April 22, 2012

Chanderpaul's style does his substance no favours

Like Lara, most of his runs and hundreds have come in defeat; unlike him, the manner in which Chanderpaul makes them gets him overlooked

It must seem like a funny old game when you can bat and bowl your side to victory in one match and be left out the next. Having turned strife at Kensington Oval into triumph for Australia with his rearguard 68 not out and three second-innings wickets backing up Ben Hilfenhaus, Ryan Harris had to sit in the Brian Lara Pavilion for all of the second Test, in Port-of-Spain, watching Kemar Roach take over.

Roach, whose promising 2010 was followed by a lean 2011, when his form allowed him just four Tests and seven wickets, took his career and his place in the ICC rankings up several notches with his ten wickets at the Queen's Park Oval.

The West Indies selectors will not countenance leaving him out when they sit down to pick their team for the finale in Dominica. As for Australia, the return home of Peter Siddle and James Pattinson should guarantee that Harris gets to finish what he started.

Finishing what he started will also be top of Shivnarine Chanderpaul's to-do list.

It has not so far been a series for enhancing reputations or making too many new ones; and short series are not kind to slow starters. But Chanderpaul has already made himself at home in this one.

A century first time out in Barbados, and a near-hundred but for Nathan Lyon's intervention and umpire Ian Gould's belated raised finger for lbw in Trinidad: Chanderpaul has worked his way to the head of the class of top scorers as he prepares to take up duty on the Windsor Park strip.

But for him, it must all seem like déjà vu. Four years ago, he was playing under Chris Gayle when the final game of the series got to Barbados with Australia one-up after victory in a hot contest at Sabina Park and a draw in Antigua.

Chanderpaul went into that Bridgetown game after coming through Brett Lee's battering at Sabina to make 118, and setting out his stall twice at North Sound for 107 not out and 77 not out.

At Kensington, Australia again found him tougher than a mule to move. It took them over seven hours to get him out once. But that second-innings victory for Stuart Clark against Chanderpaul when he had reached an even 50, did lead to defeat for West Indies. The 1-0 lead Michael Clarke's team holds ahead of this third and deciding match mirrors the situation in 2008.

Chanderpaul places such a high value on his wicket that bowlers can't always meet the asking price. The trouble for West Indies over his 18 years of service, and right now, is the supporting cast. Their lack of care has devalued his hard work. Their shoddiness has taken the edge off the tiger's bite. How many wins his runs would have been worth, how many series saved, with a little more help?

In Port-of-Spain, Narsingh Deonarine, with the bearing of Chanderpaul from afar, stayed with his countryman for nigh on two hours as West Indies tried to overhaul 311. The pair even set a new West Indies fifth-wicket record against Australia for the venue. But having got to a half-century, Deonarine gave up the vigil. Mentally disengaged, he strayed from his crease in vain pursuit of Lyon, only to be stumped by Matthew Wade. That was the start of the collapse, the beginning of the end of the chase.

They speak of Chanderpaul with admiration, but the young West Indies players do not seem to study his craft, his way of letting the bowling come to him, of making the opposition do the most work before he gets going. His way is perhaps not "bling" enough.

When the mood takes him, however, he can more than play the West Indian way. The Aussies have seen his other side, most memorably in 2003, when he cut loose to all corners of Bourda for 100 off 69 balls. On his first tour Down Under, in 1996, a frail-looking Chanderpaul first showed that other side, carving out a breathtaking 71 in Sydney against Shane Warne before he fell on his blade. Defeat, though, followed in both cases.

Like those of Brian Lara, Chanderpaul's many runs have been swallowed up in defeat. And his understated method of choice makes his centuries somehow seem lesser things.

He may never beat cover like the Prince of Port-of-Spain, or move in the same rhythm to spin like a Ponting or a Michael Clarke. But perhaps no team present needs a player as much as this West Indies team needs Shiv Chanderpaul.

With him, they always know what they will get.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express