Now, let us take a flashback at Sri Lanka`s two Test series against New Zealand at Napier and Dunedin in March 1995.
This is the first Test at Napier where Chaminda Vaas bagged ten wickets. Most exhilarating. Maiden overseas Test series where Sri Lanka notched its victory by a margin of 245 runs. The Sri Lankans under 1996 Wills World Cup winning World Cup cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga had effectively proved former Indian skipper Kapil Dev`s empty rhetoric that Sri Lanka could win only at home!!
This Indian series ( after which kapil Dev made this sordid comment ) had catastrophic consequences for the Indian World Cup winning cricket captain of 1983 and his wife Romani who found their house torched after returning home following the Test and ODI series loss to Sri Lanka in 1985. This series also marked Sri Lanka`s first home series win against any ICC member nation.
Back to Napier in March 1995. Vaas is getting ready to bowl what was to be the last ball of the match. Facing him is rookie batsman Kerry Walmsley, the last man in. Vaas is bowling to three slips, a gully, a forward short leg, cover point and mid on (among others).
Stumper Chamara Dunusinghe is all agile and unwilling to give anything away. Skipper Arjuna Ranatunga is fielding at first slip. Asanka Gurusinghe is at second slip. Hashan Thilakaratne is at third slip. The skipper`s brother Sanjeewa Ranatunga is at gully. Duleep Samaraweera is at forward short leg. Sri Lanka`s world record breaking right arm off spinner Muttiah Muralitharan is at cover point. Pramodya Wickremasinghe is at mid on??.
The Kiwi right hander is ready to face Vaas with his in-swingers. Walmsley does not expect the lethal in- swinger and plays him all over. There is plenty of sun light between bat and pad. The Kiwi tail ender did not expect Vaas to get him neck and crop!! He is bowled on the middle stump!!
The entire Sri Lankan team rush to hug each other and sprint it to the pavilion after grabbing the souvenir stumps. They observe two minutes silence where they pray to their individual religious leaders. The Sri Lankan XI converges to sing the Namo Namo Matha?. Within minutes, skipper Ranatunga is interviewed by Kiwi past greats Sir Richard Hadlee and Glen Turner on New Zealand television..
Chaminda Vaas, the terror on two feet, has been a conundrum to all batsmen. Those who have had the misfortune of pitting their wits against this magnificent athlete, will eternally remember him with awe and trepidation. He is a lethal left arm seamer who works on a batsman, has the guile to bringing in the deadliest in-swinger which has bamboozled may a world class batsman/ captain, be it India`s Sachin Tendulkar or Saurav Ganguly, West Indies` Brian Lara, Australia`s Mark Taylor, Ricky Ponting or the Waugh twins Steve and Mark.
Vice captain ?
However, the heart rending question that lies within all connoisseurs of Sri Lankan cricket is: ` Why is Vaas not being elevated to the status of Vice Captain ? A question which has been repeated with meticulous precision, akin to a well rehearsed banter !!
The selectors reaction to this question has been loathsome. They say that there is no need for a new Vice Captain until Mahela Jayawardena could secure a place in the team !! It is also moot to note that Mahela made a mere 21 runs in the qualifying games when Sri Lanka was defending the World Cup while Vaas held the bowling together at the time Sri Lanka made it to at least the semi finals. The rest of Sri Lanka`s defence of the World Cup is history.
In Vaas, we are talking of a player who has been the mainstay of the team since 1994 , a match winning bowler (juxtaposed with record breaking bowler Muttiah Muralitharan), who has bagged 269 Test Wickets and 323 One day International wickets. He has also structured his Club- Colts in Division I Cricket and is no mug with the bat either!! If promoted up the order at this point of time, he could also embarrass some of the frontliners as well.
So, why cannot the selectors show gratitude to a man who has bowled 3022 overs in Tests, 2045.3 ODI overs, who is a Colossus of Rhodes whose career best has been 7/71 against Bangladesh and 8/19 against Zimbabwe in ODIs,
It is certainly no mean feat to emerge as a good and effective fast bowler. He has to work much harder than any other member of the team. It is the fast bowlers who are injury prone. Fitness is also of prime concern. The cricketing knowledge and the experience he has gained is also hard to come by. It is also more moot to note that he might be retiring from the game after the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies.
