Work ethic pays off for diligent Chanderpaul
Nearly two hours after West Indies started training at the Wankhede Stadium, Shivnarine Chanderpaul got his turn to bat at No. 5 in the nets. Wearing an elbow, hip and rib guard, Chanderpaul got up from his seat, stretched as far as he could and then walked in to bat. He did not knock the bail to mark his guard, a ritual he follows during matches, as he quickly assumed his peculiar stance to face the first ball. For the next 25 minutes, Chanderpaul either left the balls, tapped them or flicked them towards the leg side or played the ball at the very last minute with minimum fuss. Not once did he hit a stroke in the air - the only West Indies batsman in Tuesday's practice session to do so.
Discipline, rigour, hard work have been Chanderpaul's pillars of success, attributes that have contributed to his longevity. On Thursday, as India will shed tears to celebrate the beginning of Sachin Tendulkar's final match, people in Guyana will stay awake to proudly watch their own son walk in to his 150th Test. It is a milestone no one in the Caribbean has reached, and probably never would.
Even if Brian Lara remains the most popular West Indies player of this generation, Chanderpaul has quietly amassed his own set of records playing alongside, and after, Lara. They are the only two batsmen to score more than 10000 Test runs for West Indies. Chanderpaul has six fewer centuries than Lara, who finished his career with 34 tons. However, if there is one statistic Chanderpaul will be proud of, it is this: from 2007, he has averaged 70.52 in 48 Tests. Among the 78 batsmen who have scored at least 1000 runs during this period, no one, including Tendulkar, has averaged more.
To call Chanderpaul a freak comes easy. But, in essence, he remains a phenomenon; a machine whose expiry date might be drawing closer, but it nevertheless continues to run smoothly without any creaking noises.
"It takes a lot of work. You have to put in a lot of work," Chanderpaul said, after training in Mumbai on Tuesday. "As an individual you have to pick yourself up to go to the nets, do a lot of work, practice the way you go bat in the game. There are so many things you have to do - training, keeping the fitness and everything that takes to get on the park and get your work done. And also maintain a standard you think will help you to succeed at the highest level."
That last part, maintaining high standards, is the USP of the great players and Chanderpaul never compromised on that. Like Tendulkar, Chanderpaul has made changes to his stance, his backlift and other subtle technical shifts, but the one constant has been his solid temperament. As he showed against Australia at Bourda in 2003, when he hit a 69-ball century, he could shift gears, but he always knew that the best way he could help and guide the West Indies batting was by resisting any temptation and stonewalling the bowling. Among contemporary batsmen, he has the lowest strike-rate in Test cricket. No one bowler can confidently say that he ever had a hold over Chanderpaul.
Lara might have scored triumphant and memorable match-winning centuries, but he was never as successful as Chanderpaul in stitching valuable partnerships with the tail. "I know we have had a lot of players in the past who played a lot of shots. But I have also looked at a lot of other players and tried to find a way you can fit in, and a way you can add value to the team. I figured out that might be the best way for me," Chanderpaul said.
Perhaps the most unique characteristic Chanderpaul has is that he has managed to absorb West Indies' constant slide down the rankings table and never allowed the team's downwards spiral to affect his own form. "Especially not winning," Chanderpaul said, when asked about the most challenging moment of his career. "We started turning some corners. We started to move back up the rankings. We need to keep fighting."
Personally for Chanderpaul, he would ideally like to overtake Lara as the highest run-maker in West Indies. Currently he trails his former team-mate by 1015 Test runs and if possible also log the highest number of centuries in the remainder of his career. The batsman remains optimistic. "I never thought I would get this far in the beginning but who knows where we can go if we keep persisting," he said, with a chuckle, when asked if he might aspire to play 200 Tests.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo