Chanderpaul saves the day yet again
"Chanderpaul is the most irritating batsman to bowl to." That was Ishant Sharma, on the fourth evening, confirming what one suspected the case would be. Shivnarine Chanderpaul shuffles into the middle almost unimpressively. His head down, those anti-glare stickers under his eyes gleam, the helmet seems too big for his head, he peers through the grill before lowering his gaze again, revving himself for the task ahead. It's a bubble that he enters into.
Everything he does stands out. His stance, the way he marks his guard with the bail, his mannerisms, his leaves, and his nips-and-tucks. What can you say about that Jack-Russell leave? It's almost designed to make the bowlers tear their hair apart. It appears as if he is almost playing with their mind. It's almost as if he is saying "Look, look I am about to play it, the edge is here; just kidding. You thought I was offering a shot? Sorry. Next ball. Same thing."
However, today, as he walked out to resume his knock he would have been under immense pressure. Cricket is seldom merely a game of bat and ball. It's in the inner workings of the man that makes this game so fascinating to watch.
Chanderpaul needed runs. Two other seniors were already out. You know that story. The red lights were flashing at the exit door. His team needed his runs. The match hung on his bat. And soon, Darren Sammy, the 11th captain he has played under, fell to a wrong decision and he was left to bat with the tail.
Throughout his career, his critics have railed against his "selfishness". They say it comes through when he bats with the tailenders. The criticism is that he rarely farms the strike and almost prefers to be not out. He has rarely commented about it but it's not as if he doesn't care. You saw that in his leaping defence of himself, and the threat to sue, when the board said something about the seniors before the Pakistan tour.
There are other problems, personal in nature, that the ones close to him talk about. The pressure must have been ferocious as he faced up to the task today. The radio commentators were raising their voices too. "Chanderpaul must take strike."
He started to farm the strike initially. Surprise. He denied the singles. Arched eyebrows. He guided Fidel Edwards throughout his stay. The critics too would have fallen back in love. Luckily for him, it seemed the Indians had long given up trying to take him out. They rarely attacked him. It was an admission that he was too good today.
The crowd lapped it all up in great delight. "Let's go Chanderpaul, Let's go!" was the cry in the morning. It went around the arena and when he went down on his knee and kissed the pitch in his inimitable style, it reached a crescendo.
He had lots of problems yesterday against Harbhajan Singh, who was lacklustre today, and he only had couple of iffy moments against Suresh Raina. He pushed inside the line couple of times as the ball turned past the edge. Even then he rarely chased them. . The day wore on. Redemption was claimed in the morning with that ton and you were left wondering whether Chanderpaul will achieve glory in the afternoon by taking West Indies to a draw.
The Indians were a ragged unit today. Not one bowler was sharp. They even looked physically deflated. The draw looked a serious possibility but you knew, and they obviously knew, it was just one wicket away. Chanderpaul ensured it wouldn't be his. He leaned, lunged, pressed back, tucked, tapped, nudged, left, and irritated the hell out of the Indians. The crowd swelled in pride and the decibel levels grew but all fell silent in agony when Edwards, perhaps too tired, perhaps a touch too eager, perhaps getting a touch ahead of himself, lifted Raina to Praveen Kumar, who reflected India's agonising wait with the way he threw down the ball on the ground.
Chanderpaul and the amazing Edwards, whose energy levels match his fierce ambition, had batted out 37 overs. They nearly batted out India. Devendra Bishoo fell soon after. India couldn't go through Chanderpaul and so, they went around him.
In the end, as India gave up the chase, to the obvious surprise of many, West Indies walked around the stadium for a lap of honour. Chanderpaul, who hadn't come out to field, slowly followed them and walked behind them. He held his cap up on the left hand and smiled as the Dominican crowd, who seemed to have adopted him, gave him a rousing reception. It felt appropriate. Chanderpaul had yet again saved the day for West Indies. The story of his life.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo