May 3, 2012

Australia in West Indies 2012

When Chanders went bonkers

Andy Zaltzman
Shivnarine Chanderpaul was named Player of the Series, West Indies v Australia, 3rd Test, Roseau, 5th day, April 27, 2012
Shivnarine Chanderpaul accepts trophies on behalf of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde  © Associated Press
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The engrossing 2011-12 Test season came to an end last week, as Australia sealed a 2-0 win in the West Indies. The series could have had a different result had West Indies not been undermined by IPL clashes, selectorial squabblings, and top-order batting with the solidity of a blancmange in a 1950s nuclear-weapons test. History will probably judge those three factors to have been interlinked.

Standing defiantly amidst the wreckage was Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the best batsman in the series by a significant margin, who became the tenth batsman to pass 10,000 Test runs, returned to the top of the Test batting rankings, and edged his career average back over 50. There may be few cricket lovers who drift off to sleep at night fondly reminiscing about the day they saw Chanderpaul stroke the ball effortlessly around the park, but he has been one of the most remarkable batsmen in an age of remarkable batsmen, a craftsman of infinite resource, capable of breaking out of his physics-defying stance with outbursts of truly sublime timing.

Chanderpaul will be remembered primarily as a dogged accumulator, but he was responsible for one of the most extraordinary innings ever played in Test cricket. On day one of the April 2003 Test against Australia in Guyana, he came to the wicket with West Indies wallowing in an especially sludgy mire at 47 for 4. Lara was soon dismissed at the other end to make it 53 for 5.

Chanderpaul, ever the man for a crisis, might have been expected to try to graft his team towards a moderate total. Instead, he plumped for an unexpected Plan B - he hammered a 69-ball century, batting as if someone had spiked his morning cornflakes with industrial-strength fireworks, and flaying the Australian bowling attack as if he had just discovered they had each eaten one of his beloved squad of pet terrapins, leaving behind only empty shells graffitied with the word "yum".

For a man with a career strike rate of 40, who less than a year before had ground his awkward way to 136 not out off 510 balls in an 11-hour megavigil against India, to slap what was then the third-fastest Test hundred of all time against the world's No. 1- ranked team has to go down as one of the most out-of-character innings in Test history. He has compiled some of the most remarkable individual series performances of recent times, but that one innings stands out on his CV like a freshly powerdrilled thumb.

At the other end of the "What on Earth Got Into Him?" scale of out-of-character batsmanship is Aravinda de Silva's epically unproductive performance against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in October 1994. He followed a 14-ball first-innings duck with a staggeringly negative 27 off 191 balls ‒ the second-slowest recorded innings of 25 or more in Test history ‒ as Sri Lanka ground their way to a draw on the fifth day. It must have felt like watching Michelangelo paint a chapel ceiling in an especially featureless shade of beige.

Only Jack Russell's unbeaten 29 off 235 in Johannesburg in 1995-96 ‒ the Robin of Resistance to Atherton's Batman of Block ‒ has ever out-turgided de Silva's innings, and that was an innings that was certifiably in-character, a magnum slow-pus by one of cricket's most infuriating batsmen.

De Silva, on the other hand, was a cavalier and magician, one of the most bewitching batsmen of his era, capable of destroying the best attacks while under the utmost pressure, in a flurry of untouchable strokeplay. In Bulawayo, the cavalier became a roundhead, and the magician downed his magic wand, gave his rabbits the day off from appearing out of his top hat, and did his accounts.

Furthermore, he was up against a bowling attack none of whom had taken more than 16 Test wickets. And three of whom (Jarvis, Rennie and Peall) were so traumatised by the ordeal of bowling to him that they played a combined total of two more Test matches and took a collective one further Test wicket in the rest of their careers.

Behind de Silva on that list of epic grinds are some of the all-time legends of strokeless negativity ‒ Chris Tavaré (35 off 240), Trevor Bailey (68 off 427), Trevor Franklin (28 off 175), and the renowned snooze-inducing West Indian stodgemeister, Chris Gayle.

Hang on, is that the same Chris Gayle widely regarded as the best Twenty20 batsman in the loud history of the format? The Chris Gayle who hit a 70-ball Test hundred? Who flambéed 117 off 57 balls to register the first-ever century in a T20 international? Against South Africa? Who is third on the all-time list of Most-Sixes-Clonked In International Cricket? Who is one of only two players to have twice hit seven or more sixes in a Test innings (the other being Chris Cairns)? Who in his last two IPL matches has chunk-hammered 86 off 58 and 71 off 42, hitting one in every ten balls over the ropes and endangering innocent passers-by in the streets of Bangalore with his leviathan power? The Chris Gayle who can make bowlers inwardly beg for their mummies with one muscular flick of the shoulder? Yes. That Chris Gayle. That very same Chris Gayle.

In April 2001, early in his Test career, at the end of a testing series against South Africa, as West Indies battled towards a consolation fifth-Test victory against the potent Protean pacemen, Gayle anti-bludgeoned his way to a sub-Boycottian 32 off 180 balls. It remains the slowest Test innings of 25 or more ever played by a West Indian. If he batted at the same rate in the IPL, he would carry his bat for 11 not out.

Gayle did not find Test cricket an easy game in his early years. In his first 20 Tests he averaged under 30, and it was only in his 37th Test that his strike rate rose above 50. If he found Test cricket difficult then, however, now, he finds it impossible. Albeit for off-the-field reasons. Which is deeply regrettable. In what seem likely to prove his final 18 Tests, between December 2008 and December 2010, Gayle averaged 58, and hit 36 sixes.

Would England rather be bowling at Adrian Barath and Kieran Powell when the first Test begins at Lord's in two weeks' time? Was Don Bradman good at batting? And would world cricket rather be watching England bowl at Gayle? Ditto.

● Strap in for some curious stats. Since Brian Lara retired from Tests at the end of 2006, Chanderpaul has averaged 66 in Tests - the highest average of any Test batsman over that period. In the matches he played with Lara, Chanderpaul averaged 43. Was he cowed by Lara's presence?

Lara, in Tests when he played alongside Chanderpaul, averaged 47. In all the Tests he played without Chanderpaul in the team, Lara averaged 62. Was he cowed by Chanderpaul's presence? Maybe each was inspired by the extra responsibility of not being able to rely on the other. Maybe it is just coincidence. Maybe not.

Conclusion: West Indies should have played and dropped Lara and Chanderpaul in alternate Tests throughout their careers. Leaving out one of their two best players every match might not have been especially popular with the supporters, or with Lara or Chanderpaul, but you cannot argue with statistics. In any case, West Indian cricket has recently shown a relentless determination not to pick its strongest team anyway, so it might as well have done so from the mid-1990s.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by Eeduaard on (July 31, 2012, 6:36 GMT)

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Posted by harrytheman on (May 7, 2012, 14:00 GMT)

Definitely, it is worth noting that Gayle averaged less than 30 in his first 20 tests. Maybe, the media should give the young Windies openers a decent chance before judging them. I am sure that they will improve soon. The Windies selectors are working to a three year plan, after all.

Weren't some pundits calling for Alaistar Cook to be dropped before the first test match in the last Ashes series? Remind me, did he score any runs?

Posted by Anonymous on (May 7, 2012, 10:02 GMT)

Lovely piece, Andy. Trevor Bailey's "68 from 427" is a stat as memorable, (even with out the appending of the name of the batsman), as "99.94". Not only can its quiet recitation be used as a healthier alternative to sleeping-tablets, but it can also be chanted as a mantra. The stat fits perfectly with Bailey's commentating style, best described as "anti-hyperbolic". He was a man so understated in both praise and negative criticism that his use of "very good" would be confined solely to subjects such as Bradman's batsmanship or Warne's ability with the ball, and "poor" reserved for the batting performance of a team reduced to 47 all out on a decent strip.

Posted by V. Ramsamooj Gosine on (May 6, 2012, 3:24 GMT)

Chanderpaul is not a flashy batsman. He is not one who exhibits pretty strokes. He is a crisis man. Throw him in the middle when the team is down and more often than not, he begins to build partnerships, settles himself with the fellow at the other end,and slowly, very slowly, he begins to pile up runs. And long before anyone knows it, he is rooted in his spot; he is the wall. Such a determination did not come overnight but was cultivated by his passion for the game called cricket. At an early age in Georgetown, he showed that determination to make his mark and has made it. Perhaps he mae cricket his number one priority and that has paid off.Congrats, Chanders. You deserve every accolode that comes your way.

Posted by Konaan Petrus on (May 5, 2012, 16:23 GMT)

Been an avid follower of your posts and find them delightfully to my taste, partly due to your intelligent wit and humour, in part also to the extraordinary command of yours over the English language and last but not the least because of your unique imagery (which is, to some extent, coupled with your sense of humour). You were struggling here, clutching at straws, seemed almost like your metaphoric "Michaelangelo" painting the ceiling. Hope you bounce back and keep them coming ... P.S.: I do hope you read this comment!

Posted by Atul Bhogle on (May 5, 2012, 5:20 GMT)

Loved the conclusion, Andy!!! I remember this Chanders' inning all too well. I had a classmate who was a big Chanderpaul fan, and he was hysterical the day after this inning. He did a wonderful imitation of the sweep Chanders played to a fast bowler which still gives me the splits, almost as much as your article does. Thanks!

Posted by Som on (May 4, 2012, 22:48 GMT)

Brilliant !

Posted by KC on (May 4, 2012, 21:51 GMT)

the Robin of Resistance to Atherton’s Batman of Block - HILARIOUS!! Very well written piece overall

Posted by subho on (May 4, 2012, 7:34 GMT)

the last part was better than the first 8/9ths of the article. i do agree with you - west indies should have used the two left handers alternatively. chris gayle though it the last genuine west indian. chandrapaul is merely a bangladesh batsman who can play for long stretches.

chandrapaul's 70 ball hundred and Gayle's masterly 32 merit another "conclusion" down the lines of the one you drew at the end - eagerly waiting for your take.

Posted by sanjay on (May 4, 2012, 6:31 GMT)

Andy: your gems of insights never stop. Michaelangelo and cricket can only be brought into one write-up by a genius like you. as for the Windies blundering in not choosing Lara and Chanders alternately, maybe the same should have been done for Dravid and Tendulkar or Sehwag and Laxman. I doubt if they ever clicked together.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on ESPNcricinfo.

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