(AFP) – Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara said a tearful farewell to international cricket Monday and was immediately offered the post of the island’s top envoy in Britain, where he plays county cricket.
Several thousand cheering fans, many of them schoolchildren waving Sri Lankan flags along with VIPs, turned out to salute Sangakkara at the end of the second Test against India in Colombo.
"You have been a great honour to Sri Lanka," President Maithripala Sirisena said in a televised ceremony at the P. Sara Oval for the formidable cricketer after the match.
Sangakkara, who turns out for Surrey in English county cricket, did not directly address Sirisena’s announcement about the diplomatic post, later telling reporters he had been unprepared for the gesture.
"It was a surprise, I have to go and think about it and discuss with his excellency (the president)" Sangakkara said.
During the formal sendoff, the 37-year-old broke down as he thanked his parents for standing by him during his 15 years of cricket.
"All the support and love they showed over the years, whether I played cricket or not, whether I did well or not, the only place I could go and feel safe was home. So thank you ‘amma’ (mother) and ‘apachchi’ (father)," Sangakkara said, fighting back tears as fans cheered and clapped.
He also praised Indian captain Virat Kohli and his team for their tough opposition during his farewell match which Sri Lanka lost by 278 runs on Monday, allowing the tourists to level the series 1-1.
"Thank you for not giving any quarter," he told the Indian team.
"And thank you for really making it a privilege of mine to play against you," he said.
Hours after the emotional send-off, Sangakkara said he was looking forward to a "new innings" with his family.
"Thank you for the wonderful farewell," he said on Twitter. "I will miss the cricket. But my amazing wife (Yehali) and children await my innings with them. Time for family."
Thousands turned out on Sunday to see Sangakkara’s final international innings. But he was denied a dream end to his career when he was caught tapping a full toss to the short mid-wicket fielder for 18.
Sangakkara, the fifth highest run-getter in Test history, finished his Test career with 12,400 runs from 134 Tests at an average of 57.40. He scored 38 centuries, including a best of 319 against Bangladesh in Chittagong last year.
He follows Sachin Tendulkar of India, Ricky Ponting of Australia, Jacques Kallis of South Africa and Rahul Dravid of India in the all-time list of leading Test scorers.
ICC chief executive David Richardson paid tribute to Sangakkara as "one of cricket’s greatest ever players and ambassadors".
"By scoring a total of 28,016 runs across all three formats, he puts himself in the higher echelons of players to ever grace the game.
"Sangakkara will rightly go down as one of cricket’s greatest-ever players and ambassadors," Richardson said in an ICC statement. (COLOMBO/Aug 24, 2015)