There are purists and there are those who believe that cricket is ultimately about how effective you are when it comes to scoring runs and grabbing wickets – the main business of the sport. Legendary Australian skipper Steve Waugh not only belonged to the latter category, even as his brother Mark was elegance personified who considered ugly runs as blots on his ego, but also spoke as much in a chapter in his autobiography where he says what matters is “not how but how many” which finds its renditions pervasively across the work: the best players make some use of bad days too and can grind out ugly but crucial runs when the going is difficult. One modern day player fits that bill more than most.
Fragile almost frangible in constitution with a stance - colloquially mocked at with the expression "extruding/jutting back" - that may confer the term “open-chested” for batsmen too, a technique that is not savage but simply non-existent and an extravagant shuffle that will interest every LBW-monger, the batsman in question can give Jimmy Adams a run for his money when it comes to the absolutely unspectacular nature of stroke play, beat Graeme Smith for lack of the minutest relic of artistry to be seen in batting and may, if you are indulgent and/or sarcastic enough, captain a side comprising the most ungainly-looking cricketers. Yet despite his supposed shortcomings, which naturally predate(d) his international career, the prolific run-machine from Guyana has come a long way in West Indies cricket from being an unconventionally talented boy to one who has become the mainstay of West Indies batting in a decade during which West Indies’ win-lose ratio has plummeted to below one for the first time in forty years, Brian Lara’s brilliance ebbed and flowed like his capricious moods before his ultimate retirement and cricket administration in the West Indies has gone from inexplicably poor to utterly incompetent and the pipeline of talent – batting and bowling alike – into international cricket has virtually run dry. I refer to Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
While the recently drawn test match between the Proteas and the
West Indies in St. Kitts joined the ceaselessly boring succession of drawn test matches – in Windies in particular and on pitches absolutely unresponsive to bowlers elsewhere in the world in general – Chanderpaul’s twenty-second century, a marathon 166 (unbelievably slow in its last yards that it might have put a snail to sleep!) served to prove two things: Chanderpaul’s ability to score big runs and his status as the country’s second best batsman of the Lara era and their best since sun set on the Trinidadian left-hander’s epoch-making career. A comparison with two of his better contemporaries sets him apart quite clearly at least in the game’s oldest and most treasured format: both skipper Chris Gayle and Sarwan average in the early forties as opposed to Chanderpaul who averages forty-eight and half.
Even a historical perspective speaks volumes about Chanderpaul’s longevity as a cricketer and his performances which have led to his sustaining his place in the team in the first place: he has now played the same number of test matches Sunil Gavaskar played (125), has just two hundreds less than the great Sir Vivian Richards – and averages just 1.5 runs below him –which is more than the number of hundreds scored by Sourav Ganguly, Michael Atherton, Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge and Alec Stewart, has had precious few extended blips in form and been more or less consistent against all teams. For a player regarded as stodgy, Chanderpaul’s one-day record too – with a highest score of 150, average of close to forty-two and strike rate of under seventy-two – is enviable and his last ball six of Chaminda Vaas to finish a match few years ago, though freakish, speaks a lot about the Guyanese left-hander’s ability to adapt to the short form and remain composed under pressure.
Even if pure statistics do not give a compelling picture considering that Chandepaul has played in an increasingly batsmen-friendly era, it would be purblind to forget the fact that he has still had to contend with the likes of a trio of great spinners and a battery of fine fast bowlers from Glenn McGrath – and fellow Aussies – in his prime to Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in the last part of their careers to others. That he has himself not had to face Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh (apart from in domestic cricket) is therefore as academic a point as a lot of one-day games these days. Further, the contributions from guys like Chanderpaul should be assessed in comparison with that of their peers and in the context of their country’s cricket during their time at large. Going by those yardsticks, the sheer limpet-like resilience Chanderpaul has displayed over the years has ensured that while he is out there a war of attrition was still on and that Windies could still salvage something out of a bad match.
Chanderpaul made his debut as a nineteen year old in 1994 and at thirty-five may have a couple of seasons in him. But when he calls time, he would probably look at his career with a grain of salt like Brian Lara might have. Even if Chanderpaul becomes only the second West Indian to cross the coveted 9000 run landmark in tests, which he should unless he retires by the end of the series against South Africa, in the process transcending Sir Viv Richard’s and Sir Garfield Sobers’ run aggregates, that he has not seen more West Indies victories during his time would probably weigh him down. Keeping yourself motivated when reasons beyond transience and the playing field deter a team’s progress can be the most demoralising challenge posed by modern team sport. But Chanderpaul, I believe, has done that to the best of his ability. Consequently, there shall be no detracting from his success which embodies the triumph of mind over matter and will over everything else.
Towards the end of an era of West Indian dominance and batting flamboyance, a workmanlike run-collector has kept Caribean batting line-ups from imploding catastrophically. In the process, he has put his name below the likes of Lara, Richards, Sobers and Greenidge. Many who start playing test cricket would take it gladly if you told them that by the time they hang up their boots they would be right behind some of the greats to have graced the game from their country. Chanderpaul’s contributions, may, however, be reckoned as just as invaluable as some of his predecessors’, given that his stellar acts have come more often than not from a sinking shop. And not many would confute the thesis that a soldier who survives and takes his men through dire straits is as deserving of greatness as any other.