England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's, 1st day May 17, 2012

Selfish gene fails shallow talent pool

Shivnarine Chanderpaul is not the first selfish batsman but his talents might be better utilised to benefit the West Indies team

Like the neighbour who rises early to practise on his drum kit, there can be a thin line between admirable dedication and infuriating selfishness.

It is a line that even the best of batsmen have struggled to find. Remember Geoff Boycott being dropped for slow scoring after a double-century against India in 1967, or Sunil Gavaskar batting through a World Cup match for 36 not out in 1975?

A glance at the scorecard from the first day of this game would convince you that Shivnarine Chanderpaul stood head and shoulders above his team mates. There is a good degree of truth in such a conclusion, too. While his colleagues flattered for a while, only Chanderpaul had the patience, the dedication and the temperament to offer meaningful resistance. Take his contribution - 87 not out - away and West Indies may well have not reached 200.

But that is not the whole story. The scorecard does not show how Chanderpaul left Darren Bravo stranded and run out; it does not show how Chanderpaul took a single from the first delivery of the final over of the day, fatally exposing Fidel Edwards to Stuart Broad, and it does not show how Chanderpaul has resisted the invitation to move up the order to No. 3. The current incumbent of the No. 3 position, Kirk Edwards has a Test average approaching 50 but, so far on this admittedly brief tour, has shown an inclination to play across straight ones and poke at wide ones. Those are not the attributes of a successful No. 3.

Perhaps the run out of Bravo was simply unfortunate. After all, most players are involved in a mix-up at some stage and, even if there was something unattractive in the way Chanderpaul grounded his bat to ensure his partner's doom, it is hard to think of many top-order players who would not have done exactly the same thing. Chanderpaul does not give his wicket away. You may as well try to persuade a lion of the virtues of vegetarianism as ask him to do so. That is not such a bad quality in a Test batsman.

But there is a context here. This was the 23rd run out in which Chanderpaul has been involved as a Test batsman. He has been the man dismissed on just three occasions. Those are damning statistics.

Chanderpaul could argue - with some evidence - that he has to put himself first for the sake of the team. He could argue - with some evidence - that the burden on his shoulders is such that he knows that he if fails, his team will fail and he could argue - with a mountain of evidence - that some of his team-mates would do well to emulate him.

But if that is the case, he needs to ensure he takes the final over of days. He needs to ensure he soaks up the new-ball spells of the best bowlers. He needs to ensure he bats in the position that is best for the team. Superiority comes with responsibility.

Chanderpaul has a method that has worked. He is currently rated as the best batsman in Test cricket. He averages more than 50. He has been strong enough to ignore decades of convention and years of coaching to develop a technique all his own. It takes strength to do that. It takes an ability to drown out every opinion, every bit of advice, everything but his faith in himself. Many captains would dearly love such a 'selfish' player in their side.

Fidel Edwards' dismissal may come back to haunt him, though. While it might increase the likelihood of him finishing with an average-flattering not out - Shannon Gabriel's career batting average of just 4.85 does not suggest he will detain us long on day two - it also reduces his chances of becoming just the fourth West Indies batsman (George Headley, Sir Garfield Sobers and Gordon Greenidge are the others) to score a second Test century at Lord's.

"The honours boards at Lord's record not victories and losses, but individual successes. In a better environment, Chanderpaul's selfish streak might be manipulated to the team's advantage"

Perhaps such issues should not matter. It is a team game. But selfishness and individuality are laced into it. After all, the honours boards at Lord's record not victories and losses, but individual successes. Chanderpaul may have a selfish streak but, in a better environment, it might be manipulated to the team's advantage.

It was as poignant as it was inevitable that, even as West Indies' middle-order were capitulating, Chris Gayle should be providing another demonstration of his extravagant talents with an 53-ball century in the IPL. It will not have gone unnoticed that Ramnaresh Sarwan also registered another century - his second in six Championship games - for Leicestershire on Wednesday.

The harsh might argue that Gayle, in particular, has been 'selfish' not to put country before franchise. They might argue that he should have patched up his differences with the WICB for the good of the sport and the good of the Caribbean.

But that would be simplistic. The truth is that Gayle - like so many other West Indies players - has been poorly managed. And that is the key. For while Gayle and Chanderpaul and Boycott and Gavaskar may all have an element of selfishness in their character, that does not mark them out as any different to just about every other batsman. Just about every other human, for that matter. The difference is management. In good teams, the needs of the individual are managed to ensure that they correspond to the needs of the group. In poor teams, the desires of the individual are allowed to come first. West Indies' management - at team and board and union level - have proved unable to coax the best out of their talented players for years. They have presided over the creation of an underperforming culture. It manifested itself on the first day at Lord's.

Indeed, this was a day that summed up many of West Indies' performances of late. They fought hard and at times it appeared they were building a decent position. Ultimately, however, they still ended up on the weaker footing and were still left searching for positives amid the rubble.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roger on May 19, 2012, 0:56 GMT

    Ridiculous nitpicking by Dobell. In a long test career of 18 years for Chanders, bad moments will exist here and there. You can't judge a player by these singular incidents. It was also unnecessary to classify Boycs and Sunil Gavaskar as selfish based on one innings in their long careers. Larry Gomes, who is similar to Chanders in playing style in the WI team of 80s was highly appreciated because he complemented other stars in the team. If Chanders is playing with Viv, Greenidge, Richardson, Haynes in the lineup, he would play differently than how he is doing today.

