Shivnarine Chanderpaul November 20, 2006

Turn again Tiger

With the same understated tenacity that characterises his playing career, Shivnarine Chanderpaul unobtrusively slid into his 100th Test match at Multan Cricket Stadium

Shivnarine Chanderpaul has always let his cricket do the talking © Getty Images

With the same understated tenacity that characterises his playing career, Shivnarine Chanderpaul unobtrusively slid into his 100th Test match at Multan Cricket Stadium.

It could not have been otherwise. Never for him have spotlights been alluring. The impression is that he endures the public gaze as a necessary burden of the international cricketer.

Yet, though the abiding Chanderpaul image is shy, taciturn, purposeful and dogged, he carries enough elements of the performer to remain an engaging figure. His little eccentricities, like careful marking of the crease with a bail, and his crablike stance helped to create a public persona that was also defined by dramatic variations in his batting style, given his mood.

Just as fifty years before, another Guyanese, Rohan Kanhai, had been dubbed the "Tiger of Port Mourant," so Chanderpaul invoked the title of Tiger in tribute to the ferocity with which he was capable of attacking bowling. Not surprising considering that, a year ago, Chanderpaul said Kanhai had been his biggest influence. It was not his typical mode, but when he got on the offensive, his aggression contained a rush of power masked by his small frame.

It was that style of batting that had caught the eye of selectors and prompted his Test debut at his favourite ground, Bourda, in 1994, when he was just five months short of 20.

The West Indies beat England by an innings then, with Brian Lara scoring 167, Jimmy Adams 137, and Desmond Haynes opening with 63. Chanderpaul scored 62. Lara, who had made his debut four years before, remains with Chanderpaul as the longest serving members on the current team.

The two have shared many great moments, although Lara has almost always overshadowed his friend. It was Chanderpaul who partnered Lara for most of the duration of his record-breaking 375. Hardly a month after his Test debut, Chanderpaul scored 75 not out, matching Lara at times to the point that in one period, while Lara scored 31 with four fours, Chanderpaul had scored 28 with five.

For a time, it seemed the fame had swept him off his moorings. There were stories of an eventful nightlife, once leading to a shooting at the seawall in Georgetown

But in a team that would soon begin to skitter down he had to adjust his style, and eventually he became known as the anchor of the team, the solid man, the Larry Gomes of his era.

Why the role fell to him, when it might easily have fallen on another's shoulders, might be related to his naturally stoic outlook. West Indian batting style has been described as flashy, entertaining and spectacular, demanding attention. It is not the kind of characterisation one would ascribe to Chanderpaul, and given the surfeit of prospects for that showy position, plus some insecurity about his place on the side, he might have opted to switch modes.

He'd followed his debut with a fifty at the Queen's Park Oval, but even so he was in and out of the team for tours of India and New Zealand, and dropped for the 1995 visit by Australia. But he was the spot of excitement during the tour of Australia at the end of 1996. With the team performing badly, Chanderpaul put down a brilliant 71 off 68 balls, with 10 fours, before an equally brilliant Shane Warne ball spun from way outside the off-stump to hit the middle and off stumps.

He was soon moving up the order, to land at number three, a position often reserved for the most aggressive batsman on the team. It was a position team manager Clive Lloyd felt he was more than able to handle. Remarking that Chanderpaul had been recruited to fill the opening spot in one-day matches, and had been a good middle-order batsman, Lloyd said, "He has proved that he can handle any situation," adding that the team needed more of that sort of Larry Gomes type who could weather any storm.

And he has had to weather many.

The teenager who'd made it from the Unity Village team to the East Coast Police squad, and then the Georgetown Cricket Club in no time at all, had excited enough cricket watchers to propel him into relative stardom shortly after his first regional Red Stripe Cup series. The next step was at the West Indies youth and senior levels and he was so impressive that in two years he was on the West Indies squad. Not even Brian Lara had made such a quick entry.

For a time, it seemed the fame had swept him off his moorings. There were stories of an eventful nightlife, once leading to a shooting at the seawall in Georgetown. A dissolute air seemed to come over him, his performance level was wavering, and injury after injury saw him and out of the West Indies team. Chanderpaul, it seemed, was washed up.

He has weathered many a storm and come back stronger © Getty Images

But in 2000, he had surgery to remove a floating bone in his foot, and it reconstructed something of the old Tiger. He scored three centuries in four Tests against India in 2001/02, and then two more against Australia, one in the memorable record fourth innings victory of 418 in Antigua.

He was then bounced along in the turbulent and prolonged wrangling over contracts between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA). Disputes had threatened several tours over the last four years. While the majority of the players supported WIPA's stances, Chanderpaul accepted the WICB offers, and for this was reportedly ostracised by the team. In 2005, Lara was removed as captain and Chanderpaul took his place. His appointment caused great division, both within and outside the team. His response was to shrug it off and get on with the game.

"I am very sad when there is an impasse, but I feel the only way to get beyond this is to play the cricket, that is what I was born to do. West Indies cricket is my life," he said in an interview featuring him and his wife, Amy, in 2005.

The focus he'd found since his marriage and his surgery returned a degree of composure that could only be shaken by the rough ride of captaincy on a team that continued to struggle erratically. By April 2006, he resigned the captaincy to concentrate on his batting, letting Lara take his place in the sun once more and retreating to the shadows he prefers. But his batting has recovered its sparkle.

At 32, he has achieved a landmark held by few West Indians, and given the reduction in tenure periods over the past decade, crossing 100 Tests will not come to many again. On the eve of his 100th Test, he said he enjoys batting more now, and perhaps now that he has achieved seniority and established his value to the team he might just let loose the Tiger he'd put on the leash to get there.

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad