During an era which saw Sri Lanka, and most of the cricketing world, celebrate the gradual rise of Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas made steady strides as a bowler. He seldom stole the limelight, but opposition batsmen who faced him during the late nineties and early 2000s will vouch for the fact that he was a thorn in the flesh with a new ball in his hand. His ability to swing it both ways and, to generate a late movement – a trait that has foxed many a batsman – has seen him become the second highest wicket-taker for Sri Lanka in both Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODI).
At a time when the Sri Lankans were looking to break free from the shackles of the term ‘minnows’, Vaas played an instrumental role. During the Napier Test against New Zealand in the March of 1995, he finished with figures of 45.3-13-90-10, thereby becoming the first Sri Lankan to take ten wickets in a Test, and in the process bowled the Lankans to their first win in an overseas Test. From then to the end of Sri Lanka’s victorious 1996 World Cup campaign, he became the most successful bowler in both Tests and ODIs, ahead of Muralitharan himself.
Five years later in 2001, when the West Indies toured Sri Lanka, Vaas took seven wickets in each innings during the third Test at Colombo to become only the second fast bowler, after Imran Khan, to take 14 wickets in a match in the subcontinent. Even if he hadn’t dished out this astounding performance, he’d have finished second in the list of leading wicket-takers in that series. Moreover, it appeared as though Vaas relished bowling against the West Indies, for his figures provide evidence of that fact. Out of 111 Tests, he has played nine against them and collected 55 wickets at an average of 16.60, inclusive of four five-wicket hauls and one ten-wicket haul. His best bowling figures (seven for 71) too have been scripted against the West Indies.
There was a dearth of effective fast bowlers from Sri Lanka before Vaas’s arrival. Despite not having any seamer to look up to for guidance, he paved his own way to the top. With 355 Test and 400 ODI wickets under his belt, Vaas was the first from his region to set a benchmark in fast bowling, and a high one at that. Javagal Srinath once very aptly said, “The commonality that you see in India and Sri Lanka is that fast bowlers are few and far between. The wickets we play on could be a major reason for that. The reasons are the same for the two countries. In spite of not having much fast-bowling support he (Vaas) has bowled his heart out.”
There are a few cricketers who’ve made limited use of their immaculate talent, and some who’ve maximised their potential through sheer hard work. There is little surprise that Vaas belongs to the second category. “There were a lot of guys more talented than me. My game was limited but I worked harder. Nothing comes easy to you, you have got to make the most of your talent,” said Vaas to the Hindustan Times.
It’s only fitting then that Vaas was the protagonist during many of Sri Lanka’s noteworthy victories in the past. He steered his side to its first-ever series win over South Africa in the August of 2004, and it was during this tournament that a young Lasith Malinga made his presence felt on the big stage. The latter couldn’t have asked for a better role model than the former. Moreover, it was after this performance that Vaas rightfully earned his place in the World Test and ODI XI at the inaugural ICC Awards.
The other record of Vaas’s that has remained unconquered since the last twelve years is for the best bowling figures in ODI cricket. His eight for 19 against Zimbabwe during the December of 2001 at Colombo remains the best figures by a bowler in the limited-overs format of the game. Also, he is renowned for claiming a hat-trick with the first three balls of the match against Bangladesh in the 2003 World Cup.
He was handy with bat in the lower-order too, capable of pinch-hitting or consolidating according to the situation. There have been umpteen instances of Vaas being promoted in the batting line-up in an attempt to up the ante. However, his technique could sometimes be watertight, and the 2006 tour to England unearthed this facet of his batting. He faced the maximum number of balls in that series (averaging 92), next only to Kumar Sangakkara, and ahead of many an established batsman like Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan, to name a few.
Although his career appeared prolonged towards the end, the fact remains that Chaminda Vaas is Sri Lanka’s greatest fast bowler. It remains to be seen if Malinga can topple his predecessor.
Vaas’ bowling statistics:
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)
First Published: January 27, 2013, 2:18 pm