03 November 2020

The Chaminda Vaas Principle: always look to improve


There’s not much cricket being played these days. There’s Zimbabwe in Pakistan. There’s the IPL. I hardly ever watch cricket but do like to know what’s happening internationally. Checking on the IPL and who is likely to make it to the post-season, if you will, I chanced on an interview with former Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews or rather an account of what he said to Madhushka Balasuriya.

Angelo was not speaking of himself. He was speaking of Chaminda Vaas, mostly. This is the line that stuck: ‘always looking to improve.’

Vaas is a legend. This is known. Angie sums up well: ‘An Asian seamer playing over 100 Tests and 300 ODIs and picking up over 750 international wickets - a lot of which came in subcontinental conditions - is an incredible feat.’

The lesson is in the ‘how’ of it all.

Hard work. Phenomenal training. That’s basic. What tipped him over or made it possible to edge ahead of the pack was, according to Angie, the fact that Vaas ‘was hellbent on maximizing every ounce of potential.’ In other words, being the best that he could be.

Sometimes we don’t know how far we can go. This happens because we are erroneous in assessing our potential. We will get to know our weaknesses; we can count on the opposition to reveal these to us. We know the strengths but not necessarily how far they’ll take us.

Vaas kept things simple, that’s one way of going about it. ‘Team’ was important to him and if the best he could do was to frustrate the batsmen by keeping things tight so someone else, typically Murali, could get the wickets at the other end, that’s exactly what he would do. Of course he did much more than that, as the stats sheet indicates, but what this means is that he never strayed from the basics. He built on them.

He was a bowler but a test average of 24.32 inclusive of 13 half centuries and a century does indicate that he placed a high price on his wicket. When he had to hit, he did, like in the glorious ODI in Nairobi where Shahid Afridi stamped himself as a very special cricketer, taking on the great Wasim Akram and almost getting Sri Lanka through to the final, but he will be remembered more for his dogged essays at the wicket.

Krish Sreepada has got some better numbers:

‘[Vaas faced] 6337 deliveries, the most for any No.8 (or lower) batsman. He also has 2785 runs at 25.55, the third most runs at No.8 (or lower) with 12 half-centuries and a century. His 35 not-outs is second highest amongst all lower order batsmen (8-11) with more than 1000 runs. Only Muralitharan has more with 56.’

Vaas may or may not have known that he had what it takes to be a more than useful tail-ender, but he probably figured that it would involve committing himself to acquiring the requisite skills and of course mindset. In essence, then, having mastered his principal role, that of opening bowler, having figured a training schedule to ensure he could generate top quality performances, he looked to see what else he could do.

That’s the lesson. Especially for a bowler. A bowler is required to bat, but a specialist batsman is not called upon to turn his arm, except in a match moving towards an inevitable draw and then just for the fun of it. A specialist batsman, however, can always try to be the best fielder in the team. He could strive for a zero-error performance which inevitably would transform into him saving quite a few runs, making batsmen work harder and more wary of risking an extra run.

A specialist perimeter shooter in basketball could work on his defense. A tennis player who prefers baseline play can add net-play and finesse in placement to his arsenal. It’s not just about specific skills; one could always enhance one’s understanding of strategy. In other words, become a better student of the game. Whatever the game.
The greats were great students. From beginning to end. They knew that learning is never complete. They did the homework. They kept fit, they honed skills, learned new ones and became psychologists (of a kind). They always looked to improve. Like Chaminda Vaas.



Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']


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