Batsman as well
He has proved himself with the bat as well. He has made a highest score of 74 in the Test arena, amassing 2028 runs which has been buttressed with eight half centuries. Two of which have been against the New Zealand side where he is now due to play shortly and previously where at a time when the top order failed dismally. Enviable for an opening bowler!! He also has a half century to his credit where his strike rate is 72.97. He is also an excellent fielder and especially in the outfield where he has a safe pair of hands.
One also has to take cognissance of the fact that Sri Lanka, or for that matter any side in the world cannot win a Test or a ODI without a match winning bowler. Not even if the side`s batting runs down to Number 10!!!
The Generally, examples the world over, it is batsmen who have emerged as captains more than bowlers. Granted. However, who says that bowlers cannot be ? Pristine examples are: India`s Kapil Dev and Pakistan`s Imran Khan both of whom were World Cup winning captains in 1983 and 1992. It is also Kapil Dev who stroked a masterly 175 to spearhead India`s World Cup victory in 1983, depriving supercat Clive Lloyd`s West Indians the hat trick!! Other fast bowlers who have become successful captains have been England`s Bob Willis, Pakistan`s Wasim Akram ( who hunted in a pair with Imran Khan in 1987), Waqar Younis, New Zealand`s Richard Hadlee and West Indies` Malcolm Marshall to name a few.
Sri Lanka, like most of the ICC members have always retained batsmen as Captain and Vice Captain. It was Bandula Warnapura and Duleep Mendis from the inaugural test against England`s Kith Fletcher at the P.Sara Stadium from February 18 to 22, 1982. Going down memory lane, Sri Lanka was expected to be the first International Cricket Council member nation to win an inaugural Test. Sri Lanka, behind England by five runs at 218 in the first innings, was in a commanding position at 152/3 in the second innings but slumped to 175 all out. The writer also has exhilarating memories of Roy Dias stroking three consecutive boundaries in the second innings in a top score of 77, off opening bowler and Somerset all rounder Ian Botham who could not help but laugh and applaud. Skipper Warnapura partnering him, also got 38. John Emburey took his career best of 6/33. England scored the 171 for the loss of three wickets thanks to Kent batsman Chris Tavare who crafted a masterly 85 to see England through.
Then it was Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias, where Sri Lanka secured maiden series victories against India and Pakistan in 1985 and 1986 respectively. Then we had Ranjan Madugalle and Arjuna Ranatunga, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda De Silva ( under whom we won the 1996 Wills World Cup), Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu, Hashan Tilekeratne and Marvan Atapattu, Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardena. Probably, the only exception was when D.S. De Silva led the side as the acting captain in New Zealand in the absence of skipper Duleep Mendis and also where another opening bowler Ravi Ratnayeke was the vice captain to skipper Ranatunga until the former migrated to Australia.
So, will the selectors look at this deserving case ? Selectors like all other human beings are also prone to blunders!! Earlier, we had them appointing Ravi Ratnayeke to open the innings against India and Kanpur with master opener Sidath Wettimuny. Granted that Ravi scored his Test career best of 93 runs. The rest is history. India amassed 676/9 with Test Centuries from skipper Mohamed Azaruddin (199) Kapil Dev (163) and Mohinder Amaranath ( 100) and Sri Lanka was left licking the wounds !!
We also saw Hashan Tillekeratne, who had not kept wickets for his club NCC wearing the pads and gloves for the first time at national level and played as a wicket keeper batsman for Sri Lanka !!! . They also got a premium one drop batsman in school and club cricket Roshan Mahanama to open with Sidath Wettimuny against Pakistan in 1986 while another one drop batsman Aravinda De Silva ( who was one of the three batsmen in the world to score a century in a winning World Club final after Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards who had the moulding Richards ( who, arguably was one of the best in that slot of all time), also to bat in around six positions!!!! Trivia one does not find even in comic books !
So, there is the case of Vaas. Will he remain as the unsung hero until his retirement, probably after the 2007 World Cup? Will they give this outstanding player his due place ? Only time will tell.