By Venkatraman Ganeshan
The erudite and extremely readable George Dobell, in an insightful piece, has gone on to describe Shivnarine Chanderpaul as not only a dogged batsman, but also as one possessing a selfish gene. In the said piece titled “Selfish gene fails shallow talent pool”, Dobell has also cited a few instances supposedly lending credence to the selfish gene argument.
Such instances are predominantly gleaned from the first day’s play in the ongoing Test Match at Lord’s where the men from the Caribbean are now in an all too familiar spot of bother. I did have the unexpected but extremely privileged fortune of being a spectator soaking in the hallowed atmosphere that is the sole prerogative of the Mecca of cricket on this very day. Whilst I claim myself to be neither a Chanderpaul fanatic, nor a Dobell critic, I would, with due respect to Dobell, try and refute his arguments on the basis of both the happenings on the first day’s play and almost two decades of maniacal cricket watching.
Chanderpaul, in the current unenviable West Indian set-up, is one rock solid boulder amidst an extremely unstable and fluid collection of pebbles. Application at the crease has been his unquestionable forte and as Dobell himself is wont to believe, he is one batsman who just hates to throw his wicket away. A batsman who puts such a heavy and almost extortionist price on his wicket is sans a semblance of a doubt a priceless asset to be possessed. Here, neither Dobell nor yours truly have an axe to grind against each other as we both seem to be standing on a mutual admiration pedestal. Chanderpaul is indeed the proverbial cockroach which gets smashed, swept and savaged, but never dies, at least not without putting up a remarkable resistance.
Let us now come to the point where Dobell dwells about Chanderpaul leaving Darren Bravo stranded , more importantly, being the instrument of catastrophe when it comes to running between the wickets. As per the statistics quoted by Dobell, Chanderpaul has had the ignominy of being involved in 23 run-outs where he has been the suffering party on only three occasions. Thus on 20 occasions in Test cricket, Chanderpaul has been the harbinger of doom for his batting partners.
Does this statistic in itself make Chanderpaul selfish? If that were to be the case then the most selfish batsman the game has ever seen would be the legendary Steve Waugh. This redoubtable Australian master class has been a nightmare for his batting partners not only in Tests, but also in the shorter form of the game. In Tests, while Steve Waugh was involved in 27 run-outs while his partner was run out 23 times, which means that Waugh was dismissed on just four occasions. When it comes to One-Day Internationals the record only gets more garish – Waugh’s involvement in run-outs is on 77 occasions, with his partner being left stranded 50 times!
The history of cricket abounds with many such players. Even the great KS Ranjitsinhji was not bereft of this ignominy. Does it make the champion batsman selfish? I emphatically think not!
Now coming to the second argument of Chanderpaul exposing Fidel Edwards to the guile of Stuart Broad in the last over of the day. The state of the current West Indian batting line-up is such that, there are quite a few batsmen who need to be protected against quality bowling, whether it be pace or spin. Even assuming Chanderpaul had cleverly palmed the strike and faced Broad, it was only a matter of time before Edwards would have faced some bowling. That moment would have come eventually. There is no way that Chanderpaul can either bat from both ends or grab a single off the last ball of an over with the consistency befitting that of a metronome! The act of Chanderpaul leaving Edwards to face Broad, hence does not reflect upon the selfishness of the former. On the contrary it portrays in a starkly-naked vein the brittleness that is the hall-mark of the present West Indian batting line-up. While Chanderpaul would be willing to face the first, middle and final overs in a day, his team’s cause will never be furthered if there is none to support him at the other end.
Yet another argument advanced by Dobell is with reference to the position at which Chanderpaul has to wield his willow. While it brooks no argument that West Indian prospects of a good batting total would be enhanced with the entry of Chanderpaul at No 3, which would allow this unique southpaw to face more deliveries, such a move might come to naught if the rest of the batsmen flatter to deceive. Irrespective of the position in which Chanderpaul bats, he cannot be the ever reliable and ever-dependable Knight in shining armour. The fact that this dour and gritty batsman still boasts an average of above 50 in Tests and dons the mantle of the best batsman in the world bears ample testimony to his selfless service to his nation.
Also, if the West Indian team management feels that the ideal position for Chanderpaul to bat, in the interests of his country, would be No 3, then logic dictates that the fact should be conveyed to him in a direct and emphatic manner. The player that he is, it is hard to envisage a refusal emanating from him.
The bane dogging West Indian cricket seems to be a combination of things. An unrelenting cricket board, an unwavering set of players in rebellion, and an unreliable infrastructure for encouraging the game at the grass root level. Where the cause is systemic, the consequence would obviously be systematic. This is highlighted in a classical manner by the fact that a precocious talent of West Indian cricketers are peddling their wares in the ongoing IPL, instead of plying their talents for enhancing their nation’s cause in England. Till such time the internecine conflicts between the Board and the players remain unresolved, the fortunes of West Indian cricket will remain uninspiring and insipid.
Till such a revolution happens, one selfless batsman will continue to keep his head high, place a proudly beating heart on his sleeve, wear war paint under his eyes, mark his guard by beating a hapless bail into the ground, and continue to frustrate the best in the business by unpretentiously doing what he just loves and never tires of doing – plunder runs, more runs, still more runs and lot more runs.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul is not a selfish gene but a blind watch maker who irrespective of the tumult and turmoil going on around him continues to fix a badly-broken watch, and in the process remaining timeless himself.
(Venkataraman Ganesan is a Chartered Accountant by intent and a lawyer by accident. He has a maniacal penchant for books, more books, still more books and lot more books, when he is not watching cricket that is! He loves his Scotch and scribbles for fun. He blogs at www.the-venkyloquist.com)