Vaas the lionheart

Farewell Vaas… the Sri Lankan fast bowler with his son Maneka during the presentation ceremony at the end of the third and final Test against Pakistan in Colombo.-AP

The Sri Lankan fast bowler’s Test record illustrates his quality — 355 victims at 29.58 in 111 Tests. His team-mates would tell you tales about his sacrifice and toil; these cannot be measured in numbers, writes S. Dinakar.

Chaminda Vaas was a skilful Test match bowler; he also had the heart of a lion. The left-armer would bound in over after over, all sweat and commitment, always giving it his best shot.

The champion paceman has now drifted into the ‘Test’ sunset. He will be missed as much for his wicket-taking ability as his inspirational qualities.

Vaas’ Test record illustrates his quality — has 355 victims at 29.58 in 111 Tests in a career of miles and milestones. His team-mates would tell you tales about his sacrifice and toil; these cannot be measured in numbers.

The Sri Lankan would probe and test a batsman with each of his deliveries, making him play the ball; Vaas’ bowling was guided by precision. Control was a commodity he had in plenty. And he possessed the variations. Crucially, he could swing the ball back into the right-hander. The one angling across and the delivery darting in were delivered without any major changes in his position of release. Vaas had a quick-arm action, was not the easiest to pick.

Technically, there was plenty that was right about Vaas’ methods. His wrist and seam positions were ideal. An eager learner, he picked things up quickly.

If Vaas could move the ball both ways in the air, he could also get it to deviate off the seam. On wearing sub-continent tracks, Vaas often struck with his off and leg-cutters. He could also vary his pace and length and consume the batsmen on the drive.

In his earlier days, he was sharp and lively with an effective short-pitched delivery that struck the helmet of the hassled batsmen.

As the years rolled by, his pace dipped. When he played his final match, against Pakistan at the SSC ground following a surprise call-up for a dead-rubber Test, he was no more than military medium. Vaas, 35 now, competed hard. He was given a send-off of genuine warmth born out of respect.

Vaas’ role in Sri Lanka’s emergence as a strong cricketing force on the world stage is undisputed. His five for 47 and five for 43 on a green, seaming track in Napier, 1995, powered Sri Lanka to its first victory in an overseas Test. Lanka went on to clinch the series against New Zealand.

In Pakistan the same year, Vaas was influential in the Test series. His innings hauls of five for 99 at Peshawar, four for 45 in Faisalabad and four for 37 in Sialkot glittered in a historic 2-1 triumph for Sri Lanka.

Vaas had this uncanny ability to settle into his rhythm from the first over itself. He was a potent threat with the new ball since he comprehended the nuances of swing. Once the ball became older, Vaas could achieve reserve swing.

He teamed up with off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan in a winning pace-spin combination. The batsmen would be under pressure from either end. Vaas would also create the footmarks for Muralitharan to exploit.

Few cricketers worked harder on the game and fitness. Former Lankan physio Alex Kountouri made Vaas the leader of the pack during on-field training. Dav Whatmore, the then Lankan coach, would never be short of words of praise for Vaas. For the support staff, Vaas was Mr. Perfect. He pushed himself, raised the bar.

He was a captain’s dream too. Vaas could send down long spells and would come steaming in at the end of a long, hard, tiring day under the scorching sun. He was strong physically and retained his levels of intensity — essential attributes for Test match bowling.

In fact, Vaas relished duels with the batsmen, and would work on their technique and patience. He was smart at changing the angles and used the crease effectively.

The left-armer bid adieu from Tests at his favourite hunting ground — the SSC. It was here that he ambushed the West Indian line-up in 2001 with efforts of seven for 120 and seven for 71. And it was here that he destroyed the South Africans with six for 29 in 2004. As many as 12 five-wicket hauls illustrate his worth as Sri Lanka’s most successful paceman.

Vaas’ batting — he has 3089 runs at 24.32 with one hundred — added weight to Lanka’s lower order. He was a feisty left-hander who could strike the ball a long way. Temperament was his ally.

As his career progressed, Vaas developed a relatively effective defence and often proved hard to dislodge. Several Lankan fightbacks have been scripted around Vaas’ batting. As in other aspects of his game, Vaas was a braveheart with the willow.

Vaas wishes to continue in ODI and Twenty20 cricket till the 2011 World Cup. Given his serious slump in pace, the odds, at the moment, are stacked against him with a bunch of younger, quicker pacemen buzzing around in the Lankan scene.

Yet knowing Vaas, you can never ever count him out. The man has steel in his bones.