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Cricket World Cup history: Chaminda Vaas, a bowler par excellence

ANALYST
Feature
484   //    25 Jun 2019, 16:27 IST

ICC Cricket World Cup Super Eights - South Africa v Sri Lanka
ICC Cricket World Cup Super Eights - South Africa v Sri Lanka

A combative cricketer and a great trier, Chaminda Vaas had the tendency to surprise with sporadic bursts of brilliance. A nippy left-arm fast-medium bowler, although he slowed down later, he angled the ball across the right-hander and had the ability to straighten it too. His canny changes of pace and surprise bouncers often left the batsmen nonplussed. He could also strike the ball cleanly, batting down the order, making him a handy all-rounder.

In many ways he was a little Wasim Akram, Sri Lanka’s answer to the great Pakistani southpaw. Vaas was a wonderful team-man, forever ready to make an extra effort, and without doubt one of the pillars that enabled his team secure a coveted spot among the top cricketing nations of the world. 

In the triumphant 1996 World Cup campaign, Vaas was invariably on target. He took two Zimbabwe wickets for 30, as the Sri Lankans began on a winning note after Australia had forfeited the opening fixture. 

The semi-final afforded him the only opportunity to bat, and he carted the Indian bowling around, scoring a useful 23 off 16 balls with 3 boundaries before being run out. He dismissed Navjot Singh Sidhu early to put the hosts on the backfoot.

Apart from the wicket of Mark Waugh, it was a quiet final for Vaas as the inspired team from the Emerald Isle lifted the exquisite Cup. He had played his part unobtrusively while the seniors cornered the glory.

It was a lacklustre performance by the side in the 1999 event. As the ball swung and darted laterally at Northampton, Vaas and Pramodaya Wickremasinghe scythed through the South African top-order.

Vaas bowled the uncharacteristically belligerent Gary Kirsten and had the other opener Herschelle Gibbs caught at the wicket by Romesh Kaluwitharana. He returned to dismiss tailender Steve Elworthy, who had put on 44 for the ninth wicket with Lance Klusener.

After 9 overs, Vaas had taken three for 24. Klusener dented his analysis, slamming 22 off the last over, including two consecutive sixes to end the innings.

Chasing a target of 198 set by Zimbabwe, Vaas joined Kaluwitharana at the crease with Sri Lanka having slumped from 150 for four to 157 for six. The pair held firm, carrying the defending champions to their first win of the tournament.

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Going into the last group match, Sri Lanka had no chance of qualifying for the super-six. Vaas trounced the Kenyan bowling in the company of Mahela Jayawardene, putting on 64 for the eighth wicket in 7.3 overs. Vaas finished with an unbeaten 29 off 22 deliveries, having clouted 2 sixes and a four.

He then took the glossy ball and trapped Kennedy Otieno leg-before for a duck off the second ball of the innings. He also knocked over Dipak Chudasama’s timber, to have the Kenyans reeling at 10 for two. Sri Lanka returned with a consolation win. Vaas bagged two for 26.

The wickets, though not overly bouncy or grassy, suited the pacemen in the 2003 World Cup. Chaminda Vaas operated on a different plane. The previous season he snared a record One-day International haul of eight for 19, inclusive of a hat-trick, against Zimbabwe at Colombo. He was devastating now, capturing 23 wickets, the highest ever in a World Cup then. It was fair compensation for one of the hardest workers on the circuit. 

The second match against lowly Bangladesh, was a watershed. Making full use of the moisture in the Pietermaritzburg Oval track, Vaas created a ripple off the first ball of the match, castling Hannan Sarkar who attempted to drive the in-swinger. It was the fifth time that Vaas had captured a wicket off the first delivery of a One-day International, breaking the record that he shared with Wasim Akram.

The incoming batsman Mohammad Ashraful seemed to have been taken by surprise, for he patted a gentle return catch to the jubilant Vaas. For the first time, two wickets had fallen to the first two deliveries of a World Cup match.

Incredibly, Ehsanul Haque hung out his bat at the next ball that was angling away, for Jayawardene to clutch it gleefully at second slip. Vaas had pulled off a sensational hat-trick.

Never before had the feat been achieved in the opening over of a match. It was the third hat-trick of the World Cup, following the feats of Chetan Sharma in 1987 and Saqlain Mushtaq in 1999.

