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'A bowler should be like a managing director of a company'

Chaminda Vaas remembers the 1996 World Cup, bending his back for wickets, and getting chewed out by Ranatunga

Interview by Andrew Fidel Fernando |

"Being physically fit helps you become mentally strong as well" © AFP

I used to get a lot of exercise as a child. We'd always be running here and there and going to beaches far away and riding bicycles up hills with three people clinging on. I was pretty fit from a young age.

Some batsmen love the ball coming on, but can't play the slower ones. Others can hit the balls that stop on the pitch, but struggle with the ones that skid on. Working out the opposition batsman and tailoring your strategy to him is a big part of the job.

Dennis Lillee taught me a lot at the MRF pace academy but he said that with my mixed action, he didn't think I could play for Sri Lanka. I took it as a challenge. I met Lillee again in 2000 or 2001. He then said: "I'm very proud of you. I never thought that you could play for Sri Lanka, but you've done so much."

We weren't stressed at all before that 1996 World Cup final. The night before, we were joking around. A few of us went to look at carpets. The gravity of the situation didn't really occur to us.

I used to have a bit of pace in my younger years - especially on that 1994-95 New Zealand tour. I remember when I went out to bat once, Danny Morrison came to me and said, "I'm going to kill you." He hit me a few times on the arm. When he came to bat, I hit him on the finger and he was out for a few months. I remember hitting Ken Rutherford on the head as well.

I didn't have a dream of playing for Sri Lanka for a long time. Eventually I got into the Sri Lanka Under-19 team, and that's when I thought to myself that I could play for the national side. That's when I got that longing.

"If you get a pitch in the desert, you have to be ready to bend your back and do as well as you can"

I was very proud of my 26 wickets against West Indies in 2001. In Sri Lanka we made a lot of pitches for Murali. People used to ask me how I got so many wickets on those tracks.

Physios nowadays treat bowlers like babies. In our time, if I told the physio my back was hurting, he would tell me to keep playing. Now when there's a pain, the physio tells the player to rest for a few days.

New Zealanders are lovely people. They are calm and it's a quiet place. I loved touring there.

I have huge respect for Arjuna Ranatunga. When I was young, he sometimes scolded so harshly, I'd tear up. But I absorbed that criticism and used it to improve. He was great at putting young players on the right track. He's a good friend now.

My faith in God had a big impact on my career. I felt like I had divine help whenever I faced setbacks.

When you play at a stretch, your technique can change. You start holding the ball differently or doing something wrong with your wrist, and suddenly you can't swing the ball. Whenever that happened I watched videos of myself and worked out how to correct the problem.

Getting into the national side is easy. Staying in the team is really tough. Or at least it used to be. Now sometimes you can stay in the team whether you perform or not.

In 1993, I played a three-day match against West Indies. I got Desmond Haynes' wicket. After the game, he came and gave me his boots and said: "Son, you have a long career ahead if you work hard."

"I have huge respect for Arjuna Ranatunga. He was great at putting young players on the right track" © Getty Images

You have to be ready to bowl anywhere. There's no point in complaining. If you get a pitch in the desert, you have to be ready to bend your back and do as well as you can.

I probably could have got all ten wickets in that ODI match against Zimbabwe. But Murali came in and, as he does, took the last two wickets in his first over. I didn't mind, but I think I could have taken those wickets in my next over.

The New Zealand bowlers were easy to work with. When I told them something, they logged that information like they were computers. Then they went out onto the field and put that knowledge to use.

My role in the 1996 World Cup was to take early wickets, then dry up the runs. I think I carried that out almost to the letter.

A bowler should be like a managing director of a company. He's the one that sets the tone, and should be the one that sets the field. Sometimes captains change the field when bowlers get hit for four, but that's not how it should be. You can't be chasing quick results. You have to have patience and stick with your plan.

I remember one Zimbabwe Test early on in my career, when we had got 380-odd, and Zimbabwe had got to 172 for 2 by the end of the second day. Arjuna aiya called myself and Pramodya Wickramasinghe into his room and really had a go at us. "You're bowling like school children," he told us. "I'm ashamed to see you playing for your country like this." The next day, we got them all out for 319. I took four wickets. We thought we had done well, but Arjuna aiya called us again and had another go at us.

"Getting into the national side is easy. Staying in the team is really tough. Or at least it used to be"

When I started playing, I had the inswinger to the right-handers. Then when I started bowling a little faster, I discovered my wrist position changed automatically, and I was pushing the ball away from the right-hander as well. Later I picked up reverse swing and the slower balls.

Being physically fit helps you become mentally strong as well. When you look at yourself in the mirror and you look good, that can have a big effect on your confidence.

In 1996, there were seven employees in the Sri Lankan cricket board. After we won the World Cup, I remember Roshan Mahanama saying: "This will be the start and the end for Sri Lankan cricket". That has come true. The game spread and became professional after the World Cup, but look at the board. There are more than 260 SLC employees now. I don't know which direction our cricket is heading in.

Whenever we played Pakistan, I talked with Wasim Akram. He was a bit of a hero of mine. He taught me plenty, but when I asked him about reverse swing, he used to say: "I'll tell you about that later." I ended up learning reverse swing by watching videos.

Indian pitches are merciless. They were quite different from our pitches. If you give even a little bit of room, you get cracked for four. That was the toughest place to tour. The batsmen will probably say South Africa or Australia were tougher.

"Whenever I came on to bowl, Murali used to say to me: 'Bowl six or seven overs at a stretch.' When we bowled in partnership, one of us got wickets" © AFP

I got goosebumps when I saw the crowd waiting to receive us at the airport when we returned with the World Cup. The whole place was packed. There was barely space for a finger. I was shocked. I knew then that we had done something special for the country. My only regret is that we didn't get the chance to properly thank the people for their support.

Darrell Hair once said I was the toughest bowler to umpire because all my deliveries were on the same line and length. He said he had to concentrate particularly hard to spot the ball that did something different.

Whenever I came on to bowl, Murali used to say to me: "Bowl six or seven overs at a stretch." When we bowled in partnership, one of us got wickets. He got wickets when I was keeping it tight, but it happened the other way around as well.

I got a lot of praise after my first few series, but for me, it was like water off a duck's back.

At the moment I'm enjoying watching Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Mitchell Starc bowl. There's a young left-arm quick called Vishwa Fernando in Sri Lanka who I think will be very good.

Some days I couldn't get out of bed on Test match days, I was so tired. I'd struggle to the ground. Then as soon as I put on my whites, I felt different. I was ready to play.

"Dennis Lillee said that with my mixed action, he didn't think I could play for Sri Lanka. I took it as a challenge"

The physio that we got in 1996 - Alex Kontouris - made a huge difference to the team. He was basically the physio, trainer and masseur all in one. He sometimes even gave up going out for meals so he could stay back and work on players. He ordered room service and kept working. If there was a bowler who could only bowl 12 overs in a Test match day, Alex got them bowling 15.

We used to talk about unity a lot in that team in the 1990s, during the war. We had Tamil cricketers, Catholics, Sinhala Buddhists, Muslims - all sorts of Sri Lankans in the team. We talked about how if we could set an example of unity and understanding, that's the greatest thing we could do as sportsmen. We went to as many religious or cultural festivals as we could, as a team.

I loved getting right-handers out lbw. That was my dream wicket. I enjoyed getting left-handers to nick behind as well.

Chaminda Vaas will open the Vaas-Victoria Cricket Academy in Sharjah on December 4

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

 

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LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY Chatura Wijesundara on | November 27, 2015, 17:41 GMT

    Best fast bowler produced by Sri Lanka by a country mile.. His performances on docile sub continent wickets was simply brilliant..

  • POSTED BY marino on | November 27, 2015, 12:24 GMT

    Vass is the Greatest left arm bowler after Akram - it's that simple...!

  • POSTED BY Charindra on | November 27, 2015, 4:47 GMT

    Vaas was highly underrated. He was in Murali's massive shadow, but without him Murali might not have been nearly as successful. It's hard when there's no pressure from the other end, and Vaas was the only one providing that pressure consistently.