  • Ash on May 19, 2012, 0:06 GMT

    character assassaniation. its easy to do for a journalist and is always interesting to read or 'insightful' from certain quarters. at the stage of the cricketing hierarchy WI are in, i would suggest that a century is a century, doesn't really matter how you get there. WI do not have the talent of england or south africa to start complaining or criticising a player for the manner in which they got a 50 or 100.

  • Dummy4 on May 18, 2012, 19:42 GMT

    This article is so true. I have been saying this about him for yrs now. He is the most selfish player by far. In the last series against Astrialia, he shielded Bishoo until he got to his century, after this he avoided the strike and caused Sammy to declared the innings resulting in WI losing the game. I have seen this guy kissing the pitch after scoring a hunderd, while WI is losing by innings and hunderds of run. I am so happy that O. Gibson DROP him frm the limited overs team. He is no great player, gr8 players can bat in any position and play any form of the game.He have done nothing gr8. Most modern day average batsmen averages over 50. Gayle is a great player, two tripple centures, 19 ODI centuries, master @ T20 and healthy SR in all form of the game. He Dominates whenever he is at the crease. I see chander as a very talented guy, who because of his selfishness end up been a bocker and a pusher. its like a punishment to watch cricket whenever he is at the crease.

  • Michael on May 18, 2012, 19:28 GMT

    Something else to bear in mind which is being overlooked is whether the likes of Kirk Edwards or Darren Bravo actually want to drop down a place so Chanderpaul can bat number three. I remember Mike Atherton's debut test in 1989. England were a desperately struggling side at that time, and had already been hammered by Australia. When it came to be England's turn to bat, Atherton batted at number 3 and got a duck, and there was some suggestions that the then skipper David Gower, who like Chanderpaul had over 100 tests to his name, had been a bit cowardly and selfish in putting so inexperienced a player in early when Gower himself was batting at number 5. However, what people didn't realise is that Atherton, being the character he was, wanted the responsibility of batting number 3. Sometimes a team might decide that the best way to encourage a young player is to show confidence in him and give him responsibility, even if it means sending a more experienced player in later.

  • Michael on May 18, 2012, 19:21 GMT

    The problem with this article is not that the epithet "selfish" can never be hurled at Chanderpaul, but that it doesn't acknowledge how difficult batting with the West Indies tail - a responsibility often left to Chaderpaul - would be irrespective of how he went about it. Look at their test batting averages: Ramdin 22.80, Sammy 19.09, Roach 9.68, Edwards 6.55, Gabriel - making debut, first-class average 4.85. Contrast these with England: Prior 43.09, Bresnan 40.37, Broad 28.32, Swann 22.02, Anderson 11.92. Quite clearly a frontline batsman batting alongside the English tail like Pietersen or Bell can place more faith in that batting line up and is going to have some easier decisions to make about when and whether to keep strike, etc (although I notice that didn't stop Bell running out Prior at the Lord's test against Sri Lanka last year ...). Chanderpaul is often batting alongisde a tail which isn't likely to last very long no matter what he does.

  • Dummy4 on May 18, 2012, 18:04 GMT

    How is this approach different than sending a night watchman!?

  • Anand on May 18, 2012, 16:54 GMT

    Maybe this article can be re-titled ---Slot Chanderpaul in a number 3 Position so that the whole talent pool fails for the sake of Batsmen 1 to 3 especially Edwards. As present the WI has the chance to quickly find batsmen for position 1 to 3 -seeing that Darren Bravo and Chanderpaul is holding up the batting and it is quite unfortunate that Chanderpaul has the tendencies to run his partners -it is flaw he has--- but if Edwards can not bat at 3 then he should wait until his position -what ever that position become available and stop the whining. He will fail in any case. This is why baseball and American football is good to watch where individual talents contribute to winning of championship---not help Edwards article like a Third World Socialist begging to keep misfits in a team. How did Edwards become Vice Captain without any major contribution to WI cricket----Darren Bravo would have been a better choice. Please send Edwards home and get Johanatn Charles , Braitwaitte--

  • StJohn on May 18, 2012, 16:31 GMT

    The run out may be different to the 'facing the last over' issue. I didn't see it but get the sense that if Chanderpaul had gone for it then maybe they could have made the run. But is being involved in 23 run outs, and only being the guy who was run out in 3 of those, out of a career of some 239 Test innings, really "a damning statistic"? It may be, but it requires statistical comparison with other batsmen with similar length careers, or a review of the footage of all of Chanderpaul's run outs, or both, to see if is a bit selfish. Without that analysis the "damning statistic" criticism is just supposition: maybe Chanderpaul was just a faster runner on the day than the other 20 guys or maybe they were all stupid to get themselves run out?

  • StJohn on May 18, 2012, 16:24 GMT

    Maybe Chanderpaul (C) should've shielded the tail & waited till the 4th or 5th ball for the single. But it's 6 of one & half-a-dozen of the other: it's not really C's fault that WI have two complete bunnies at 10 and 11 and as a batsman you'd hope your no.10 could survive 5 balls. So the fact that Edwards & Gabriel both went so quickly is a reflection on their batting as much as C being selfish: it wouldn't have made much difference what C did as neither lasted long anyway. And C's job in that situation is probably to do what he thinks best to make sure he's still there and on strike in the morning. Batting with complete bunnies he's caught between a rock and a hard place, with nowhere to hide. Barath, Bravo & Samuels all had starts - it needed one of them to go on too, but as is too often the case for WI, C was left fighting a lone battle. It is a pity that Gayle and Sarwan aren't playing, as together with C and Bravo WI could have 4 genuine world-class batsmen in their top 6.

  • George on May 18, 2012, 16:22 GMT

    Just think what would happen if one or two of the other 10 so called batsmen in the W.I team was just as selfish as Chanders !!

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