West Indies cricket July 15, 2013

The folly of omitting Shivnarine Chanderpaul

Roger Sawh, Canada
Recent batting collapses have shown just why West Indies need the dour Shivnarine Chanderpaul in a line-up full of T20 stars

"Chanderpaul in one-day cricket? He's too old, man! Brethren, he doesn't score fast enough, he needs 150 overs! He's been in so many losses man! Brotha, we've got to move on from him!"

In the above few lines lies a modern-day cricket mystery that I struggle to comprehend.

The West Indies' one-day international cricket team of 2013 is the personification of the phrase 'all flash and little substance'. Blessed with a galaxy of stars of the Twenty20 arena, it's a group that would command an IPL owner's highest bids with ease and, given 20 overs of operation, would most likely deliver breathtaking results. Sadly for them, T20s and ODIs are entirely different endeavours.

On the spectrum of cricket formats, ODIs are thought to be in the middle while T20s and Tests lie at their respective extremes. A closer consideration, though, gives a better idea of things as ODI cricket is closer to Test cricket in nature than T20. Batsmen are required to build innings in ODIs, hence the format necessitates patience, soundness of technique, deep consideration, concentration, and conditional awareness. In T20s, a 'wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am' fifty in no time at all is a game-changer, but in ODIs, its effect is not quite as prolific - a steady and calculated approach bears greater fruit in a 50-over war of attrition, as the value of an innings lies not just in the shots and runs, but also in the negotiation of bowlers, spells, fielding restrictions and playing conditions.

In the West Indies' set-up, the vast majority of batsmen either completely lack or inexplicably suppress the rare talent of building an innings. It is a talent that Shivnarine Chanderpaul, an evergreen batsman of close to 300 ODIs who has been producing runs across formats despite approaching the age of 40, has bursting forth from his anti-glare eye patches. It is a gift that the powers that be in West Indies team selection are willfully blind to and, as collapses continue to litter modern-day West Indies cricket history, it is a boon that has been simply deserted.

Recent history bears testament to the need for a Chanderpaul-like presence. Throughout the course of the Champions Trophy, when Chris Gayle or Marlon Samuels failed to provide a platform for an innings, the team's batting would generally be lost at sea. In the just concluded tri-series with India and Sri Lanka, fireworks in Jamaica only temporarily hid the batting unit's frailties, as the team eventually failed to make their own home series final. Fast forward to Sunday, when Pakistan surgically dismantled the West Indies batting approach on a minefield in Providence, Guyana, and you could see the tumour just grow.

After pinpointing the ineptitude of the West Indies batsmen against pressure, and recognising the gaping need for an anchor man, Pakistan simply did what their team has the ability to do - they bowled a consistent and threatening line and length to allow the mentally fragile batsmen to whither in the South American heat. If only there were a stabilizer, a thorn in opposition's side, a Trott-like gnat to hover annoyingly despite the predator's fiercest swipes. If only substance had not been jettisoned for style and if only conditional awareness had come into play when the squad was being picked to select a player, any player, who could dig deep and tackle the demons of the pitch and the opposition. Chanderpaul is renowned for prizing his wicket like no other - more often than not, he would have found a way to tough things out.

Those who support Chanderpaul completely understand the argument against his inclusion. Quite frankly, though, it doesn't hold when compared with the need that exists. Across the cricketing world, ODI nations have their best Test batsmen in their line-ups because they recognise that the format requires a chutzpah that great Test batsmen possess. From Amla to Trott to Misbah, there is the knowledge that you need a backbone in an ODI batting line-up, regardless of the lack of glamour. Unless another batsman in the current line-up steps up to do the dirty work, the selectors have to plug the enormous hole in their order.

Chanderpaul never retired from ODI cricket - he was a victim of a post-World Cup 2011 purge that placed the blame at his feet for the team's unsuccessful campaign. He was a scapegoat, and he was thrown away in ODIs for the wrong reasons.

Chanderpaul is often described as a 'crab' at the crease. Crabs don't make great entertainers. They don't drive with elegance or pull with panache. They claw. They scratch. They exist in perpetual commotion with themselves, lacking suave but forever battling against all challenges. For the West Indies, there needs to be a survivor among the showmen; not only to see out the difficulties, but to help them develop strong shells of their own.

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