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A celebration of Sri Lanka's favourite sons

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are both undisputed legends of the game. Their standing in Sri Lanka, however, goes far deeper than that

| by Andrew Fidel Fernando in Galle

( August 9, 2014, Galle, Sri Lanka Guardian) Colombo is the home of Sri Lankan cricket, but of its three Test venues, none is as quintessentially Sri Lankan as the ground 100 kilometres to the south, in Galle.

To the east of the ground, a white Buddhist stupa hovers on a 50-metre cliff above a turquoise stretch of the Indian Ocean. One-hundred metres to the northwest, a kovil sends up its gopura in gold, amid the clunks and groans of deep-red government buses.

Two church towers - one white and one yellow - peer out above the ramparts of the fort, which Portuguese invaders had begun, the Dutch had made colossal, and the English fine-tuned. The mosque is out of view of the cricket, but on Friday afternoons, the sea breeze picks up its melody from the southern corner of the fort and scatters it over the ground.

The town itself, like so many on the island, is loosely organised chaos, filled with the sound of street vendors and three-wheelers, and the smell of fruits from the land and teeming sea.

On the field on day three, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene scripted another page in their own hallowed canon. The crowd swelled when news of their union spread through the town. Teachers brought their students to look in from the top of the fort. It might have seemed like an idle break just before the holidays, but maybe the teachers would say it was a chance to witness history. Sri Lanka's two favourite sons may never bat together in Tests again.

Politicians have images planted all over the country. The president has so many billboards. Sri Lankans see him more of him than their own families, but not a soul in the parliament could ever pretend to command the nation's affections like "Sanga" and "Mahela" do.

The island does not do human deification. There are no shrines to Jayawardene. No poojas for Sangakkara. They are not idols to worship, but humans to delight in. From the late cuts and cover drives on the field, to their grace and intelligence off it, they draw admiration rather than adulation; they are respected more than revered.

Just last week, one of the country's leading apparel manufacturers brought the pair on board, not as ambassadors of their brand or flesh-and-blood mannequins for their wares, but as motivators for their work force. Over the next few months, Sangakkara and Jayawardene will speak at factories across the country, not just because they may have something worthwhile to share, but because of the values and standards they publicly uphold.

Geoff Marsh once said "you can hear a pin drop when Mahela speaks in the dressing room", but the same is true for either man, at any place in the country.

It helps, that like the ground in Galle, Jayawardene and Sangakkara are irrepressibly Sri Lankan. Jayawardene is free-spirited, impetuous, resourceful and innovative. Serene, yet up for a fight, whether with bat and ball, or with words. There are flaws too, as detractors will shout, pointing at his record outside Asia, but every innings, however brief or long, is never without joy.

If Jayawardene embodies what there is to love about Sri Lanka, Sangakkara is what the island aspires to be. He is polished, practiced and even-handed. Never lacking for skill or mettle, but always thinking, improving and reflecting.

Sangakkara's Cowdrey Speech is still quoted in one newspaper or another on a monthly basis. His interviews spread on social media like wildfire as every sentence he speaks is absorbed by cricket fans and sports agnostics alike.

Both players have also repeated they would never consider a life in politics. They are clearly cut out to be leaders, and though the public sees this, they are grateful Jayawardene and Sangakkara will never tread down that road. Cerebral, well-intentioned men have been swallowed up by Sri Lanka's political cesspool before. If Mahela and Sanga are untarnished by high office, the public will feel they never have to fall out of love.

On Friday at Galle, another of those inescapable elements of Sri Lankan life put an abrupt end to the adoring crowd's enjoyment. But a few minutes before the heavy rains came, Sangakkara had put his stand with Jayawardene into triple figures for the 18th time. They had moved beyond Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes to sit second on the all-time list.

On the fort, a boy of no more than nine had just heard his teacher call for the class to leave. Before he turned away, he waved farewell to the two men walking off the pitch, more than a hundred metres away, and shouted, "bye Sanga, bye Mahela," as loud as he could.

Around the world, Jayawardene and Sangakkara are appreciated for their style, their skill and their statistics. On this island, they are so much more.

They are heroes. They are friends. They are countrymen.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent.

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