Cricket: Sangakkara v Gilchrist … Sorry but there is only one winner!

I was listening to the Tatts Bet Breakfast show this morning on my commute to work when the discussion turned to the record of Kumar Sangakkara.  Whilst much of the discussion was focused on just how good a player he is there was also some discussion comparing him to Adam Gilchrist.  Indeed one of the commentators stated that he would still prefer Gilchrist over Sangakkara if asked to choose between the two.  That statement, and the discussion around it, got me thinking about these two, both fine, cricketers and their respective places in the cricket’s history books. 

Frankly, I can not countenance any view other than this: Kumar Sangakkara is one of the greats to play the game, not just a modern great, but a great across the near 150 years the game has been played at test match level.  In a two horse race between Sangakkara and Gilchrist there can only be one winner in my view and that is the man from Sri Lanka. 

I have oft heard about the record of Sangakkara that he scores runs against lesser opposition and has the benefit of batting on, allegedly, “easy” wickets at home and that skews his numbers.  So I have come up with this statistical comparison for the battle between Gilchrist and Sangakkara using these paramaters:

  • Away test matches;
  • Against India, South Africa, Pakistan and England; and
  • Against Australia or Sri Lanka (as the case may be).

I have chosen India, South Africa, Pakistan and England as they have been the benchmark, Australia and Sri Lanka aside, for tough cricket in difficult conditions over the last 15 years.

Here is how Gilchrist and Sangakkara match up based on those paramaters:

Player Against Matches Runs HS  Ave 100s  Ct St
Sangakkara Australia 5 543 192 60.33 1 8 0
England 11 862 147 41.04 2 15 1
India 6 365 137 36.5 1 8 0
Pakistan 11 1377 230 72.47 5 10 1
South Africa 8 572 108 35.75 1 10 0
TOTAL 41 3719 230 49.58 10 51 2
Gilchrist England 10 521 152 40.07 1 42 3
India 7 342 122 28.5 2 29 0
Pakistan 3 122 66* 40.66 0 10 1
South Africa 6 523 204* 65.37 2 24 2
Sri Lanka 3 201 144 40.2 1 11 3
TOTAL 29 1709 204* 41.68 6 116 9

It is interesting that both players have exceptional records against the teams that have been the best opposition in each era for them with both averaging over 60 against Australia (Sangakkara) and South Africa (Gilchrist). Sangakkara has not been as successful in South Africa as Gilchrist whilst there is a notable disparity between the performances of the two on other subcontinent wickets. 

Statistics only tell part of the story though.  The fact is that Sangakkara has batted in the top 3 for the bulk of his career and has, on most occasions, faced the new ball .  Sangakkara has also been the leader, either as captain or in deed, of a team that has rarely been the favourite in contests with the top teams in test match cricket whilst Gilchrist played in a team full of superstars and bearing the perennial tag as the best team in the world. Gilchrist batting at seven in a dominant Australian batting line up more often than not strode to the crease with Australia in a strong position. 

Then of course there is the question of technique with the willow: Gilchrist was an “eye” player who often clubbed the ball whereas Sangakkara is more of a purist in style.  Defensively, Hashim Amla aside, there is no better defensive player in the game than Sangakkara at the moment whereas with Gilchrist there was always a nagging concern about his play early when the ball was aimed at the fourth stump. 

The foregoing gets me back to my initial thought when I was listening to 4TAB this morning: if I had a choice between Sangakkara or Gilchrist to play in my team I would pick Sangakkara every single time without hesitation.  Substance in this context bests style just as defensive steel best attacking flair!    

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