The Aesthetics of Presentation: How Chaminda Vaas stole the Limelight

Michael Roberts

In retirement as a pensioner I spent a good part of 2006 in Colombo finalizing the publication of Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond. The capital for this work had been generously promised by a family friend Malik Samarawickrama. The book was to be coffee-table quality. On Dominic Sansoni’s advice we were using Gunaratne Offset Ltd as the printers. This firm was located in Dematagoda and this work of type-setting called for a daily drive from my sister’s place at Wellawatte.

South Africa was on tour in Lanka in mid-2006, facing Sri Lanka in Test matches as well as being scheduled to play ODIs. However, the conflict between the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka was edging towards war once again. The Tigers had been targeting intelligence officers for some time,[1] while several high-profile Defence personnel were on their hit list. An attempt to assassinate General Fonseka on 25th April 2006 by a female suicide bomber posing pregnant wounded him severely. Parami Kulatunga, the Deputy Chief of Staff, SL Army, was assassinated by a suicide bomber near the Army HQ at Panagoda on 27 June 2007.

A cycle with bomb was discovered at the Borella junction one day by observant police constables in late August 2006 and defused before it blew some intended target (Jalaldeen 2006). It was pure chance that I had taken another route to Dematagoda that day and therefore escaped the long traffic delay on that particular route to Gunaratne Offset. Like most Sri Lankans I took the potential risks, minimal in lottery terms, in my stride.

Not so the South Africans. When the LTTE detonated a bomb near Liberty Plaza in a claymore bomb strike on the Pakistan ambassador which killed four Army commandoes in a car following the target besides three others, the South African team simply ran back home. They had no fear of bouncers, but bombing risks of minor magnitude were to be ducked: cowardice of the highest order in my perception[2] – then and now, the Lahore attacks notwithstanding (see Roberts, Incursions & excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, 2011).

However, all this is by the by, merely a meandering introduction to a wholly different tale. Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond called for the presentation of numerous photographs: 158 pages as it turned out. This task demanded careful arrangement, that is, attention to suitable aesthetic placement on page. The good offices of Sita and Bena Pieris led me to hire Professor Albert Dharmasiri, from the University of Visual and Performing Arts and an accomplished painter himself, for this work. Albert joined me at the Gunaratne establishment at Dematagoda on a regular basis and participated assiduously in the laborious process of formatting the pages with the assistance of some young technical personnel undertaking the preparatory type-setting of the book.

ALBERT AT Albert Dharmasiri (pointing) at an art show –Pic from

Albert Dharmasiri, let me stress, attended to his brief beyond the call of duty or the returns of remuneration. The tasks of manuscript and pictorial preparation were both time-consuming and demanding. The results are now available in book-form. One dimension, the first feature that hits any prospective reader, is the cover: Chaminda Vaas just after he has delivered a ball – truly a striking image.



     ESSAYING CKT -cover--vaas

         by Michael Roberts


  • Articles on World Cricket, Sri Lankan Cricket politics, sledging and chucking
  • Comments on partisan TV coverage and cricket team reactions to bomb blasts
  • 35 Articles by Guest Authors including Harsha Bhogle, Peter Roebuck, Mike Coward, Mike Marqusee & Sambit Bal and a range of Lankan authors, names familiar as well as surprising
  • A breathtaking collection of 157 photographs

Publisher: Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo



       Softcover: ISBN 955-1266-25-0        AUD $65 / pd 25

Hardcover: ISBN 955-1266-26-9       AUD $90 / pd 35  

Michael Roberts 61-8-8278 5773……


Chaminda Vaas (b. 1974) has been an outstanding left-arm medium pace swing bowler and a great servant of Sri Lankan cricket. He has taken 355 Test wickets at an average of 29.58, economy-rate of 2.68 and strike-rate of 68.66. The main cricket site describes him thus: “Chaminda Vaas is easily the most penetrative and successful new-ball bowler Sri Lanka have had, and he has served his country well. He swings and seams the ball with skill, his trademark delivery being the late in-dipper. However, he also bowls a carefully disguised off-cutter, and has recently added reverse-swing to his armoury, a skill that has made him a consistent wicket-taker even on bland subcontinental pitches. He outbowled New Zealand’s seamers in green conditions at Napier to give Sri Lanka their first win in an overseas Test, in 1994-95. In 2001-02 he made a quantum leap, taking 26 wickets in the 3-0 rout of West Indies, becoming only the second fast bowler, after Imran Khan, to take 14 wickets in a match in the subcontinent. He then went on to take the first-ever ODI eight-for, against Zimbabwe, which included a hat-trick. He also claimed a hat-trick with the first three balls of the match against Bangladesh in the 2003 World Cup. Vaas reached the 300-wicket milestone in Tests against India in 2005-06, having passed the mark in ODIs on the tour to Zimbabwe. In 2004 he also gained overdue recognition for his talent when he was selected for the World XI at the inaugural ICC Awards. Vaas is easily Sri Lanka’s second-most successful bowler – after Muttiah Muralitharan – in both forms of the game. His approach to his batting is equally sincere and in recent years he has gradually gained recognition as a useful allrounder.”

