England v West Indies, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 4th day June 10, 2007

Focussed Chanderpaul increases English anxiety

Shivnarine Chanderpaul: the slow-burning wick of West Indies' fortunes © Getty Images
All throughout their inexorable decline of the past decade, West Indian cricket has retained a flicker of the spirit that once carried them to the very pinnacle of the game. By and large it has been embodied in Brian Lara's unquestioned genius, but lurking further down the order has been another nugget - forever unheralded despite an international career that is now entering its 13th year. When in May 2003, West Indies scored 418 to topple Australia in that record-breaking run-chase in Antigua, the cornerstone was a four-hour century from Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Four years on, he's at it again. England remain the favourites at Old Trafford, but after everything that has transpired over the past four days, no-one dares to take anything for granted right now.

"Chanderpaul is under-estimated and under-rated," said West Indies' coach, David Moore. "He's a world-class cricketer. You look at his average [44.80] and where he's batted for a living, and compare it to some other guys who play on roads every year. I don't think you can get away from a man who has those sorts of numbers while playing on the wickets he plays on. Teams under-estimate Chanderpaul at their own peril."

His performance today was a nuggetty inspiration. For four-and-a-half hours he prodded, poked and shuffled around his crease, watching the straight ones onto the middle of his blade and driving England wild with frustration at the temerity of some of his pad-play. "He's dicing with death," was Steve Harmison's opinion, and it's true that Monty Panesar, spitting the ball out of the left-hander's rough, had plenty to get excited about. But that's how it is with Chanderpaul. He's never pretended to be pretty, but he's forever been mighty effective.

How West Indies missed him during that flaccid surrender at Headingley. He had batted for four-and-a-half hours to set up the draw at Lord's, and he made another sheet-anchor half-century in the first innings here - an innings that only ended because of the wickets tumbling all around him. The spark for West Indies' fightback may have been provided by Darren Sammy's seven-for on Saturday, but Chanderpaul is the slow-burning wick that has kept that flame alight ever since.

It wasn't a solo effort by any means, although who else could have inspired Runako Morton's monument of self-denial in the afternoon session. Morton's natural game was best demonstrated by the furious swish he took after being given out lbw for 54 - it was the shot he had been gagging to play all innings, but had somehow found the willpower to resist. Instead he had been leaving the ball expertly against the quicks and spinners alike - and replays of his dismissal suggest his judgment didn't entirely desert him. "The only disappointing thing is we couldn't get one of the guys at three, four or six to a hundred," said Moore, after Devon Smith and Bravo had also fallen when well set. But Chanderpaul remains. And so too does West Indian hope.

You can't see what's going on in people's heads. There are so many people saying you've got to relax. It's easy for you to say, because it's not you that's got to bowl that ball

Steve Harmison on battling his demons

And there's little doubt which side will be feeling the most trepidation tomorrow morning, for this has been one of the most illogical Tests in living memory. For three days the bowling has been awful, yet the collapses have been dramatic - six for 13 in West Indies' first innings; seven for 48 in England's second. On the fourth day, however, all three facets of England's attack - pace, swing and spin - functioned with some degree of unity, and yet the effect was not to precipitate the collapse that most pundits had predicted. Quite the opposite in fact. "It's always more difficult to bat against bowlers who give you three 'interesting' balls and three right at you," said Moore. At the close, it was England who had been left with the woes of the world on their shoulders.

Poor Harmison embodied his team's confusion. Throughout the morning session, it looked as though he had finally, finally cracked it. The work he had done with Allan Donald - moving wider on the crease to reduce the leg-side deliveries - appeared to have done the trick as he bounded in with visible enthusiasm, jammed Chris Gayle's thumb against his bat handle and then dismissed him in textbook fashion at second slip. By the close however, Harmison was once again rubbing his face with the anxiety of a man who no longer believes he's in control of his destiny. "The harder I tried, the more I was chasing things," he said. "That's life."

Contrast his demeanour with that of Sammy, who on the third day announced that he had felt so good about his game he just believed he was going to "do something special". The demons in Harmison's mind are shared by his Durham team-mate, Liam Plunkett. If neither of them find their range tomorrow, the pressure will increase exponentially with every run that the West Indians tick off.

"I'm not bowling as well as I'd like to, but I'm still trying my nuts off to contribute to the team, and Liam's battling as well," said Harmison. "You can't see what's going on in people's heads. There are so many people giving you so much advice, so many people saying you've got to 'relax and it'll come easy if you think natural'. It's easy for you to say, because it's not you that's got to bowl that ball. It's not you in that position. I've got experience to fall back on, but I when I was in that position on Friday, I was battling with myself as much as anybody."

Harmison added that England had not had much luck in the day's play, and for all that Morton's lbw was tight he had a point - Chanderpaul was badly dropped by Panesar on 18, and then there was the controversy of Paul Collingwood's "catch" that was not referred to the third umpire. But the most damaging aspect of those two incidents were the identities of the bowlers - Harmison in the first instance, and Plunkett in the second. The slow shipping of confidence is England's worst enemy in this Test, because West Indies are lapping up every new spillage.

"They were expected just to roll over and we'd walk through," said Harmison, and there was no arrogance intended in his words - he was merely stating the facts as they had been presented after Headingley and the first innings. "Chanderpaul and Bravo and the lads deserve a bit of credit. We stuck to our task, but tried to get too many wickets in the middle session of the game. But we only need five wickets and we've still got 90 overs to do it. It doesn't matter if it takes 89.5 to do it."

It might only take five overs of the fifth day, and then everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about. But right at this moment, England have let themselves believe they are in a battle. Chanderpaul is only too keen to oblige.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo