When Yuvraj Singh chipped a catch to Mahela Jayawardene at short midwicket Chaminda Vaas threw his hands up in the air in unmitigated joy and relief. He had sent down 148 balls between claiming wicket number 399 — clean bowling Gautam Gambhir with the second ball of this series in Dambulla — and wicket number 400.
Vaas joined team-mate Muttiah Muralitharan and the Pakistani duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in scalping 400 ODI wickets, becoming only the fourth man in the history of the game to do so. Murali has freakish turn, Akram had the widest variety of deliveries and Waqar had express pace. That Vaas, without a stand-out weapon in his quiver, has made it to the milestone is a remarkable effort.
In recent times, with age catching up, Vaas has had to cut down on pace, relying instead on accuracy, variations and an understanding of how to bowl on subcontinental tracks to last the distance. He’s now ensured of a prime place in cricket history, something he was well on the way to. Vaas is one of only three bowlers to pick up two hat-tricks in ODIs with Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq being the other two to do so. Vaas also boasts the best bowling figures in ODIs, 8 for 19 that he took against Zimbabwe in 2001, when he was at his peak.
“As a youngster, all I wanted was to play for Sri Lanka,” Vaas said. “I remember when I got my first call-up for the national team. It was a one-dayer against India in Rajkot, I had just turned 20 and Arjuna (Ranatunga) gave me the new ball ahead of the others. Navjot Sidhu was my first wicket, and that was after he had blasted a hundred.”
Unsurprisingly, Vaas picks the 1996 World Cup win as the biggest moment in a long career. “I have enjoyed my cricket thoroughly, no regrets whatsoever,” he said. “There have been a few good performances along the way, but winning the World Cup remains the greatest memory.”
Vaas conceded that he was not the most naturally gifted cricketer, and put his success down to honest hard work. “There were a lot of guys more talented than me. My game was limited, but I worked harder,” he said. “Nothing comes easy to you, you’ve got to make most of your talent. I work hard on my game.”
When asked about the other members of the 400-club, Vaas said, “Wasim was a very clever bowler. He was lethal and, more often than not, outsmarted the batsmen. Waqar was entirely different; the two of them together made life miserable for batsmen. Soon, Murali will go past Wasim’s record as the highest wicket- taker in ODIs.”
Waqar, who is commentating on this series, did not hold back in his praise for Vaas. “He has limited abilities but he has made the most of it over time. With slower deliveries, bowling different angles, taking the pace off the ball, he is an intelligent bowler,” said Waqar. “All the years of hard work you put in are for moments like this. It’s hard to explain in words how you feel. I’m getting goose bumps watching Vaas get to 400 so you can imagine what it must have felt like when I crossed the milestone.”
Jaywardene, who pouched the crucial catch, gave credit where it was due. “Vaasy’s is a huge contribution. Especially in the sub-continent, it is not an easy task to go on for so long and be consistent,” he said. “He and Murali have done the job for us for quite some time now. They have been great role models. Hats off to Vaasy for going on for so long, 400 is a great milestone for anybody.”