The choice of this image of Vaas for the cover did not arise from this service. It was not a cricketing decision. It was an aesthetic decision, taken by Albert Dharmasiri who happens to have no interest in cricket and has absolutely no knowledge of its intricacies. I asked him to select one of the images in our stock for the cover. He  settled on the image of Vaas in a stride after delivery.[3] It was (and is) pure chance that he selected a good servant of the game.


I thought no more about this choice. But while chatting to Chandra Schaffter one day in Adelaide[i] (and here we have another man who has been a great servant of Sri Lankan cricket[ii]) he asked me how it was that the particular picture of Vaas graced the cover. I told him that it was Albert Dharmasiri’s aesthetic choice, not a cricketing one.

SchaffterSubsequent reflection led me to the implicit thought behind Chandra’s question. As a cricket aficionado and a stalwart of the Tamil Union Cricket Club, he was wondering why Muralitharan, universally acknowledged to be the world’s most successful bowler, had not been placed on the cover. Murali did not reach his grand total of 800 wickets till 2008, but even in 2006 he was ahead of Vaas and everyone else in his destructive wicket-taking.

Indeed, this outstanding achievement has been subsequently embodied in a decision taken by Vijitha Yapa. In launching a special paperback edition of the book recently, a dust jacket with a picture of Muralitharan after he secured his 800th wicket at Galle is the face seeking to launch a thousand sales.

mURALI ON COVERcompare  MURALI +  BALLa t galle from 48a--A pensive Muralitharan at Galle cricket grounds -- 7-160 Murali pensively waiting upon the elements before he proceeded to his milestone at Galle

So the world has two different stars to inspire the purchase of Essaying Cricket. That noted, let me complicate matters. The book contains many striking photographs. There are/were other possibilities – suggestive of other cricketing moments of great import. We can, here, step forth visually – image after image with short notes of clarification.

Choice 3: Two cricketing maestros from yesteryear in convivial greeting …. Gary Sobers greets Mahadeva Sathasivam, 1963

SATHA & SOBERS Pic from Lake House – No. 38 in Essaying Cricket

Choice 4: two star batsmen grinding the Aussies down during the World Cup triumph …. Building on the foundations provided by Asanka Gurusinha at No. 3, de Silva and Ranatunga guided Sri Lanka to victory over Australia in the World Cup in 1996 with a fourth wicket stand of 97 runs

11b--Arjuna & Ari in command Pic from Prasanna Hennayake – Fig 49 in Essaying Cricket

Choice 5: Sri Lanka’s squad rejoice in their World Cup victory, 17 March 1996 …. The players swarm unto the grounds after the winning stroke, with the expressions of Australia’s two star players providing sweet revenge for Sri Lankan patriots disturbed by the events in Australia during Sri Lanka’s tour in December/January 1995-96

13--Sri Lankans swarm over pitch in triumphantmoodPic by John Parkin courtesy of Allsport

Choice 6: Two star batsmen in serious intent …. Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva discuss cricketing matters before the World Cup in 2003

35a-Aravinda & Sanath in earnest conversationPic from Lake House – No. 96 in Essaying Cricket

 Choice 7: Arise Sir Davenell! Beaming moments and hands across the Indian Ocean, 1 November 1996 …. Davenell Whatmore from Australia guided Sri Lanka during tough times in 1995 /96 and received state recognition in this Deshamanya Award from President Chandrika Bandaranaike

14 Arise Sir Davenel  Pic from Lake House – No. 89 in Essaying Cricket

Choice 8: Smiling Garlands! Beaming moments of ethnic amity Tamil and Sinhala …. Murali and Arjuna are honoured at Ramakrishna Hall, Bambalapitiya … date uncertain

86 Smiling Garlands Pic from Lake House – No. 86 in Essaying Cricket

Choice 9: reaching out to Jaffna with a hero to challenge talaivar Pirapāharan, 1 September 2002  …. Murali is mobbed by adoring Tamil fans in Jaffna when a Janashakthi team played an exhibition match in the Peninsula in September, 2002 – a moment when a greater opportunity was missed because the Sri Lankan Board rejected Chandra Schaffter’s offer to take the full squad to the north in a gesture of goodwill at a time when a ceasefire was in place. The only other leading player in the exhibition team was Romesh Kaluvitharana. There was a full house watching the match.

