End of the road for Kumar and Mahela
Sri Lanka's World Cup exit heralds the end of one of the greatest double acts and leaves the island nation with a huge hole to fill
When Sri Lanka prepare for their series against Pakistan later this year, it will be the first time in more than a decade that selectors will hesitate over numbers three and four in the batting order.
For years they would have scanned over first and second drop with little more than a second thought, safe in the knowledge that two of their greatest ever players would fill the roles.
For most of this century, the partnership of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene has been the foundation upon which the Sri Lankan team has been built.
Now, Jayawardene is lost to the international game, retired from all forms after an career that started in 1997. Sangakkara is not done with red-ball cricket just yet - he will play on in Tests until later this year - while both men will continue to play in domestic leagues around the world.
Kumar and Mahela in 2004 // Getty Images
Theirs has been a foundation that has carried Sri Lanka to the T20 world title and twice the final of the 50-over World Cup, a remarkable achievement for a relatively young cricketing nation of 20 million people.
Like Hayden and Langer, Greenidge and Haynes, Warne and McGrath, the phrase 'Kumar and Mahela' has been used so often that the words have almost blended into one, a single entity that has both comforted Sri Lankan fans and struck fear into the world's bowlers. Kumarandmahela.
Now after 550 matches, the Kumarandmahela partnership has been broken for good. The quarter-final defeat to South Africa in Sydney is their final international match together. Sri Lanka's foundation is gone.
Sangakkara exits in the rain at the SCG // Fox Sports
They haven't been forced into retirement because their performances have dropped to a point where selectors have considered other options. Quite the contrary.
In the past two years, Sangakkara has averaged just under 60 in 66 ODIs – with 11 centuries and 20 fifties – compared to his overall career record of 25 hundreds, 93 half-centuries and an average of 42 from 404 matches.
He's also averaged 73.50 in his past two years of Test cricket, with three centuries, two double centuries and one triple century.
He went back-to-back-to-back-to-back at this World Cup, becoming the first man in ODI history to score centuries in four consecutive innings.
All four hundreds came at a run a ball or better, proving his game has not simply stood still as – to paraphrase Brooks Hatlen – the cricket world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.
Jayawardene and Sangakkara with Dilshan // Getty Images
Jayawardene has also maintained his impressive output in the past two years, averaging 34.47 at ODI level and scoring just under 60 per innings in his final 10 Tests before he retired from the longest form of the game in August.
His one major contribution at this World Cup came in the humble surrounds of Dunedin's University Oval and was almost forgotten as the concurrent India-South Africa blockbuster at the MCG stole the world's attention.
With Sri Lanka in deep trouble at 4-51 in pursuit of Afghanistan's 232, Jayawardene posted an even 100 - his 19th ODI century - to help guide his side to victory with four wickets and 10 balls to spare.
It's not for form reasons that the famous duo has decided to pull the pin. It's simply time to go.
"Retirement is not about form, it is about time and place and whether it feels right," Sangakkara says.
"If I'm not able to play in the next World Cup when one World Cup ends, there is no point in me sticking around.
"All I'll end up doing is taking up the spot of another player.
"We need to give them time and opportunities, just like we had when we were younger.
"They need time to settle, and mature and win another World Cup after this next one."
As brilliant as they have been individually over the years, Kumarandmahela have been just as good as a partnership.
They have batted 293 times together in international cricket for a total of 13,368 runs, with 36 century stands and 62 of fifty or more.
By far their biggest partnership came, ironically, against South Africa in Colombo nine years ago, a 157-over union that spanned three days and yielded a world record 624 runs and individual scores of 374 and 287.
The pair take a break during their record-breaking partnership // Getty Images
Born just five months apart 38 years ago, the pair have also become firm friends and business partners – they own the famous Ministry of Crab seafood restaurant together in Colombo – which is hardly surprising given they've known each other for two decades, more than half their lives.
Put simply, they are irreplaceable.
Sri Lanka will produce batsmen of their quality sometime in the distant future, but it's doubtful they will be blessed with two at the same time who will dominate the game for as long as Sangakkara and Jayawardene have.
The next generation of Sri Lankan batsmen – the likes of Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne and Dimuth Karunaratne – will be picked in their place.
But for as long as the memory of Kumarandmahela is fresh in the mind, numbers three and four in Sri Lanka's batting order will seem somewhat vacant.
Kumar Sangakkara's career record
Mahela Jayawardene's career record
Sangakkara-Jayawardene in partnership
— Sri Lanka Cricket (@OfficialSLC) March 18, 2015
— Dav Whatmore (@dfwhatmore) March 18, 2015
— Damien Fleming (@bowlologist) March 18, 2015
imagine the side without the 2 of you.Wishing you the very best and will miss the 2 of you constructing the innings in coloured clothes(2/2)— sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) March 18, 2015