Bidding farewell to Chaminda Vaas ushers in a new more potent new ball bowling attack

Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas spearheaded the Sri Lankan fast bowling attack for over 10 years.

Vaas made his debut at a time when Sri Lanka didn’t care much for quick bowlers. Under Ranatunga, and even in the late 90’s, Sri Lanka’s bowling attack revolved around spin. There were times when Sri Lankan fast bowlers never finished their quota of overs. The captain was happy to bowl out part-timers instead.

Although Vaas shared the new ball with Pramodaya Wickramasinghe for many years, Wicky’s retirement saw many a fast bowler come and go in very quick time.

Sri Lanka had almost developed a lack of tolerance for fast bowlers. They were ordered to go at less than five runs per over and it was considered a good day at the office. If by any chance a new bowler was to show some aggression and go for a few extra runs, he would be soon told to "calm down." Flair was curbed, and negativity began to breed, even in the minds of the selectors.

As the years rolled on Vaas picked up the skills required to keep a batsman quiet. As admirable as Vaas’ service was for Sri Lanka, he only survived for as long as he did, because he did what he was told to do.

A drastic difference when compared with more consistently successful test teams like Australia and South Africa. Where fast bowlers develop an identity as aggressive game changers.

However, things have changed. Vaas has struggled to get a game in recent months. The veteran’s inclusion into the team for his farewell test match took place under conditions of sympathy, and not through earned inclusion.

Chaminda Vaas has been great servant of Sri Lankan Cricket, and he is an amazingly down to earth bloke. I am not trying to take anything away from the accolades he rightfully deserves. Even Vaasy would be proud of the fact that in Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, and Thilan Thushara, Sri Lanka has finally developed three fine fast bowlers that can win them matches based on their own skill.

Pakistan’s 2009 test tour to Sri Lanka is a shining example of the how the role has changed for a Sri Lankan fast bowler. I quote Sidharth Monga from Cricinfo:

The way Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara repaid the faith invested in them will reassure the Sri Lanka management. Thushara’s spell on the final morning of the Galle Test didn’t feature a single loose ball, the pressure he created was relentless and his contribution in that win was bigger than just the two wickets he took. Kulasekara was brilliant throughout. He doesn’t have the persona of a menacing fast bowler, but he showed how much he has improved skillswise in the last year. The inswinger swung big, with the newly acquired straighter one making it even more dangerous.

Not enough has been said about Paul Farbrace’s work behind the scenes. I must admit I got rather excited when I witnessed Farbrace going back to basics with Kulasekara and Thushara, and explaining to them how a bowler needs to get their wrists in the right position, and how to get their wrists behind the ball.

This basic knowledge, although imparted vaguely in the past and taken for granted, must be a part of any national team’s daily coaching routine. Only raw pace can be an effective substitute to movement. And if you can’t move the ball both ways on command, it’s only a matter of time you will be found out. Kulasekara and Thusshara’s recent success has come about due to their new found ability to swing the ball both ways.

As Chris Barclay points out, New Zealand have more than just spin to worry about on Tuesday. Thushara and Kulasekara tormented the Pakistanis and helped Sri Lanka inflict a series defeat.

Yet before New Zealand’s strokemakers mentally hunker down against Muralitharan and Mendis — if the latter is reinstated ahead of left armer Ragana Herath — they must first negotiate the opening bowlers that sabotaged Pakistan with nagging accuracy rather than express pace.

Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara set the scene for a historic home series win by sharing the early wickets and key breakthroughs in what might be remembered as a career-defining experience for the pair that emerged from the slip stream of Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando and Lasith Malinga.

Kulasekara has especially fond memories of Galle; last month he was armed with a the new ball for the first time in his nine test career and justified the reward by claiming a four-wicket bag on a seaming pitch spiced up by monsoonal rains.

The 27-year-old right armer ended the three-match series with 17 scalps at 15.05 — an anomaly considering his first six tests contained just five wickets and his average is still on the high side at 31.63.

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