Tamil cricket fan hugs Sri Lankan bowler Muttiah Muralitharan during a cricket match at Jaffna Central College ground in Sri Lanka's northern city of Jaffna on September 1, 2002. Muralitharan and some other national Sri Lankan cricketers arrived in Jaffna after crossing Tamil Tiger rebel held Vanni area in Saturday to play a friendly cricket match against a Jaffna district side. REUTERS/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi

Tamil cricket fan hugs Sri Lankan bowler Muttiah Muralitharan during a cricket match at Jaffna Central College ground in Sri Lanka’s northern city of Jaffna on September 1, 2002. Muralitharan and some other national Sri Lankan cricketers arrived in Jaffna after crossing Tamil Tiger rebel held Vanni area in Saturday to play a friendly cricket match against a Jaffna district side. REUTERS/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi 

Pic by Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi of Reuters – No. 119 in Essaying Cricket

Choice 10: Anytime cricket time – whether stark times or good time…. A snap shot from the Jaffna Peninsula in the 1990s taken by Emma Levine in her remarkable journey through the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka embodied pictorially in Cricket. A Kind of Pilgrimage, Hong Kong, 1996.

playground JAFFNAPic by Emma Levine – No. 142 in Essaying Cricket

Choice 11 Calling upon the deities & supernatural forces …. Cricket is a risky trade. Some cricketers, even successful ones, fortify their spirits and gird their loins by ensuring that powers beyond the human realm will support their endeavours. The Buddhist Jayasuriya and the Catholic Vaas are united in their supplicatory vows before the deities empowering St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade, 26th June 2000;


Pics from Lake House—see Figs.s 122 & 113 in Essaying Cricket

Choice 12: Australians chicken out from the World Cup Cricket Match scheduled in Sri Lanka, February 1996 …. The Sri Lankan tour of Australia in 1995/96 was acrimonious:- with ball-tampering accusations at Perth and then the no-balling of Murali at the Second Test. The Australians were concerned about the heat they would face in sri Lanka during the forthcoming World Cup match in Colombo. After serious team debate they had decided to grasp the nettle. But, then, in a symbolic move before sri Lanka’s Independence Day (4th February) a LTTE truck bomb blasted the iconic Central Bank building in the heart of the CBD. This was Sri Lanka’s 9/11 – for Sri Lanka that is. It provided just the excuse the Aussie team wanted: they decided to forfeit their match. This decision was supported by the vast majority of Australians: in this view Sri Lanka was simply too dangerous to visit. A few ignorant and imbecile Aussies even considered the bomb attack to be a statement aimed at the Aussie cricket world. There was one notable exception to this refrain: Scott Milson, the Editor of The National Bulletin read the Sri Lankan situation correctly…. So this is a grateful nod in his direction, saying “you were on the ball, man.”

BULLETIN NO BALLS Pic from Scott Milson

Choice 13: A Requiem for a True Friend of Sri Lankan Cricket ….…. This image shows Tony Greig chatting with Captain Sanath Jayasuriya at Adelaide Oval (with the Bradman Stand, now no more in place, in the background). I was introduced to Tony by Ranjit Fernando at the SSC grounds once and was impressed by the depth of his information on the inside politics of Sri Lankan cricket. Thereafter he was amiably ready to discuss Sri Lankan issues when I occasionally phoned or emailed him in Australia. I can also affirm hat in January 1998 he wholeheartedly supported Thilanga Sumathipala, Ranjit Fernando and the team in combating the charges directed against Arjuna Ranatunga for challenging Rupert Emerson’s no-balling of Murali at Adelaide (information from Tilak Chandratilleke and Ranjit Fernando).

TONY & SANATH  Pic from Ajit Jayasekera – Fig 131 in Essaying Cricket (note the comment therein).


Michael Roberts & Alfred James 1998 Crosscurrents: Sri Lanka and Australia at Cricket, Sydney: Walla Walla Press

 Michael Roberts 2005 “Sri Lanka: the Power of Cricket & Power in Cricket”, Cricket and National Identity in the Post-Colonial Age: Following On, ed. by Stephen Wagg, London: Routledge, pp. 132-58.

