For Sri Lanka – the lack of sustained, incisive, consistent pace was a throbbing headache from time immemorial. Certainly we could always pile up the runs, so resplendently. The wickets however were hard to get, frustratingly widely spaced and were at a huge cost. That’s when ‘super guru’ Davenall Whatmore had the good sense to toss the ‘cherry’ to Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushanthage Joseph Chaminda Vaas. Vaasy for his part, grabbing the ‘cherry’ with both hands, and crossing himself for divine blessings – uncorked his champagne swing. Wobbly left arm swerve – no histrionics, just pure stealth attacks. Someone had to function with the new ball and Vaas did just that for us. Motivated by the lion on his cap and jersey….moving in on oiled wheels as it were – studs pawing the earth, biceps pumping rhythmically, nostrils flared – truly many were circumspect and even a tad nervous when the scrawny elf emerged, cloaked in four sweaters….and thundered in through the misty cold of Auckland – the year being 1995. He certainly proved his doubters wrong by a long chalk – he certainly did. A couple of hours into the hunt he had devoured 10 Kiwi’s – black caps, feathers and all – to give us our first Test victory abroad. Then for a decade and a half he intoxicated us with his champagne brand of cut and swing.
Throbbing Headache Cured
Our throbbing headache for want of pace was mercifully cured. Vaasy devoured the assembly line of ‘megabats’ that were thrown into his ring…..the Laras, the Tendulkars, the Youhannas and the Dravids – making the best of them look ridiculous. 355 Test wickets in 111 tests at 29.58 and 400 ODI wickets in 322 outings at 27.53, plus 1173 wickets in a combination of first class, list A, and T 20 outings. No light hearted routine that. Chaminda makes up an elite quartet of bowlers who have taken 400 Test wickets or more – the others being Wasim Akram, Waqar Younus and Murali. No need to plaster the pages with further stats. His rich repertoire of wicket-taking deliveries included the in-dipper, the off-cutter and the evilly disguised slower ball plus a Yorker — all under one roof. And when he sparked together with Murali, it was truly awesome – and what a peach of a pair.
Born on 27th of January 1974 in the humble village of Mattumagala, 14 km east of Colombo – Chaminda is the youngest son of Vincent and Rosie Vaas. As a child, Chaminda — our ‘high priest’ of swing bowling was besotted with the idea of going into the Catholic priesthood and spent his school holidays with the Catholic priests at the Mattakkuliya Catholic Seminary, before succumbing to the lure of the summer game. As can be imagined Chaminda is deeply religious….and it is his faith that drives him to glory. Not blessed with a huge sense of humour though, a good chuckle would do him a world of good.
Moving Stitched Leather
Vaas’s five children are three boys and two girls. Chaminda’s love, concern and benevolence towards his siblings is phenomenal, said dad Vincent. When he is not swinging a ball – he is happiest ‘singing’ his tonsils away….added his mum Rose. Vaasy has apparently ‘cut’ two compact discs made up of popular Sinhala hits – which are yet to be released. More than most – it was mum Rosie Vaas who inculcated the spirit of ‘noble simplicity’ in all five of her children. A big vase of roses for Mrs Rosie Vaas for that monumental effort.
Cradled at St Anthony’s Wattala and thence lured by St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10, this clean limbed Roman Catholic — elf like and cathedral quiet – initially picked up the war drums and dabbed on the war paint, graduating from a spindly colt to become the backbone of the 150 year old Colts Cricket Club, for two decades or more. When the pitch was grassy and the air was dense, Vaasy could make stitched cowhide ‘moo’. Loosely translated – he could make the ball ‘talk’. Cricket bats were like wedges of cheese to a hungry mouse – he would nibble at their edges with a vengeance. Over 225 Test batsmen caught behind off the outside edge.
Proud Of His Test Ton
Vaasy’s bowling ran deeply along textbook lines – his bones and knuckles in just the right places at the point of delivery. His whippy wrist had the seam alive and kicking and snarling off the surface, besides which he could bang in a howling bouncer. Perpetually obsessed with the straight and narrow. firing away relentlessly, inside that corridor of death, wickedly wicket to wicket – if you like.
With the bat – when the big guns had wilted – Vaasy could turn it on with one of his ‘heaven sent wallops’ to lift the gloom and raise our scoresheet to respectability – with that free swinging, happy go lucky and, somewhat gawky elegance of his. His 3089 runs at 24.32 in Tests, and 2025 runs in the ODI’s at 14.39 is a splendid testimonial for a number nine bat. Albeit tagged an ‘occasional’ bat as a major ingredient was missing – that of consistency. He didn’t seem hungry enough to occupy the crease, for longer than he did. Despite which Vaasy could bat with fair orthodoxy or slog with ferocious power – his drives as crisp as anyone’s….his pride being his Test ‘ton’ against Bangladesh in the year 2002.
A few summers of rest and a couple of games with Kent in the English County League, followed a valiant-yet-failed comeback effort, for a spot in the 2011 World Cup squad. Seemingly he still retains the fierce fire and ambition to represent the country.
Chaminda you truly had the flag flying way above the mast – besides being one of the nicest of men to have swung an arm. We of the cricketing fraternity would not mind a ‘drop’ more of your ‘Champagne Swing’.