Pietermaritzburg is a sleepy town, one hour’s drive from Durban, the main city of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. Tourists frequent this small town in numbers as it was here that a young lawyer of Indian origin was thrown out of a train for his refusal to leave a ‘whites only’ compartment. His name is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi aka Mahatma Gandhi.
Politically, Pietermaritzburg is remembered for Gandhi’s ejection from the First Class compartment but in the cricketing world, this place is remembered for Chaminda Vaas’ bowling heroics in the 2003 World Cup.
In a group game against Bangladesh, the left-arm swing bowler claimed a hat-trick off the first three balls of the game to enter the record books.
It all started when Hanan Sarkar was bowled off an in swinger and Mohammad Ashraful offered a simple return catch off the very next ball. Ehsanul Haq was caught at second slip by Mahela Jayawardene as Vaas completed the hat-trick. It was the first time a bowler had claimed a hat-trick off the first three balls in an ODI.
The Nidhas Trophy tri-nation tournament that will get underway in a fortnight’s time in Colombo will be the biggest…
It was also the third time a bowler had claimed a hat-trick in a World Cup encounter after Chetan Sharma did so in 1987 and Saqlain Mushtaq in 1999. Later in that tournament, Brett Lee would take a hat-trick as well. It was Vaas’ second hat-trick in ODIs, having claimed one the previous year too against Zimbabwe at the SSC. Another Sri Lankan – Lasith Malinga would take hat-trick taking to a different level a few years later.
Vaas would take a fourth wicket in the opening over when he trapped Sanwar Hossain leg before wicket and ended up with figures of six for 25. Bangladesh were shot out for 123 and Sri Lanka cruised to a ten wicket win with more than 28 overs to spare to boost their Net Run Rate. Both openers – Marvan Atapatu and captain Sanath Jayasuriya, posted unbeaten half-centuries.
Vaas’ efforts throughout that tournament were perhaps the best fast bowling seen by a Sri Lankan in a World Cup competition. He would make early breakthroughs and was extremely hard to get away. Sri Lanka went onto play the semi-finals of that tournament and had they not lost to Kenya in a second round game, could have gone onto play the final.
Vaas’ contributions for Sri Lankan cricket often don’t get the mention they deserve. To date, only three other bowlers – Glenn McGrath (71), Muttiah Muralitharan (68), Wasim Akram (55) have taken more wickets in World Cups than Chaminda Vaas’ 49 scalps over four editions at a miserly average of 21:22. Malinga, who has 43 wickets at 21:11, will probably overtake Vaas in this edition of cricket’s showpiece event.
Vaas played his last ODI in 2008 but Sri Lanka were so sure that he could still do a job that he was a late call up to Bombay ahead of the 2011 World Cup final against hosts India with Sri Lanka down with so many injuries.
Vaas would continue his association with cricket having served as Fast Bowling Coach of the national team and the ‘A’ team. He currently coaches the Sri Lanka Under-19 side. His mantra to success is simple, ‘Work, work and more work.’ Hard to imagine another cricketer who worked so hard on his fitness like Vaas.
Vaas’ eight wickets for 19 runs against Zimbabwe in 2001 is still a World Record for the best figures in ODIs. He retired with exactly 400 ODI wickets. Only three other bowlers – Murali (534), Wasim (502) and Waqar (416) have taken more than him.