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Vaas enters record books and plants a tree

Sa'adi Thawfeeq reporting from South Africa

PIETERMARITZBURG, Friday - Although they bowl differently, there's no doubt that after Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas is Sri Lanka's real match-winner.

It has been proved several times in the past and today at the Pietermaritzburg Oval was another occasion to rejoice the bowling skills of this fine bowler.

The 29-year-old left-arm fast-medium bowler entered the record books after becoming the first bowler in the history of one-day international cricket to perform the hat-trick by taking a wicket off the first three balls of a match.

Vaas dismissed Hannan Sarker, Mohamed Ashraful and Ehsanul Hoque and two balls later sent back Sanuar Hossain to claim four wickets in the opening over of the match.

There has been only one instance where a bowler had taken four wickets in an over in one-day internationals and it did not happen in the first over of a match. Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq took four wickets in five balls against Zimbabwe at Peshawar in November 1996.

But Vaas' performance was unique because all these wickets were taken in the first over of a match.

Another Sri Lankan fast bowler Nuwan Zoysa took a hat-trick off the first three balls he bowled in a Test match against Zimbabwe at Harare in 1999-00. But it was the second over of the innings.

Vaas' unique bowling performance did not go unnoticed by the Pietermaritzburg CA who wanted him to plant a tree next to the media box after the match to celebrate the occasion.

It has been a tradition here for any cricketer scoring a hundred or taking five wickets to plant a tree. Former England cricketer Dennis Compton has been one of them when he scored a century during a side game here some years ago.

Vaas admitted it was the first time in his life that he has planted a tree.

When he arrived at the ground last morning, Vaas was unsure whether he would be fit to play because he had got up with a sore back.

"I had a workout with Alex (Kountouri) at the grounds and although the back felt a little bit sore my first ball was bang on target," said an elated Vaas after bagging the man-of-the-match award.

"I had been bowling well in the past couple of months and I am very happy the way I bowled today. I was not going for any records or anything but my job was to take wickets which I did to help my country win. I am happy to have played a part," he said.

When asked what exactly went through his mind when he ran on to bowl the hat-trick ball, Vaas said: "I bowled an inswinger, but it swung the other way at the last moment".

Enamul Hoque was the unfortunate batsman as he prodded forward only to see the ball fly off the outside edge of his bat to Mahela Jayawardene at second slip.

Vaas however rated his world record eight wickets for 19 runs and a hat-trick against Zimbabwe at the SSC in December 2001 as a better effort than today's performance.

But his captain Sanath Jayasuriya put his key bowler's achievement against Bangladesh high up on the list.

"Both hat-tricks were more or less similar. But personally I would rate this one higher because it is in a World Cup match," said Jayasuriya.

"It is always nice to have a performance under your belt in a World Cup game. It is a very important tournament and it was an important match for us," he said.

In the history of the World Cup, only two bowlers have performed the hat-trick before Vaas. Indian fast bowler Chetan Sharma did it against New Zealand at Nagpur in 1987 and Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq against Zimbabwe at the Oval in 1999.

Vaas has been the spearhead of the Sri Lankan bowling attack since he made his international debut against India at Rajkot in 1994.

His hat-trick is the 16th instant in one-day internationals and he became only the third bowler in the history of the game, to perform a hat-trick twice in his career.

Pakistani bowlers Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq are the only one's to have done it before him.

The last bowler to take a hat-trick was Mohammad Sami of Pakistan against West Indies at Sharjah in February 2002.

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