July 8, 2011

Chanderpaul's need for speed

West Indies' most capped player remains an asset, but his slow approach has hurt his cause in the last couple of years

For a while now, Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been the mainstay of West Indian batting, but stats from the last couple of years indicate his immense powers have dipped a little. There could be several reasons for this: Chanderpaul is barely a month away from turning 37, and has already completed 17 years in Test cricket - obviously no player can be at the top of his game indefinitely. Then, there's the not-so-insignificant issue of his relationship with the West Indies board, which has perhaps been a distraction. Whatever be the reasons, the stats show that since the beginning of 2009 Chanderpaul has been a lesser batting force compared to what he was during the seven-year period between 2002 and 2008. (Click here for Chanderpaul's career batting summary.)

A break-up of Chanderpaul's Test career reveals the drop in his numbers. In his first seven-and-a-half years he had only scored two hundreds from 49 Tests, but then came his peak period, which started with an outstanding home series against India in 2002: in seven innings he struck three centuries and as many fifties, finishing with a series average of 140.50. It remains his third-highest series average, and it kickstarted an outstanding period during which he struck 18 centuries in 65 matches, a huge contrast to two in his previous 49.

Defence has always been the cornerstone of his batting, but during this period his strike rate pushed up towards the mid-40s, and played a couple of innings in the 2003 home series against Australia which went completely against the stereotype: in the first Test in Guyana he slammed 100 off 72 balls after coming in at 47 for 4, and in the last match in Antigua his 104 off 154 helped West Indies chase down a record target of 418. Apart from being solid and dependable, Chanderpaul in those days was also capable of putting bowlers on the back foot with his aggression and strokeplay.

Cut to the last two-and-a-half years, and the Chanderpaul on view has been very different - he has generally been intent on defence, which is reflected in his strike rate of less than 36 during this period. Of his 23 innings which lasted 40 or more deliveries during this period, only two were scored at a strike rate of more than 50; on the other hand there were 17 innings with strike rates of below 40.

Chanderpaul's Test career
Period Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Till Dec 2001 49 2833 39.34 40.56 2/ 22
Jan 2002 to Dec 2008 65 5370 57.74 44.78 18/ 28
Jan 2009 onwards 18 1025 41.00 35.96 2/ 5
Career 133 9245 48.65 42.27 22/ 55

In those seven peak years from 2002 to 2008, Chanderpaul's average of 57.74 was among the best in Test cricket. With a cut-off of 3000 runs, only three batsmen had a higher average, while West Indies were the only the side with two batsmen in the top five.

Since 2009, though, Chanderpaul's average of 41 is among the lowest (of batsmen with at least 1000 runs), with only five batsmen having a poorer average. Interestingly, Ricky Ponting, who led the averages table between 2002 and 2008, is in the bottom five too, with an average of 37.86 since 2009.

Top five Test batting averages between Jan 2002 and Dec 2008 (Qual: 3000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Ricky Ponting 75 7515 65.34 61.10 28/ 28
Mohammad Yousuf 46 4535 64.78 58.38 16/ 16
Jacques Kallis 71 6198 59.59 48.43 21/ 30
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 65 5370 57.74 44.78 18/ 28
Brian Lara 48 4732 57.01 61.75 16/ 14

Chanderpaul's average of 41 isn't bad, but it isn't good enough given his class, and it isn't good enough considering how much time he spends at the crease. In three Tests in 2011 (excluding the ongoing one in Dominica), he has already faced 561 deliveries, but his excruciatingly dismal strike rate of 29.41 means he has only scored 165 runs off those 561 balls. Except for the symmetry in the digits, there isn't much to be impressed by those stats.

Among batsmen with at least 1000 Test runs since the beginning of 2009, Chanderpaul's strike rate is the lowest, but what's even more surprising is the difference between his rate and that of Rahul Dravid, who is the next-lowest: Chanderpaul is about 20% poorer, and the only one whose rate is languishing in the mid-30s.

Batsmen with lowest strike rates in Tests since Jan 2009 (Qual: 1000 runs)
Batsman Balls faced Runs scored Average Strike rate
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 2850 1025 41.00 35.96
Rahul Dravid 3928 1766 53.51 44.95
Tharanga Paranavitana 2573 1159 36.21 45.04
Michael Hussey 3865 1816 42.23 46.98
Marcus North 2432 1171 35.48 48.14

That strike rate has hurt Chanderpaul's numbers quite a bit in these last two-and-a-half years, because he has been spending time at the crease without getting sufficient returns for it. The table below lists the balls faced per dismissal for batsmen, and Chanderpaul makes it to the tenth position on this list, even though in terms of averages he is 30th out of 35. Batsmen who play about as many deliveries per dismissal as he does have much better averages due to their superior strike rates: Hashim Amla, for example, has almost the same balls per dismissal, but averages more than 58 because his strike rate is 51.16. If Chanderpaul's scoring rate goes up to 45, which is around the rate which Dravid scores, his average will go up to 51 if he maintains this rate of balls per dismissal. In today's cricket, a rate of 45 runs per 100 balls can easily be achieved playing risk-free cricket; by taking defensive batting to an extreme, Chanderpaul is hurting both his team's and his personal cause.

Most balls faced per dismissal in Tests since Jan 2009
Batsman Balls faced Runs scored Average Strike rate Balls per dismissal
Sachin Tendulkar 4168 2263 78.03 54.29 143.72
Jacques Kallis 3809 2000 74.07 52.50 141.07
Thilan Samaraweera 3396 1893 75.72 55.74 135.84
Jonathan Trott 3830 1867 62.23 48.74 127.67
VVS Laxman 3221 1641 63.11 50.94 123.88
Rahul Dravid 3928 1766 53.51 44.95 119.03
Ian Bell 2856 1551 64.62 54.30 119.00
AB de Villiers 2905 1607 64.28 55.31 116.20
Hashim Amla 3311 1694 58.41 51.16 114.17
Shivnarine Chanderpaul 2850 1025 41.00 35.96 114.00

Despite this slight blip in the last couple of years, Chanderpaul's overall stats remain outstanding: he is the second-highest run-getter in Tests for West Indies, and their fourth-highest centurion. He has been a pillar of strength at Nos.5 and 6, holding the middle order together and getting important runs with the tail as well - his 6809 runs at those two slots is next only to Steve Waugh's 9919 in all of Test cricket. He is already West Indies' most capped cricketer, but as a new generation of batsmen seek to make a mark in the team, Chanderpaul's presence could be an immense guiding force. And if just ups his scoring tempo a bit, it'll suit West Indies even more.

All stats updated till before the start of the third Test between West Indies and India.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo