The quiet accumulator of runs June 18, 2007

Plain old Chanders

Fazeer Mohammed

Once again, Chanderpaul put his hand up and scored runs when his team needed them the most. © Getty Images
Like a pelau, there is nothing surprising about Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Nothing exotic, nothing too extravagant, just the same old day after day, year after year. And we wouldn't have it any other way, even if, like the Sunday staple, he is generally taken for granted. That's the price of reliability without flair, of being uncomplicated.

Everyone is preoccupied with the sensational and the spectacular, but more often than not, it is an adherence to the basics and keeping things simple that invariably bring both satisfaction and consistency.

In completing a second consecutive unbeaten Test hundred and lifting West Indies to a respectable first-innings total yesterday at Chester-le-Street, the 32-year-old Guyanese struck another telling blow against those who spend an inordinate amount of time conjuring up all sorts of theories and concocting an assortment of new strategies to cope with challenges they face in their own technique or to counteract the threat of the opposition.

At the end of the day, sport is a very simple thing. Ball-juggling is impressive as a footballing skill but essentially useless without the ability to pass accurately and run into the open space. Whether it's done two-handed, one-handed, upside down or inside out, the most consistent players in all racquet sports ensure they just get the ball or the shuttle over the net. Golfers great and ordinary work for hours on maintaining the integrity of their swing, forever conscious that when the rhythm of that essential movement goes, everything else falls apart very quickly.

These elements are so fundamental that they never merit much attention. Let's face it, even these back-to-back hundreds, which are rightly being praised to the high heavens for their quiet efficiency and the challenging circumstances in which they were compiled, will not live in the memory for too long. It's like the San Antonio Spurs, who have swept to a fourth NBA Championship in nine years but still struggle for anything resembling the respect and recognition accorded to Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers or Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.

We crave the truly spectacular to brighten the general drudgery of our everyday existence, like Michael Holding uprooting Geoff Boycott's off stump at Kensington Oval or Brian Lara unleashing a savage pull off Glenn McGrath 18 years later on the same ground. These are the moments that linger, for they rise above the general run-of-the-mill nature of sporting competition and become larger than life as time goes by.

When things are falling apart, Chanderpaul's quiet resolve, immense powers of concentration and simple method become invaluable.
But even if these superstars and their iconic moments dominate the limelight, there is still much to be said for the Chanderpaul type of performer in that they can almost always be relied upon to make a solid contribution. When the world-beating heroes are on song, this breed plays an almost anonymous supporting role. However, when things are falling apart, as on this England tour, their quiet resolve, immense powers of concentration and simple method become invaluable.

So it was again in the first innings of this rain-affected fourth Test. Chris Gayle delighted with a few blazing boundaries and a hoisted six while Dwayne Bravo's almost perpetual motion, energy and adventure at the crease keep you watching in the expectation that something unusual is about to happen. Yet for all that, it was plain old Chanderpaul at the other end, putting down anchor and collecting his runs around the wicket and building useful partnerships despite that square-on stance and ugly, crab-like movement across the stumps.

In this media-dominated era when charisma and eloquence transform the occasional ordinary performer into a larger-than-life personality, his obvious discomfort in front of the microphone is almost held against him, as if it detracts from his worth as a batsman. But that's what he is: a batsman, pure and simple, from when he was a little boy playing against big, hardback men in Unity Village.

Where others are smooth talkers with grandiose ambitions, flavouring their already delectable sound-bites with inferences and innuendoes, Chanderpaul aspires only to bat, for as long and as often as possible. Yet even within that single-minded obsession, he is not so selfish as to be incapable of responding to the needs of the team. The fact that, as has been the case more often than not since his debut in 1994, he is required to put down roots for the long haul merely coincides with his desire for prolonged occupation of the crease.

He prefers to let his runs do the talking, and although he has now joined elite company as only the seventh West Indian batsman to amass 7000 Test runs, the former captain will again suffer by comparison with the exalted company of Lara, Richards, Sobers, Greenidge, Lloyd and Haynes. That his average of almost 46 is better than both members of the celebrated opening pair will be overlooked in dismissing any suggestion that he can seriously be compared with any of the giants still ahead of him in the all-time list.

No that such comparisons matter one iota to Chanderpaul, so long as he can continue taking guard with the leg bail and lay the foundation for another marathon effort in the middle. He hardly ever excites the taste buds, yet there is often a feeling of satisfaction when he is finished. Like the ever-reliable pelau, he has, in his own unassuming manner, satisfied the appetite when the fettucine wasn't creamy enough or the fajitas just didn't come out right.

It's not tantalising, but we're grateful for it.