Michael Roberts 2005 “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis, 49: 67-93.

Michael Roberts 2006 Forces and Strands in Sri Lanka’s Cricketing History, Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association.

Michael Roberts 2007b “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30:  857-88.

Michael Roberts 2008 “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, 24/3: 22-23.

Michael Roberts 2009 “Wunderkidz in a Blunderland: Tensions & Tales from Sri Lankan Cricket,” in Dominic Malcolm, Jon Gemmell and Nalin Mehta (eds.) Sport and Society, vol. 12, nos. 4/5, special issue on Cricket; International and Interdisciplinary Approaches, 2009, pp. 566-78.

Michael Roberts 2010c “Self Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 161-201.

Michael Roberts 2011 “Cricket under Siege: The Lahore Attack, 3 March 2009,” in Roberts, Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2011, pp. 139-64.

Michael Roberts 2014 “The Induction Oath of Tamil Tigers at their Passing-Out Ceremony,” 23 June 2014,

Rafiq Jalaldeen 2006 “The Brave Threesome who saved Many a Life,” Daily News, 26 August 2006,


[1] In fact a Dvora belonging to the SL Navy was sunk in a well-laid Sea Tiger trap in January 2006 (personal communication from Commodore Wasantha Karannagoda, (interview 3 June 2015).

[2] There were several Asian teams participating in some athletics jamboree (if my memory serves me right) in Colombo –all swarming around in the Oberoi and other up-market hotels in Colombo. None of them ran away. The South Africans utilized an evaluation from some security company based in the Middle East to justify their departure and the breaking of obligations. Here is an illustration of Orientalism: local agencies could not be trusted; one needed a foreign firm to make an assessment.

[3] Note that the image on the cover has an embellishment that is not found in the original. A Dilmah advert has been photo-shopped into the boundary side-fences. This was the work of David Colin-Thome who worked for Dilmah and was assisting me materially in several ways, among them the provision of striking photographs. Take for instance the emblematic image for htt:// or Figs.000 In Roberts, Essaying Cricket, 2006.

[4] Mr and Mrs Schaffter were on a tour of Australia and treated several friends, including Muditha and Upeka Maduwansa, to a meal at the Hyatt Hotel. I had got to know Chandra through Ananda Chittambalam and met him on a couple of occasions when he was Manager of the Sri Lankan Cricket team — in England once and then again in Galle.

[5] Chandra Schaffter is from the Indian Tamil community. His father was a teacher at S. Thomas College and after his education and sporting career at the same college, Chandra became one of Sri Lanka’s rare sportsmen, representing the country in two fields, cricket and hockey, during the early 1950s ( He became a highly successful businessman and has been referred to as “the father of the country’s insurance” ( He has pArticpated actively in the administration of the Tamil Union as well as Sri Lankan cricket. A further mark of his devotion to the game in sri Lanka is The Janashakthi Book of Cricket, (Madras, 1999) prepared by SS Perera and S. Muttiah [see


Filed under Australian culture, centre-periphery relations, cricket for amity, cultural transmission, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, life stories, LTTE, patriotism, politIcal discourse, religiosity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, suicide bombing, taking the piss, the imaginary and the real, world affairs

4 responses to “The Aesthetics of Presentation: How Chaminda Vaas stole the Limelight

  1. SENT DIRECTLY BY TONY DONALDSON of Sydney: Thanks Professor Michael for this excellent piece on cricket. I enjoyed reading it. Great and well-chosen photos too. I was glad to see the bit on Tony Grieg who I admired as a great commentator of the game, and as you rightly point out, a great admirer of Sri Lankan cricket.

  2. Pingback: Sri Lanka’s Journey to Test Status via Alston Mahadevan’s Video Documentaries | Critiquing Cricket

  3. David Blacker

    Enjoyed reading ‘Essaying Cricket’ a couple of years ago. Good stuff. Personally I think the original choice of Chaminda Vass is the best one, aesthetically, as well as representing Sri Lanka’s cricketing pinnacle, with a member of the 1996 WC-winning team. Murali is a good choice as well, but not that particular shot. If it’s to be Murali, it has to be in eye-popping, arm-twisting, doosra-delivering action. None of the other shots have any merit, in my opinion, as cover shots, interesting as they may be. A cover image must jump off the bookshelf and grab you.

    • AGREED…..David COLIN-THOME had a hand in the original selection. The MURALI PIX was imposed by Yapa company as a cover flap …… down the track. It is not in any print version as a permanent mark so to speak. Sorry MURALI old boy.

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