Amid a series of changes to the backroom and boardroom staff at Sri Lankan Cricket, one of the most notable changes was the addition of Chaminda Vaas as bowling coach. It was really only a matter of time before Sri Lanka’s second-highest wicket-taker and one of the sub-continent’s greatest pacemen was drafted in to solve one of SL cricket’s biggest problems – the absence of a prominent fast bowler in the ranks, now that Lasith Malinga’s knees have denied him the opportunity to effectively challenge Vaas’ Test record. Having coached the New Zealand seamers to an improbable series draw in their last tour of the Island, at one stage it appeared that Vaas would become the New Zealand bowling coach on a permanent basis. I don’t know what became of this prospect, but when the SLC board started negotiations with him in January, the chances of staying in New Zealand would have been slim. He turned down the initial offer due to the personal terms not being satisfactory. Eventually a deal was agreed upon that previous bowling coaches Champaka Ramanayake and Anusha Samaranayake working with/under him. Not sure what became of Prabath Nissanka who was also involved in coaching the fast bowlers.
Since taking the job, Vaas has made all the right noises. He has stressed the importance of hard work:
This has to be a collective effort. Coaches, trainers, physiotherapists and everyone has to contribute. We need to look at things like nutrition and the workload and how much of rest each fast bowler gets and recovery sessions and so on…Looking from outside, it seems like there’s lack of hard work. Most people tend to take short cuts. Some tend to play an IPL, earn the money and take it easy. But there can’t be short cuts for success
He mentioned that in his opinion, Sri Lanka needed up to six quality fast bowlers and at the moment, the squad carries only “two or three.” I don’t know who he means by that, and whether it includes Malinga or not. I can speculate that he means Chanaka Welegedera, Nuwan Kulasekera and one of Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep or Shaminda Eranga. I have long ranted about the fact that we aren’t producing enough decent Test quality bowlers who can exploit seaming or bouncy conditions. This was compounded with the performances in Australia where the likes of Lakmal and Pradeep showed promise but an inability to swing the ball consistently or put it in the right place for more than two or three balls in an over, meaning that the likes of David Warner and Phillip Hughes (who only appears to be able to score runs agains us), could just milk them all around the ground. Vaas also rather interestingly mentions that there needs to be improved communication between the different coaching departments, such as physiotherapy and the main coaching staff. This throws up the question as to how two professional coaches could possibly be unable to have a spare word with each other at breakfast whilst on tour as to possible injuries etc. But this seems to be something Vaas intends to improve.
In recent years, Sri Lankan pitches have tended to be more seamer friendly compared to the days when Murali used to do all the damage. When Trevor Bayliss took over after Tom Moody, he highlighted the pool of fast bowling talent in the country and to be fair to him he did his bit to bring a lot of them through. But some of the old problems still prevail, as highlighted by this excellent piece on Island Cricket. It mentions the state of the fast bowling academy which is based at the Premadasa which is in serious need of upgrading and refining but has done pretty well all things considered to bring in pace bowling talent from outside Colombo; places where young cricketers don’t really get a chance to turn professional.
One thing that I have often wondered about in terms of pace-bowling in the sub-continent is the nutritional aspect of coaching bowlers. Generally speaking, the pacemen that Sri Lanka have produce do not tend to be particularly tall and are more than likely to be ‘whippy’ or ‘skiddy.’ This is a generalization of course as we have seen the likes of Nuwan Zoysa and Dilhara Fernando who could both handle themselves in a bar fight. The likes of Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep and going deeper into the domestic circuit the likes of Lahiru Abeyratne and Isuru Udana are skiddy bowlers who’s pace is generated from arm-speed as opposed to muscle power. One thing almost all bowlers who have played for SL (with the exception of Vaas of course) have in common is that they have and are being plagued with injuries. Fernando, Zoysa, Malinga, Prasad, Pradeep, Lakmal, Welegedera, Kulasekera, Thushara have all suffered time and time again. Looking up across Adam’s Bridge to India, you have cases like Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth and latterly Umesh Yadav who have had injury problems. I once had a theory that this is because their diet wasn’t right. Usually youngsters growing up in the sub-continent will be fed a rice-based diet and wasn’t really conducive to producing big, hulking speed demons like Alan Donald or Brett Lee. But this theory fell down when it came to wondering where Pakistan and the West Indies keep finding their fast bowlers from. Having said that, there is something to be said for the controlling of the diet that Sri Lankan fast bowlers are fed on. It would be too much to ask for a diet of say red meat as some of the stuff that is taken for granted in the UK, Australia and South Africa is quite expensive in SL such as pasta. Perhaps the answer lies in conditioning and could perhaps be something the new coaching setup looks at.
All in all, there appears to be a lot for the new fast bowling coach to ponder upon. This is all in addition to the lack of technique in seaming conditions shown on previous tours. Vaas himself did not do particularly well outside the sub-continent during his Test playing days, but regardless of this his experience will be invaluable. So far I think he has gone about saying exactly the right things; mentioning hard work, and even a sly dig at the IPL. His main priority should be to turn this current crop of fast bowlers into genuine wicket-takers, as opposed to bowlers that hold down an end and slow the run-rate. This is why SL have been successful in limited overs cricket. The fast bowlers are hard to score off, but when it comes to a Test format the inability to take 20 wickets in a match is a stark reminder of just how far we have yet to go to be the best.
I leave you with these words from Mark Nicholas (for no other reason than it captures how I feel about good fast bowling and by extension, swing bowling) , taken from his ode to swing bowling on Cricinfo:
Swing is a temptress, luring those with the willow to indiscretion. Swing at speed is killer – there one moment, gone the next. Swing surprises, shocks, disappoints and delights