  • POSTED BY Sachitra on | November 26, 2015, 16:20 GMT

    Chaminda Vaas the unsung hero of Sri Lanka. Murali wouldn't have get to that magical 800 mark had he not bowling at the other end. Nicely summarized article.

  • POSTED BY Pad on | November 26, 2015, 15:46 GMT

    Its sad that cricket world is either dumb or blind that bowlers who do well in difficult conditions do not get enough attention. Vaas is the second best fast bowler cricket has seen. True, you might argue bring Mitch and Zahir in to the same group. But you got to admit how well he performed in some of the most difficult conditions for fast bowlers. People talk about the battle between Murali and Lara in that West Indies series, but the real beauty of that series was the battle between Vaas and Lara. There were a number of times Vaas was beating Lara's bat with little luck. But it was one of the best battles i have seen.

  • POSTED BY Anubhav on | November 26, 2015, 15:38 GMT

    Great cricketer..back bone and I thought Zaheer was very similar to him in many ways..denis lilee must be great teacher.

  • POSTED BY Edwin on | November 26, 2015, 14:31 GMT

    Going back to the game v Zimbabwe - it shows the character of Vaas that he is not bitter that Jayasuriya (who was captain) and Murali did not help him to go for the 'all-ten'. Zimbabwe were batting first, 30-odd for 8 and so the match result was never in doubt. Jayasuriya could hav e let Zoysa finish his ten, or asked Murali not to bowl at the stumps....

  • POSTED BY Srihari on | November 26, 2015, 13:22 GMT

    Enjoyed watching Chaminda Vaas bowl. What great sportsman he has been for SriLankan cricket. Respect.

  • POSTED BY Vihanga Vithanage on | November 26, 2015, 12:08 GMT

    "Getting into the national side is easy. Staying in the team is really tough. Or at least it used to be. Now sometimes you can stay in the team whether you perform or not. " A pun at a certain individual in the current SL team. Respect Vaas.

  • POSTED BY Tanmay on | November 26, 2015, 11:45 GMT

    Indian fan here...."The next day, we got them all out for 319. I took four wickets. We thought we had done well, but Arjuna aiya called us again and had another go at us"....hahaha....Vaas has always been underrated...he played in the era of great Muralitharan...tremendous bowler for Sri Lanka...World Cup winner.

  • POSTED BY Ajay on | November 26, 2015, 11:25 GMT

    I remember very well that in the mid nineties Sachin Tendulkar was considered a marauder opening the batting in ODIs, tearing apart many a attacks the world over but one bowler he could not do that against was Vaas. In fact Vaas got his wicket early a few times if I remember correctly, cleaning him up once in Sharjah when he went for a big shot after connecting a few off other bowlers. A fine bowler given the limitations he had vertically and lack of pace, which he made up with his guile and variations.

  • POSTED BY d on | November 26, 2015, 9:31 GMT

    @Rough_Fan: Sorry neighbor. This not about your countrymen.

  • POSTED BY Lakpriya on | November 26, 2015, 8:46 GMT

    @Rough_Fan there are less than 20 average bowlers who have taken more than 350 test wickets and only 4 that have taken more than 400 ODIs wickets. lolzz

  • POSTED BY Steve on | November 26, 2015, 8:31 GMT

    Vaas always came across as a honest trier. Best left arm pacer after Wasim Akram from sub-continent. Would have got more wkts but for slogging on home pitches prepared for Murali.

  • POSTED BY d on | November 26, 2015, 8:00 GMT

    Another artistic piece from Andrew. When talking about SL cricket lots of people talk about Sanga,Mahela, Murali,Aravinda, Arjuna. But vass had been the silent achiever for SL and didn't get enough credit he deserve. He was never had the image of typical pace bowlers build, pace or height. Yet 355 Test wkts and 400 Odi wkts.Yet he became the greatest SL pace bowler. Early Strike was a common sight when he used to open the bowl. I remember how he used trouble Steven Fleming with his swing. Always been the supporting bowler murali. Thanks for your wonderful Service and its such a shame that SLC is unfortunate to have your guidance for the young pace bowlers. Wise words for the youngsters saying that-"Getting into the national side is easy. Staying in the team is really tough. Or at least it used to be"

  • POSTED BY savs on | November 26, 2015, 7:51 GMT

    Vaasy! He will never have the recognition that he should've had. To have a bowling average of under 30 in Tests in that era on pitches made for spinners is an incredible thing.

