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Kill ‘em slow, the Vaas way

Chaminda Vaas talks about the ball he mastered – the slower one

Here’s a trivia. The top four highest wicket-takers in One-Day International cricket are from the subcontinent. And, more amazingly, three of them are pace bowlers (Muttiah Muralitharan being the sole spinner, with 534 wickets). It is indeed amazing, given that the cricket pitches in this part of the world are brutally biased against those who bowl quick.

Two of those three pacers – Wasim Akram (502) Waqar Younis (416) – formed arguably the most fearsome fast bowling partnership of their time. They hunted in a pair, complementing each other, plotting the downfall of the batsman.

The man fourth on the list, on the other hand, spent his career bowling in the shadows of the inimitable Murali. Like his fellow pacers on the list, he didn’t have a trusted partner to turn to. He carved his own niche and established himself as the finest pacer that Sri Lanka has produced.
His name is Chaminda Vaas – the wily old warhorse who tirelessly toiled on the subcontinent wickets and bamboozled the batsmen with his bagful of tricks. One of them, which brought him quite a few of his 400 ODI wickets was the slower one.

Vaas is in India for the Karbonn Smart Champions League T20 2013 as the coach of Kandurata Maroons. We, at clt20.com caught up with the champion bowler in an endeavor to understand more about the variation that has become a must-have delivery for bowlers in the T20 era.

Here’s what we got…

Early lesson learnt

I always knew that as a pacer, I had to have variations to stay on top of the batsman, especially in one-day cricket. You can’t be predictable and so you have to master the slower ball. You have to use the delivery to set the batsman up and eventually get him out. I learned it very early in my career because the Sri Lankan wickets, like those in India, are batsman-friendly. A bowler has to work hard and be smart if he wants to be successful. Besides the pace, bounce and swing, he has to develop other skills and variations to pick wickets.

The magic balls

The slower one itself can have many variations. I had two types of slower ones – the leg-cutter and the one that went straight. I used them depending on the batsman. For instance, I would bowl the leg-cutter only to a right-hander and stick to the other slower-one to the left-handed batsman. The more important part of bowling a slower one is to know when to bowl it and when not to. Mostly you only use the delivery when the batsman is trying to hit out and you want to calm him down.

Disguising the devil

When you bowl the slower one you’ve got to maintain the normal speed of your run-up and arm-rotation. If you change that, the batsman will realize what’s coming his way. You have to use your fingers to decrease the speed. I used to either split my index and middle fingers or bring my thumb up while releasing the slower one. It is difficult for the batsman to pick such subtle change from 22 yards. But to achieve that kind of control you have got to master the delivery in the nets before bowling it in a match. And then, when you actually do use it in a match, you have to be very confident about it because if the batsman senses a hint of doubt, he will take advantage.

Factoring the track

Whether you keep it a bit short, give air to the ball or bowl it fuller at the batsman, largely depends on the wicket. On slow subcontinent wickets you have to bowl it fuller. On faster tracks if you bowl slow into the batsman, he will put it away easily. So, you need to drop it a touch shorter, at the same time achieving the change in pace you want to.

The ideal change in pace

If your average bowling speed is 130-135 kmph, an ideal slower one will be around 116 kmph. If you do all things right technically, the batsman will not be able to pick even such vast change in pace.

Think like a spinner

I remember Gautam Gambhir walking down the track against me when India toured Sri Lanka in 2008. He did that to put the lbw out of equation. A batsman also does that to disturb your length and force you to bowl shorter. If you fall for it and bowl a bouncer, you’ll be whacked. So, it is important for fast bowlers to have a heart of a spinner. When a batsman is walking down to you, you bring the wicketkeeper up and slip in a slower one.

From a sword to a shield

The use of the slower ball has changed over the time. In my days it was a surprise weapon, as the batsmen didn’t realize it was coming. They would go after the ball and you’d have a wicket. Now, since the variation is much widely used, the batsmen are prepared for it and are happy to take a single. The cricket has changed.

T20 and the slower one

In this format the main objective of the batsmen is to score runs and not survive. So, the bowler has to do whatever it takes to stop him from doing that. If he keeps varying his pace throughout the over, it will be difficult for the batsman to adjust his bat swing and hit big shots.

Master of the art

Lasith Malinga has mastered the art of bowling the slower one and the yorker. He has worked hard to gain that kind of control over the two deliveries and it’s amazing that hardly any batsman can pick him.

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