This was not the end of the drama. The number five Sanwar Hossain took strike to the fourth ball of the match. He unleashed a cover drive into the pickets. The next delivery was a wide. Vaas brought the fifth ball in sharply to trap Sanwar leg-before.

The last delivery was remarkable for the fact that it produced no excitement. The scoreboard read 5 runs for four wickets after one over. It was a magnificent display by Vaas. 

Only 20 more runs had been added when Vaas forced the surviving opener Mohammad Al Shahriar to mistime into the hands of Aravinda de Silva at mid-off. Vaas came back when Mashrafe Mortaza was enjoying himself, having struck some lusty blows. Off the first ball of his 10th over, Vaas had the tailender caught by Muttiah Muralitharan at point. Bangladesh were bowled out for 124 off 31.1 overs.

Vaas had captured six wickets for 25 runs, Sri Lanka’s best analysis in the World Cup, eclipsing paceman Asantha de Mel’s five for 32 against New Zealand in 1983. He was also now his country’s leading wicket-taker in the showpiece event, surpassing De Mel and Muralitharan.

The greenhorns from Canada stood no chance. They folded like a house of cards, unlike any team before in the World Cup. After Prabath Nissanka had John Davison caught behind without a run on the board, Vaas took three wickets in a rush. He had Fazil Sattaur leg-before, Desmond Chumney snapped up at the wicket by Kumar Sangakkara, and Ian Billcliff also trapped in front of the stumps. It was 12 for four. 

Soon Nissanka made it 12 for six. Canada were put out of their misery in the 19th over, having totaled all of 36 runs, nine less than the lowest ever in the event, which their own team had logged in 1979. Vaas finished with 7-4-15-3.

There was a trip up to Nairobi next. Vaas struck early, sending back Ravindu Shah leg-before-wicket with just one run on the board. He then nipped a budding stand, having Brijal Patel taken by Sangakkara. Later he had Thomas Odoyo also caught behind.

Muralitharan picked up a four-wicket haul as Kenya put up 210 for nine in their 50 overs. Vaas returned with three for 41, taking his World Cup tally to 25. But Kenya sprung a surprise in the form of leg-spinner Collins Obuya. 

Jolted by the shock result, Sri Lanka battled hard with the West Indies. Vaas boosted the run-rate towards the end, striking an unbeaten 28 off 26 balls with three boundaries. He added an unbroken 50 for the seventh wicket with Russell Arnold, carrying the total to 228.

Vaas shook up the West Indies at the very outset. Having picked up Wavell Hinds early as the ball swung in the breeze under lights at Newlands, Vaas induced Brian Lara to snick one to Sangakkara. The maestro was gone for one.

Vaas dismissed top-scorer Chris Gayle leg-before-wicket and immediately had Ridley Jacobs caught at the wicket. The West Indies did put up a fight but eventually lost by six runs.

Vaas was outstanding, capturing four for 22 off his 10 overs, of which three were maidens. This was a critical win that helped clinch a super-six spot for Sri Lanka.        

It was a tremendous spell of four matches for Vaas. He captured 16 wickets for 103 runs in 36 overs during this period, winning two man-of-the-match prizes for his sterling efforts. Never before had a bowler been so dominant in the World Cup.

In Sri Lanka’s last three matches, Vaas once again performed well, though not as brilliantly as in the pool matches. India, spearheaded by player-of-the-tournament Sachin Tendulkar, were having a superb run. They could not be stopped. Vaas though took two for 34 in his 10 overs in a near-300 total, dismissing Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh in quick succession. 

He now became the leading wicket-taker for Sri Lanka in a single World Cup, going past De Mel’s tally of 17 wickets in 1983.

Zimbabwe were beaten easily. Vaas knocked back the stumps of Sean Ervine, and then last man Douglas Hondo to carry Sri Lanka into the semi-finals. He equaled the record tally of 20 wickets in a World Cup, achieved by Geoff Allott and Shane Warne in 1999.

Beating the Australians was a daunting task, but Vaas was able to jolt them. After Adam Gilchrist had walked when his attempted sweep off Aravinda de Silva landed in the gloves of Sangakkara, Ricky Ponting mistimed a drive off Vaas straight to Sanath Jayasuriya at mid-off.

