Vaas is no supporting act
As long as Vaas and Murali can keep turning it on, Sri Lanka's dream of finally winning a Test on Indian soil remains rooted in reality
The heavyweight Indian batting line up came a cropper against Chaminda Vaas at Chennai
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After the euphoria of the 6-1 triumph in last month's one-day series, India's batsmen crashed and burned on a morning when Sri Lanka reminded everyone that they are not here to make up the numbers. Muttiah Muralitharan's guile and near-square turn should dissuade the curators at Delhi and Ahmedabad from producing typical apple-crumble-like surfaces, but it was the performance of Chaminda Vaas - spanked around like a medium-pace trundler in the ODIs - that would have caused most heartburn in the Indian dressing room.
This was India's lowest total against Sri Lanka in 24 Tests dating back to 1982, and but for Mahendra Singh Dhoni's insouciant attitude to the conditions, it's doubtful whether they would even have made it to the lunch interval. The previous lows had been registered at Galle on the last tour of Sri Lanka in 2001, when Dilhara Fernando - 5 for 42 in the first innings - and Murali, with 5 for 49 in the second, skittled India out for 187 and 180 to set up an emphatic 10-wicket victory.
On home soil, India had never tallied less than 288 in a completed innings against Sri Lanka. And on that occasion at the Sector 16 Stadium in Chandigarh, it mattered not a jot as Venkatapathy Raju picked up 6 for 12 in the first innings to inspire an innings-and-8-runs victory. The way they went about things this morning, 288 appeared the cricketing equivalent of Mount Everest, and a testing pitch was made to look like an uncovered potato patch.
While it was slow, and the bounce unpredictable, it certainly wasn't as difficult as the Indians made it look. In 40.3 overs today, they managed just 77 runs, and only Dhoni's cavalier flourishes enabled the scoreboard operators to stay awake. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly - as strong a middle order as any in the modern game - laboured all of 298 balls for a combined total of 64 runs, and their efforts were put into perspective by a splendid innings from Mahela Jayawardene.
Of course, the Indians had to face Vaas and Murali in prime form, rather than their own pallid excuse of an attack. Anil Kumble apart, the Indian bowling effort was woeful. Ajit Agarkar toiled manfully, without ever suggesting that he could cut a swathe through the top order, and both he and the lacklustre Irfan Pathan came nowhere close to emulating Vaas's feats in the morning session.
Despite a haul of 298 wickets at 28.63 from 89 Tests, Vaas's name rarely crops up in discussions concerning the subcontinent's greatest bowlers. The blame lies partly with journalists who have always billed him as a supporting act to the irrepressible Murali, and the time has surely come for a revisionist approach.
In Asian conditions, he has been far more than a mere foil, harvesting 203 wickets from 60 matches at 26.44. To put that into perspective, the other modern-day left-arm pace titan, Wasim Akram, managed 216 victims at 22.53 from his 59 Tests in Asia, while Imran Khan - the best that the continent has ever seen - knocked over 205 from 51 games at 20.28 apiece.
Vaas's 11 successive maidens evoked memories of India's own Bapu Nadkarni, who once had figures of 32-27-5-0 against England, with the main difference being that he also picked up four wickets. The quality of the batsmen he faced made it even more laudable, and reminded a colleague of a certain Jack Young, the Middlesex slow left-arm bowler who once sent down 11 consecutive maidens against Sir Donald Bradman and Lindsay Hassett.
And while Vaas's spell was ultimately little more than a warning shot for India ahead of the next two Tests, it also ensured that talk of the Indians having a psychological advantage after the one-day series was just so much babble. As long as he and Murali can keep turning it on, Sri Lanka's dream of finally winning a Test on Indian soil remains rooted in reality.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo