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The epitome of selfless striving

Chanderpaul has embodied many of the most important, least appreciated qualities demanded by his complex profession

Rob Steen

April 27, 2012

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Shivnarine Chanderpaul celebrates his hundred, West Indies v Australia, 1st Test, Barbados, 2nd day, April 8, 2012
Want persistence, stickability, dependability and sod-artistic-impression singlemindedness? Call Shiv © AFP
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The ugliest batsman of them all? The most anonymous top-rank cricketer ever? The most patient, obstinate, cussed, indomitable, atypical sportsman of the third millennium? The ultimate limpet? Shivnarine Chanderpaul may well tick all those boxes. What's not to love?

The smile is as sweet as the sugar from his native Demerara, the eyes a gentle Asiatic brown, the physique and body language about as menacing as Mickey Mouse in pyjamas. Behind such frail and uncommonly deceptive features, though, lies a focus of burnished steel, the sort of concentration and aversion to risk normally found among chess grandmasters, and a heart to turn even Aslan green. Even Aslan as played by Liam Neeson.

In the greater scheme of things, in a world so addicted to hasty, thoughtless judgements that the words "exaggeration" and "hype" apparently require the prefix "over" for us to understand them, and "great" no longer has any meaning whatsoever (in a qualitative sense), becoming the tenth batsman to stockpile 10,000 Test runs may not sound all that much to write home about. That only five men have reached 50 more often sounds a bit better, but placing him in the middle ranks of a generation responsible for more than a dozen of the game's hungriest run aggregators, it is easy, too easy, to forget how the one-man band from Unity Village has embodied so many of the most important, least appreciated qualities demanded by his complex profession. And entertained us royally in the process.

Not that words of that ilk sit comfortably on those narrow yet brick-like shoulders. Here, after all, is a chap about as likely to profess a desire to entertain as Mel Gibson is to proclaim his love of all things Yiddish. He also guards his privacy as a lioness does her cubs. Even calling him "Shiv" feels like over-familiarity, even an intrusion (forgive me, Shiv). So little does the wider world know about him, the only story anyone beyond the Caribbean ever seems to remember about his life away from the stumps is that he once mistook a policeman for an intruder and shot him - albeit only, thankfully, in the hand. Still, if ever a single tale personified a man's character, that one assuredly did. Here is a bloke who exudes defiance from every pore, who drinks adversity by the pint and emits resistance with every breath.

All the more reason, then, to look back in askance at the reputation he once endured. As he sought to establish himself, and struggled to convert half-centuries into the full monty, a tendency to miss games prompted the scurrilous observation that he was a hypochondriac. Then, in 2000, six years after his Test debut, a sizeable lump of floating bone was removed from one of his feet: comfort begat substance, and an end to the gossip and besmirching.

You want persistence, stickability, dependability and sod-artistic-impression singlemindedness? Send for Shiv. The notion of surviving 1000 minutes at the crease without being unglued is one so alien to contemporary mindsets as to be almost unthinkable; he's done it four times. Against India in 2002, he went an unprecedented 1513 minutes between dismissals - nearly 26 hours. Statistics, by and large, may be allergic to truth, but if a number can ever be said to define a man, that stat defines Shiv.

That said, there are plenty more where that came from, each one testimony to that inner and outer Horatio. Not for 15 years has his Test average stood as tall as it does now. In just three of his last 13 innings has he failed to reach 47. Since Brian Lara retired from Tests in December 2006, he has spent around 170 hours nudging, nurdling, carving, creaming and annoying the hell out of West Indies' opponents; his most dutiful team-mate, Chris Gayle, has managed 100 hours fewer. Shiv's average over those 39 Tests has been 66.38; nobody else who has taken guard for West Indies five times or more comes within 15 of that.

It is therefore something of a shock to discover that there have been eight knocks this century alone more time-consuming than his 675-minute vigil against India in that 2002 series (his lone ten-hour sojourn). Then again, when you consider his comparatively lowly rung in the order - nearly half of his 239 innings have been essayed from No. 5 or below - and the flighty approach and fragile temperaments of his colleagues, it makes complete sense.

