Shivnarine Chanderpaul shed blood, sweat and tears on his way up to the top of the ladder in the world of cricket.Bharath Ramaraj turns the clock back to go through the path taken by the quiet West Indian cricketer.
Preparation and a tunnel visioned aim to succeed are the pillars on which many great careers are built. These are the world’s best, exemplified by the lynchpin of West Indies’s Test batting line-up — Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
More than a decade ago when Chanderpual struggled to come to grips with Pakistan bowler’s uncanny ability to generate reverse swing at Sharjah Cricket Ground and with his average hovering in the low 40s, the writer never envisaged that Chanderpaul would accrue almost 11,000 Test runs at an average of 50-plus in his Test career. However, the quiet and unassuming cricketer from Guyana has proved all his detractors wrong by carving a niche for himself in the Test arena. When Chanderpaul with his trademark guard taking act where with utmost diligence, he removes the bail and nails it to the ground several time will play his 150th Test match at Eden Gardens, one can only stand and admire in awe at the Guyanese left-handed batsman.
Born to a cricket-fanatic fisherman, Khemraj Chanderpaul, it was crystal clear that Shivnaraine Chanderpaul was a precocious talent who just breathed and lived cricket from a very young age. His father, an accomplished wicket-keeper batsman himself, would make him practice on a concrete pitch in Unity Village on the East Coast of Demerara. He would face the fastest of bowlers from the entire village who were even allowed to bend their elbows by Chanderpaul’s father. It perhaps resulted in Chanderpaul adapting his unique crab-like stance. His diligence and hard-work in search of unmatched excellence was soon rewarded when he was selected to play for Everest and Demerara Cricket Clubs.
He made his First-Class debut in 1991-92 season, but it was the 140 he made for West Indies President’s XI against the touring Pakistanis in 1993 that propelled him into national reckoning. He soon made his Test debut against England at Antigua in 1994. It was the Test match in which Brian Lara broke Garry Sobers’s record for the highest individual score in Test cricket. Chanderpaul who was playing at the other end when Lara went past that monumental record is believed to have helped Lara to soothe his tangle of nerves. Even now Lara credits Chanderpaul for helping him out when he neared the lofty peak of Sobers’s record. In fact, Chanderpaul himself made a fine half-century. In that innings he showcased the rare virtues of rigour and patience have been ingrained in his system from a very young age.
Those rare virtues have held him in good stead, over the years. Yet, there are experts who just can’t fathom how with his ‘ugly’ chest-on stance, where he bats as though, he is facing a fast bowler thundering into the crease from the mid-wicket region can succeed in Test cricket.
Sometimes, we perhaps analyse too much about the stance. If one observes his technique carefully, Chanderpaul when he is about to play a defensive shot or an attacking shot gets into more of a side-on position and the stillness of his head helps him to bisect the nook and cranny of the gaps, especially through the on-side.
It is interesting to note that with his supposedly unorthodox technique, Chanderpaul has made more runs than any other Test batsman since 2007. In 2007 season in the Old Blighty, Chanderpaul conquered many peaks by making loads of runs. The English bowlers had a whale of a time with West Indian batsmen gifting their wickets away without a semblance of fight. But with gladiatorial intensity, Chanderpaul stood like a boy on a burning deck to wash away the challenge of English attack with consummate mastery.
Another interesting facet of Chanderpaul’s batsmanship is his tendency to stitch invaluable partnerships with tail-enders. The story of how he thwarted the Indian team with Fidel Edwards in 2011 at Dominica and took West Indies to safer waters has gone into the folklore of cricket, as one of the greatest Houdini acts of all time.
Chanderpaul has his fair share of critics who believe that he is selfish. They especially point to the way he took a single of the penultimate ball of the first day’s play against England at Lord’s in 2012 which resulted in Edwards getting out to Stuart Board and West Indies being bowled out. But most of the great batsmen are selfish and Chanderpaul can hit back at his detractors by pointing to those innumerable partnerships he has stitched with lower-order batsmen in his defence.
Chanderpaul also led the West Indies team in 14 Tests between 2004 to 2006. But that was an unhappy time for the quiet cricketer. He was thrust into the job because of the West Indies Cricket Board’s (WICB) internal politics. It has to be said that Chanderpaul comes across as an introvert too. So, it wasn’t surprising that West Indies won only two of the 14 Tests under his tenure.
Chanderpaul was mocked initially for his lack of fitness, and it was later found out that there was a large floating bone in his foot which was removed. He made his first Test hundred only in his 19th Test against India. Yet, with blood, sweat, tears and superhuman perfection, he has made his way to the top of cricket ladder and isn’t far away from going past Lara’s record for all-time leading run-scorer for West Indies. Yes, he won’t invade our consciousness like Lara did with his prestidigitation, but for Chanderpaul it is all about accumulating runs and protecting his wicket at any cost.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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