  • POSTED BY charaka on | November 26, 2015, 7:34 GMT

    The story tells us about different player - like desmond hense, arjuna, wasim akram etc.. That diversity and humanity not anymore in the game, coz of the competitiveness - anyway vass was the best fast bowler we had and still waiting for next one

  • POSTED BY Vinod on | November 26, 2015, 7:02 GMT

    one of the fascinating and disciplined bowlers we have ever witnessed! i congratulate chaminda and wish him all the very best for his cricket academy. hope to see him a resident of uae :-)

  • POSTED BY Santhosh Kumar on | November 26, 2015, 6:35 GMT

    Very refreshing style of writing.

  • POSTED BY udendra on | November 26, 2015, 5:45 GMT

    "Now sometimes you can stay in the team whether you perform or not" - very true.

  • POSTED BY Delan on | November 26, 2015, 5:38 GMT

    Great insight on one of SL greatest cricketers and one that didn't often get the credit he deserved. Would have loved to hear a comment on his batting and eventual Test century too. Surprised some are having a go at Murali for taking last 2 wickets. It's a ODI he can't really bowl it wide or down leg side, and you are relying on numbers 10 and 11 not to do anything stupid and get themselves out! Even the top order struggle against basic Murali deliveries how do you think the last 2 will go? If the team wanted to help Vaas get all 10, the captain (Sanath in this instance), should have used someone else other than Murali. I think Vaas has lots of knowledge to share with youngsters now that his finished but SLC were pressurised by fans to hire him as bowling coach because of successful stint with NZ. He should have continued overseas or with youth teams till all his ex-teammates were retired, then come back to SLC after.

  • POSTED BY Mohammed on | November 26, 2015, 5:33 GMT

    Typical Srilankan. Done so much for the cricket and country but so simple man. Salute to you Chaminda Vass. Wish you good health.

  • POSTED BY Ignatius on | November 26, 2015, 5:19 GMT

    Superb interview. I loved his bowling action and the way he bowls, except when he plays against india and gets tendulkars wicket :)

  • POSTED BY Surath on | November 26, 2015, 4:30 GMT

    Second best leftie after Wasim Akram. Stark will break the ODI records but Akram and Vass will be remembered forever... Vassy with his limited pace did wonders with the SL team. Murali should have given him the chance to ball his 10 overs and then gone for the last 2 wickets in that game against Zimbabwe, Murali was bowling to pick up those 2 wickets. Vass was helping Murali to get to 10 wickets in a test in 2002. When Murali picked up 9 wickets, Vassy started bowling outside the off-stump so that the batsman can leave the ball. But when Olonga nicked it to the keeper, Vass didn't even appeal for the catch.. Umpire gave out if not Im sure Vass would not have taken it. Speaks volumes of his character. Unfortunately, same can't be said about Murali!!

  • POSTED BY Adam on | November 26, 2015, 3:54 GMT

    Interesting interview. Vaas was an okay bowler. Had limitations in skill and talent but did well for his country. Good job mate

  • POSTED BY Tony on | November 26, 2015, 3:52 GMT

    whenever we played srilanka, I used to wait for his spell to be over, because it used to be very good. The only opposition bowler to fear, because typically, we dont fear spin, atleast in his era. Simialrly, the last bit of resistance with the bat ends with Vass wicket when he bats. Just like our Srinath, but a better bat.

  • POSTED BY Ian on | November 26, 2015, 3:49 GMT

    Fascinating stuff. One of the best interviews I've seen.

  • POSTED BY Edwin on | November 26, 2015, 3:36 GMT

    I don't think his 8-19 will ever be broken....I also didn't realise he took the first 8 and had a chance of all 10.....shame Murali took the last two.

  • POSTED BY john on | November 26, 2015, 3:09 GMT

    one of the most underrated left armers with a classical action, very handy allrounder as well.