There has, of course, been far more to him than a degree in stubbornness. If there's one Test innings I could have watched but didn't, it would have to be Lara's 277 in Sydney in 1992; the next would be Chanderpaul's 69-ball ton against Australia in Georgetown nine springs ago, the fourth-most rapid in five-day annals. A more sheerly aggressive onslaught than anything Botham, Gayle, Kapil or Jessop ever mustered. In ODIs he averages 41-plus, more than Desmond Haynes, Sourav Ganguly, Clive Lloyd, Mark Waugh and yes, even Lara. Among those with 7000-plus runs, that mean ranks him behind only Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Sourav Ganguly and Mohammad Yousuf.

 
 
Does he have enough stamina, focus and desire to gather the near-2000 runs he needs to overhaul Lara as the West Indies' most insatiable hunter-gatherer? Part of me recoils at the very idea. The artisan supplanting the artist? Yet there's something deliciously appealing about such a prospect
 

Pulling rabbits out of that over-roomy helmet has long been a stock-in-trade. In East London in 1999, on a tour so otherwise miserable that the other 11 internationals were all lost, against a South African attack boasting Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener, Kallis and the grievously underrated Nicky Boje, he clouted 150 off 136 balls, sharing a West Indies record all-wicket stand of 226 with Carl Hooper during which he outscored, out-hit and out-entertained his partner. Not a claim many have been able to make about a liaison with Cool Carl at his best.

Then came yesterday in Dominica. Aware as he was of that impending date with destiny, not to mention the virtual impossibility of chasing 370 on a pitch so delightful for spinners that even Michael Clarke was proving deadly, he set about his innings with an urgency utterly at odds with stereotype and expectation. That his co-defier was Darren Bravo, the Lara clone supreme, and that he matched the young gunner stroke for stroke, only served to underline his peerless adaptability.

Nor did he slacken much as the close drew closer. At 45 for 3, team, match and series had been dead in the water; at 173 for 4, in the day's final over, Roseau could relish the possibility of a minor miracle, and a night of fantasy. Then came Clarke's killer thrust. Would the third umpire be so ruthlessly unromantic as to overturn Tony Hill's not-out verdict? Sadly, yes. It dimmed the glow not a jot. It was as if Shiv had strapped on his pads and resolved, as he had never resolved before, to refute, in one innings, every disparaging comment ever made about his technique and philosophy, while remaining as bent as ever on challenging and changing the momentum of the contest. Has the game ever known a more evenly split personality?

One question lingers, a small but irresistibly tempting one. He turns 38 in August: does he have, can he possibly have, enough stamina, focus and desire in the tank to gather the near-2000 runs he needs to overhaul Lara as the West Indies' most insatiable hunter-gatherer? Part of me recoils at the very idea. The crabbiest unseating the stylist? The artisan supplanting the artist? Yet there's something deliciously appealing about such a prospect, however horrendously guilty one feels to make such a confession.

In decades to come, Wisden readers will check out the 2013 edition, the 150th, look down the list of Test cricket's foremost run-hewers (not terribly far down, admittedly), see "S Chanderpaul" and note, perhaps, that he was one of those rare chaps without a middle name. The more perceptive and curious might also blink their eyes, crank up the microchip calculator embedded in their right earlobe and work out that his ratio of not-outs to innings (38 in 238 at the end of the first dig in Roseau) bows the knee only to those of Allan Border and Steve Waugh, so long the twin last words in they-shall-not-pass imperturbability.

What they probably won't appreciate is what Shiv meant to cricket in the early 2000s, to the Twenty20 era, and what he symbolised. With Rahul Dravid having vacated the stage, he is now the last bastion of selfless striving and noble doggedness, the very epitome of unfashionability and unvanity. His greatest legacy could be to inspire a retrenchment of such values. Or to stiffen the sinews of those too fearful to plough their own lonely furrow.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

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Posted by chuckme on (April 30, 2012, 11:26 GMT)

those w.i. commentators who are always restrained in thair preise of chanderpaul and would not realise he is one of the GREATS.. must be eating crow ..the man do not need confirmation ...he is letting his bat and the world do the talking for him...sad at the double standards.....Shiv keep on showing the nay sayers ESPECIALLY otis and the w.i. board.

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (April 29, 2012, 22:43 GMT)

Wonderful tributes to Shiv from everybody. Big up to Chris P and swingit for quoting me :-). Chris, my user name is Dravid_Gravitas not David :-).

