Celebrations for Sanath and Vaas in Bulawayo

by Rex Clementine

The Sri Lankan cricket team celebrated Sanath Jayasuriya becoming the countryís leading run scorer in Bulawayo and three days later they had something to cheer about again. This time it was a milestone of a bowler. When celebrations with a bowler is spoken of, often we tend to relate them to Muttiah Muralitharan, but this time it was Chaminda Vaas, a man who has always stood in the shadows of Muralitharan who passed a crucial milestone. On Sunday in Harare, he became the second Sri Lankan to have taken 300 ODI wickets, once again with Muttiah Muralitharan being the first Sri Lankan to get there.

Too often the exploits of Vaas has been overshadowed by that of Muralitharan, but like Murali, Vaas too has been a great servant of Sri Lankan cricket. During the last decade these two bowlers have taken up the burdens of a team which lacks match winners in the bowling department. Except on a very few occasions theyíve done the job of taking wickets and containing the opposition batsmen with remarkable success. Their impact to the team has been so much that some even have predicted doom for Sri Lanka cricket when these two bowlers and a couple of others retire.

Having made his Test debut in 1994 - two years after Muralitharan - against Pakistan in Kandy, Vaas quickly became an integral part of the Sri Lankan team. There were veary few quicks that Sri Lanka could rely on ten years ago unlike now and Vaas got an extended run despite moderate success. In the early days, during his away tours the commentators used to make fun out of his long name - Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Chaminda Joseph Vaas - but it didnít take them too long to see his potential. During Sri Lankaís 1995 tour of New Zealand he played a crucial role with both the bat and the ball helping Sri Lanka to record their elusive first away Test win.

Since that series in New Zealand Vaas has grown rapidly. During the early days, Arjuna Ranatunga, his first captain, refrained from entrusting Vaas the new ball. But gradually he worked himself through and ended up becoming a captainís dream.

Although all the accolades fall on Muralitharan for getting sides out, what most people forget is that Vaas is trying his trade in unresponsive Sri Lankan wickets most of the time. But there have been no complaints. Despite the conditions being not entirely suited for him, Vaas at times does better than Muralitharan like during the home series against the West Indies in 2001 where he ended up as the highest wicket taker in the series.

His effectiveness has grown over the years making him one of the best in the world in his trade. Apart from getting the initial breakthroughs he uses the reverse swing to good effect giving nightmares to the well set batsmen. Like the reverse swing, his slower ball too has done wonders for him. Chaminda Vaas has been what Kapil Dev was to India. The only difference was that Kapil didnít have someone like Murali in his side to steal all the limelight.

Like in the Indian legendís case in Vaasí career too he has seen fast bowlers come and go partnering him, but no one has had an extended stay. Most of his new ball partners, with more pace and talent than him have either been plagued by injuries or have lost form mid way through their careers. Throughout his career only on a few occasions he had been worried by injuries, thereís been occasional breakdowns due to back injuries, but all in all he remains an extremely fit bloke. Vaas admits that to remain fit he has trained hard and as long as that enthusiasm is there heíll continue to do the country proud.

Earlier on in his career he was considered as a potential all-rounder. But his batting never looked to be improving despite early promises. The odd 20 or 30 and the occasional 50 were scored, but the big one never came. But the signs of improvement in his batting have begun to show. He dominated the recent Australian series with the bat and averaged better than most of the Sri Lankan top order batsmen. Of course he rues that shot he played off Shane Warne in Kandy when the team desperately wanted him to keep his cool and guide them through. The good news is that he has promised better knocks with the bat.

Vaas owns the best bowling figures in an ODI when he captured eight wickets for 19 runs against Zimbabwe at the SSC in 2001. It was a special moment for him as he had done that on the birthday of his wife and revealed to the media that he had promised her something special on that day. He removed the first eight Zimbabwean batsmen and could have got all ten wickets as he had two more overs left, but Sanath Jayasuriya brought Muttiah Muralitharan from the other end and the spinner removed the other two batsmen in just four balls.

The 2003 World Cup was a memorable one for Vaas as he ended up as the highest wicket taker of the competition ahead of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Shaun Pollock, Javagal Srinath and a host of others. In that competition, he also created a world record when he claimed three wickets off the first three balls against Bangladesh in Pitermaritzburg.

Like Murali he has never been regarded as a captain material. But unlike Muralitharan and unlike most others he has openly said it would be a great honour if he gets the opportunity to captain the country. He has done the job too. For sometime now Vaas has captained his club - Colts CC - and once famously won a championship against a SSC side captained by his guru Arjuna Ranatunga also including several national cricketers. In the recent Provincial Tournament he captained Uva Province and probably would show a lot of heart if given the job to do for the country.

But probably thatíll remain a desire unfulfilled as the selectors have already earmarked a couple of younger players to take over. Whoever it is, he wouldnít complain, heíll be content with running in and bowling to the opposition and guiding Sri Lanka to famous victories.