Rex Clementine, in The Sunday Island, 23 October 2016, where the title reads ” Fate has forced Vandersay to wait patiently”
With the exit of Shane Warne, for a few years, leg-spin looked a dying art. But Pakistan’s Yasir Shah has kept cricket’s most difficult art alive. Last year, as Pakistan won in Sri Lanka after nine years, the leg-spinner took 24 wickets. He became the quickest Pakistani to take 50 wickets in Tests and became the first leg-spinner since Warne to be ranked as world’s number one bowler. He is following on the footsteps of other remarkable Pakistani leg-spinners such as Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed.
But Yasir, unlike Warne, heavily depends on his stock delivery. Warne was outstanding because he had excellent control over his variations like the googly (one that turns the opposite way), the top spinner (one that doesn’t turn but dips sharpy and bounces higher), the flipper (one that skids through and keeps low), the slider (the faster one). Sri Lanka could provide the answer for the complete package of Warne as there’s a leg-spinner who is obsessed with Warne. Jeffrey Vandersay is his name.
The 26-year-old from Wattala on Friday helped Sri Lanka ‘A’ to a series win as he ran through West Indies ‘A’ middle and lower orders at Dambulla claiming six wickets. It was a huge relief for a man who by now should have established himself in the senior side. But fate has made him to wait. A good leg-spinner needs patience in plenty. So far Vandersay has exhibited much patience. Like leg-spin, perseverance too is a dying art these days.
No one predicted that Vandersay would play for Sri Lanka one day when he was representing Wesley College. He has been a slow starter. A couple of eye-catching performances for SSC took him to the brink of Test cricket. However, he made his Sri Lanka debut in T-20 cricket. It didn’t take you long to realize that Vandersay was a keen student of the game. He said all the right things too. It wasn’t a mere eyewash. He meant whatever he said.
During the World T-20, he spoke about how representing the country in a Test match remained his biggest dream. He is still chasing that dream. He also elaborated on how he used to look at Warne closely and tried to learn. “I haven’t met Shane, but would love to do one day,” he told Sunday Island.
Vandersay was tipped to make the team for Sri Lanka’s tour of England in May this year. He was supposed to be the second spinner in England behind Rangana Herath. In England, he may have not got an opportunity to play a game, but surely they were expecting him to make the playing eleven for the home series against Australia that followed. However, fate stood on his way. As the team was training ahead of the tour of England, Vandersay attempted a return catch off Dimuth Karunaratne, but ended up fracturing his spinning finger (ring finger on the right hand).
Surgery kept him out of the England tour. The healing process was longer than he had expected as it was his spinning finger and he was ruled out of the Australian series as well. “I was pretty down naturally. But then I told myself that there’s no point in being down. It doesn’t do you any good. Everything happens for a reason,” Vandersay said.
He was out of cricket for more than six months and Dilruwan Perera and Lakshan Sandakan had established their places in the senior side as support for Herath. All three spinners will make the trip to Zimbabwe on Monday, but Vandersay will be killing time at home.
The period he was injured, he kept himself busy looking at video footage of other spinners like Warne and Shah. He believes he has learned quite a lot. “Since I couldn’t bowl, I started watching how Shane would operate in a game. How he would set people up. It was a good learning experience. I also watched some of the tips he had given Yasir Shah. There’s so much to learn,” Vandersay said.
His first game since injury was the second unofficial Test against West Indies ‘A’ at Pallekele. However, he couldn’t make an impact there. In the first innings, he bowled 31 overs, but managed just one wicket as West Indies ‘A’ squared the three match series with a 333 run win.
But at Dambulla, things started to fall in line. “At Pallekele, I kind of lost it. Wasn’t sure how to go about things. It took me sometime to get back into the grove. Slowly I had got the pacing of my bowling right. I guess it happens after an injury. I am glad now I have got the process right.”
Warne was an outstanding cricketer. He was ‘outstanding’ off the field too. He loved his Benson & Hedges, his Scotch, his baked beans and of course his women. In 2000, he lost the Australian vice-captaincy after sending erotic text messages to a British nurse. A few years later, his wife abandoned him. Warne had composed a text message to one of his girlfriends, “Hey beautiful, wife’s not at home. The backdoor’s open.” But mistakenly had sent the message to his wife. Within seconds she responded. “You loser, you send the message to the wrong person!”
Burghers are fun loving and easy going people. Will Vandersay emulate his role model off the field as well? “No., no…no. I am a different character,” Vandersay says. “I have a girlfriend to whom I hope to get married to next year.”