Lankan team of 2003-15 may feel like a bit of chokers themselves.
Anyway, farewell Sanga and thanks for all the great and entertaining innings!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/