The epitome of selfless striving
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.
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