Master and Apprentice: Sanga and Sibley strike up dream partnership

Master and Apprentice: Sanga and Sibley strike up dream partnership

The old master strides to the middle at No.3, offers a couple of words of advice, scratches in his guard and takes a single from the last ball of the over. I’ll take the strike thank you very much.

Back down the pitch comes Kumar Sangakkara as the field sets itself. Dominic Sibley, T20 debutant, hasn’t faced a ball in their partnership, but he gets more feedback from the man 18 years his senior.

But Sangakkara treats other debutants with disdain. On comes Ryan Stevenson from the Vauxhall End, the first ball going for four. The fourth and fifth of his innings follow quickly to fine leg and long-on for boundaries, and the old master is set. Fourteen from six balls his haul before you even realise.

Sibley at the other end watches and absorbs like a sponge. He himself has 16 from 15, recovering from his two off ten to lift Gareth Andrew over the leg-side for a maximum. No need to panic just yet.

The pitch, while still showing the characteristics of a normal Kia Oval, has a little bit for the bowlers. We’ll discover that later when just four other batsmen reach double figures.

For now, the master will continue to be just that. He’ll caress, guide and manipulate around the field to get his boundaries, and he’ll even swat a full toss into the crowd for a catch when the time comes. It certainly does it for the man claiming £1,000 for his efforts.

The 50, effortless, comes from just 24 balls, the 29th of Sangakkara’s career. A stoic record for a man whose figures consider this his weaker format, probably in similar venture to your favourite band having a weaker song: still brilliant when put in comparison to the rest.

You could argue the Sri Lankan’s one missing accolade is that of a T20 century. But on this warm Kia Oval night, there were more fish to fry. The 20-year-old Sibley is still with him, carefully accumulating as the two put on 100 together within nine overs, a situation the youngster himself believed would never be a possibility at the season’s start.

“Talking at the start of the year about where my opportunities would come, I’d have never thought that would be T20 cricket,” Sibley admitted.

“It was great to bat with Sanga; he helped me through it, kept me calm and there were a couple of times where maybe I could have lost my head. But he’s the master, so I just listened to him and did what he told me.

“A couple of times I thought about taking a bowler down, and he said to me to take a breath and just look for singles and the boundary options would come naturally.

“It was a hard pitch to start on, I didn’t start well and the whole atmosphere and pace took me by surprise, but I backed myself to come back into it.

“Anyone with any ability can bat with Sanga and he’d make it work, he makes everyone else feel inadequate but I love batting with him. It’s a pleasure to watch him and there’s no better place than in the middle.”

Sibley’s praise for his partner, while completely accurate, undersells his own ability. A paddle to short fine leg off Andrew takes him to his own 50, from 34 balls, with no better man at the other end to coach him through. A shake of the hand and a wave of the bat and we’re off once more.

You often hear of Sangakkara being an intelligent cricketer; one with a brain for the situation whatever it may be. Heavy run-scoring became his own burden as he flicked the last balls of 12th and 13th overs for four to keep Surrey at ten an over.

But like any good master, he leaves the protégé to finish the job on his own. Sangakkara holes out for 72 as Mason Crane takes the catch off Darren Sammy at long-on, not before unleashing a divine scoop-paddle for four. The old dog has new tricks in him after all. But the hundred will have to wait.

Joined by Dwayne Bravo at the other end, Sibley would expect fireworks to come from 22 yards away from him, but Stevenson comes back strong. Bravo makes just three.

Then, on 67, the big shot comes out. The leg-side hoick doesn’t quite have the legs, and 16.3 overs into his debut, Sibley has to trudge off the field. Like any good batsmen, he believes there was more out there as he jests post-match about not being able to clear the shortest boundary on the pitch.

But Sangakkara and Sibley have done their job. Together, 114 came from exactly 10 overs, a target Hampshire couldn’t reach on their own. This was by no means an easy 114, but the two made it look effortless.

While Sibley was grateful to the 38-year-old’s batting influence, not even the master knows too much about leg-spin. But Sibley does. Not content with just opening the batting, he does the same with the ball too, spinning out Adam Wheater in his second over.

“You don’t dream of things like that,” he later said. Four overs, two for 33, including the wickets of No.2 and No.3 – his and Sangakkara’s positions coincidentally – compounded an already-perfect day. The unhidden grin on his face tells you that. Surrey win by 80 runs.

Much has been made of the Epsom man’s talent, a prowess that has seen him come through the Kia Oval youth system.

In just his third first-class game he struck 242 against Yorkshire, his only century to date, at just 18, the second-youngest person to do so behind WG Grace. And he turned out not too shabby.

His capabilities then showed it would not be a one-knock wonder and so it proved in the shorter format. “Not a bad debut,” he reckons. “I’d have snapped your hand off for it to be honest.”

For the old master Sanga, it was just another day in the office. The batting train doesn’t even look like coming to a halt.


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