What fast bowlers can learn from Chaminda Vaas

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The Nidhas Trophy tri-nation tournament that will get underway in a fortnight’s time in Colombo will be the biggest cricket event held in the country since the ICC World T-20 in 2012. Despite India’s domination over Sri Lanka in recent months, there’s new-found optimism among fans since the arrival of Chandika Hathurusingha as the Head Coach. However, there is a huge hurdle that Hathurusingha is facing as several of his fast bowlers are racing against time to be fit for the showpiece event.

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The injuries suffered by Sri Lankan players, particularly the fast bowlers in the last few years has had an adverse effect on the performances of the team. There is an urgent need to scientifically study the training methods of our fast bowlers and take stock about their rehabilitation process after injury.

The country’s fast bowlers also have a lot to learn from Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka’s undisputed king among fast bowlers with over 350 Test wickets and 400 ODI wickets. Not just his skill, but to learn the magical formula that helped him to be free of injuries in a glittering career that lasted for more than 15 golden years.

Throughout his cricketing career, Vaas suffered just one major injury. He hurt his back in 1998 and that forced him to skip the tour of England where Sri Lanka beat England for the first time in a Test match.

Just how did he do it? What was the secret of his longevity? Mind you, apart from playing over 100 Tests and 300 ODIs, Vaas also represented four English counties – Hampshire, Middlesex, Worcestershire and Northamptonshire with overwhelming success!

Vaas wasn’t the most talented bowler in the country, but he was a workhorse determined to make the most of his skill. In the process, he outperformed and outlived most Sri Lankan fast bowlers. The next best fast bowler after Chaminda Vaas, who finished with 355 Test wickets, is Suranga Lakmal, who has 106 Test wickets and that, tells you the story.

By his own admission, Vaas believes the more he bowled, the better he got. Apart from the routine fitness work the players were scheduled to do, Vaas spent many hours in the gym on his own, getting stronger and fitter.

He rarely missed a domestic match for his beloved Colts CC as well. Not that he didn’t have niggles, but the good thing about him was that he played through those niggles taking painkillers and earned the admiration of several captains.

There is a need to re-examine the routine the modern day fast bowlers go through. It seems that at present if a fast bowler trains for two days, the third day is going to be a rest day. On those two days when they train, it is not a case of bowlers going flat out, but there’s a number of deliveries they are supposed to bowl and anything beyond is considered as putting them at a risk of an injury. The modern trend seems to be, in order to keep the bowlers fresh, they are exposed to less amount of cricket at training. But the method doesn’t seem to be working as fast bowlers are constantly breaking down.

Perhaps it is time for us to leave aside the blueprint of the Australian system and adopt the extremely successful methods of Vaas, which is – the more you bowl, not only are you injury free, but the better you become.

The other issue at hand is the wrong diagnosis and rehabilitation process that has cost the team dearly.

Take the case of Dhammika Prasad. As the spearhead of the attack, Prasad had an excellent 2014. He bowled a dream spell at Headingley with his five-wicket haul in England’s second innings, helping Sri Lanka clinch a series win.

He had an even better 2015, finishing among the top ten wicket-takers in the world that year. A shoulder injury that he sustained later that year has kept him out of the game for more than two years now. Prasad suffered a triple blow. First, it was the injury. Then it was the wrong diagnosis where he was told that a surgery wasn’t required. Then to make matters even worse, the rehabilitation was cocked-up.

As part of his rehab work, the medical staff almost forced on him to do the dumbbell press. In the process, his right shoulder gave away again. Since then, he has been forced to go through three surgeries!

Like Vaas, Prasad is a tough character and he is fighting it out whereas many others would have given it all away. The good news is that he made a comeback in domestic cricket this season and could be leading the attack again in the West Indies.

We need fast bowlers with big hearts like Vaas and Prasad.