Posted by WIlover on (April 29, 2012, 17:17 GMT)

I remember many years ago, my wife's nephew Neil Weekes who played youth cricket for Barbados, having told me after returning from a tournament in Guyana.." Uncle Ray there is a young guyanease batsman named Shivnarine Chanderpaul whom we could not get out at all...he will surely play for the W I and I bet you that he will score a lot of runs." After seeing Shiv bat for the first time, I was glad that I did not make that bet. Neil you were spot on. Let's hope that we see at least a few more great innings from this great cricketer!!

Posted by   on (April 29, 2012, 16:41 GMT)

Chanderpaul's example is a good one to follow. The first thing is that he loves batting & in order to bat you have to stay at the crease. No batsmen has ever made a run when back in the pavilion. It is obvious that Shiv isn't the most talented or gifted batsman However what what he lacks in talent & gifted-ness in stroke-play he makes up for that & some by practicing in the nets hard long & often. One does not just over night acquire his immense levels of concentration. It takes repeated effort & it takes time. If batsmen like Bravo , Powell & co would follow his example they will be better off in the future. A prime example happened last year when before Kirk Edwards made his debut @ Dominica he was seen conversing with Dravid during the 2nd test @ Kensington Oval. I am almost sure what Dravid & Kirk were speaking about helped him during his century on debut

Posted by   on (April 29, 2012, 14:36 GMT)

A very well written article and a great tribute to one of the greatest to ever play the game.....as a West Indian i am very proud to read such a tribute to the backbone of west indies. He has defied all odds and has proven time after time that he a true warrior and embodies the spirit of test cricket and what its all about. Well done Chanders!!!!! Will always be one of favourites and definitely a West Indian legend!

Posted by Swingit on (April 29, 2012, 6:57 GMT)

I join the chorus of my dear friend Dravid_Gravitas, in saying to Shiv "take a bow". Like my other hero Dravid this is a player I would ALWAYS pick in my test starting 11. It would be a sheer nightmare for opponents to have the Wall Dravid and the fortress Tigerpaul on the same team, or worse: at the crease together! I can hear bowlers the world over planning their retirement at that thought.

Posted by DaisonGarvasis on (April 29, 2012, 6:38 GMT)

One thing Shiv WILL NOT impose on you when he come out to bat is FEAR. But then he doesn't go away from your face. He stay there until you drop and when you wake up he will still be there. And then to add to your frustration he will try odd stance while the the bowler runs in to bowl and you will hope "with that stance he is gonna be out soon" but he will be there for a long time and he will grind you.

Posted by Chris_P on (April 29, 2012, 1:18 GMT)

Agree David Gravitas. For Shiv to have performed in this manner, in a team that was clearly out of its depth in recent times marks more than simple grit & determination (which he had by bucketfuls btw). He was extremely talented in a brittle batting lineup so his method of playing was different to Dravid's. From my understanding of the many of the articles written by Steve Waugh's men, his wicket was the most prized, as it prompted great consternation among the rest of the "mortals" (Lara aside). He was always greatly respected & appreciated by both the Aussie players & public, a rarity in itself.

Posted by boingo on (April 28, 2012, 22:36 GMT)

LEGEND!! I travelled from Australia to watch the first 2 Tests and was so wishing that he got to 10,000 in Trinidad. I was scheduled to fly out after the 2nd Test but got ill and was able to see the 1st Innings of the 3rd Test on TV in Trinidad. I was on the plane home when he reached 10,000 and was bitterly disappointed. The only saving grace was that I saw him make a Test Century live in Barbados and a 94 in Trinidad. Long live the King Chanderpaul.

Posted by rg66 on (April 28, 2012, 22:23 GMT)

Remarkably well written article on one of the truly remarkable talents still playing on a West Indies team beset by shoddy administration and an ever increasing erosion of all the elements that once melded these Caribbean/South American countries into being a formidable force in the ultimate game, Cricket. Not withstanding his 'Little Engine That Could' approach to the game, part of what makes Chanderpaul truly a great player, is the patience he has employed navigating the political and economic minefield that has destroyed West Indian unity and its Cricket over the years, to achieve what he has to date. His dogged determination to never quit, along with his skill with a bat gives fans of West Indies Cricket a brief glimpse of what our players used to be.. true sporting warriors who played for regional pride before all else. Well done on the 10K mark Chanderpaul and well written Steen.

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Rob SteenClose
Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination". His latest book, Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, will be published in the summer of 2014

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