Then Matthew Hayden banged a delivery to Hashan Tillekeratne, who held on. The defending champions were reeling at 51 for three.

Vaas later claimed Ian Harvey to finish with three for 34, as Australia were restricted to 212. He had now set a new benchmark of 23 wickets in a single World Cup.

Not long after, Vaas found himself in an altogether different role as Sri Lanka collapsed to 76 for seven. He was now required to retrieve the situation in the company of Sangakkara. They put on 47 runs before rain and the Duckworth-Lewis system ended their campaign with 71 deliveries still remaining. Vaas was the star of the Sri Lankan effort in the 2003 World Cup.   

In the relaxed lung-opener of the 2007 event, Vaas took a Bermuda wicket in the first over and then had little to do. He replicated the act as Bangladesh too capitulated.

An under-pressure India too capsized. Vaas hit a quickfire unbeaten 19 at the end off 12 balls with 2 fours and a six, and then struck two mortal blows with the ball, dismissing the openers Robin Uthappa and Sourav Ganguly cheaply. He returned with a bag of two for 39 off 8 overs.

With South Africa clinching a one-wicket triumph in the super-eight, Vaas was dismissed first-ball. But yet again he grabbed a wicket in the first over, knocking back AB de Villiers’ middle stump.

The hosts West Indies were unable to put up a fight. Vaas brought one in again to opener Dwayne Bravo that ricocheted on to the stumps. Soon he bagged the prized wicket of Brian Lara as Kumar Sangakkara effected a smart stumping. His final tally was two for 19 off 8 overs.

It was Sri Lanka’s turn to eke out a two-run win over England. Vaas was dismissed for just 4, but once more ripped out an early wicket, having skipper Michael Vaughan stumped by Sangakkara for a duck.

New Zealand were no match and Vaas did what he had been doing through the tournament. He trapped the captain Stephen Fleming leg-before-wicket for nought in the opening over. In his second over he had Ross Taylor caught at the wicket by Sangakkara, also without scoring.

The Kiwis were now 4 for two in 2.1 overs. After Peter Fulton had added 67 with Scott Styris, Vaas returned for a fresh spell, getting the former to sky one into the hands of Chamara Silva at deep square-leg. Vaas finished with a haul of three for 33 off 9 overs, and with Sri Lanka cruising to a six-wicket triumph, he was man-of-the-match. 

Rested in the face-off with Australia, Vaas took a wicket apiece in the easy victories over Ireland, and New Zealand in the semi-final. 

Adam Gilchrist handed out a lashing on the big day and Vaas went wicketless. He was at the crease with 11 runs when the light went out of the Sri Lankan campaign. 

He had lost a lost a lot of pace by now but was still an astute bowler, as accurate as ever, moving the ball either way and varying his deliveries subtly. He did not run through sides in this tournament but invariably prised out a wicket or two early in the innings, and bowled some significant spells.

His record was still very impressive with 13 wickets at an average of 22 and an economy-rate of 3.68. He was then the fourth-highest wicket-taker in the World Cup with 49 victims, with an average and economy-rate to match the best.

Vaas called it a day with 355 Test wickets and 400 one-day wickets in his kitty at averages below 30. Add more than 3000 Test runs and 2000 one-day runs, and you have an invaluable contributor over a decade-and-a-half, a game trier and a gritty fighter.

From bit player to lead performer, Vaas traversed a long distance. By way of confirmation one only has to take a cursory glance at his bowling statistics in the World Cup.

They were similar in 1996 and 1999, but changed dramatically in 2003, resembling the hallmarks of a champion, and were impressive even at the fag end of his career in 2007. There was no knowing when he would run through a batting line-up. 

Along with Muralitharan, Vaas formed one of the most potent duos in contemporary international cricket. When required he could wield the long handle too. For the toil that he was willing to put in, and the stunning breakthroughs that he so often handed out, Chaminda Vaas was indeed a captain’s dream.

Chaminda Vaas’ World Cup record:

Matches 31, Highest Score 29*, Runs 219, Average 21.90, Strike-rate 73.98, Catches 7

Wickets 49, Average 21.22, Best 6/25, Economy 3.97

Also read – Most matches played in world cup by a player

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