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My Favourite Cricketer

Automaton, man, inspiration

Twenty years on, Shivnarine Chanderpaul continues to be understated, underestimated. And that doesn't bother him. What's not to like?

Brydon Coverdale
Brydon Coverdale
From Desmond Haynes to West Indies' most recent debutant, Chanderpaul has been the common link  •  Associated Press

From Desmond Haynes to West Indies' most recent debutant, Chanderpaul has been the common link  •  Associated Press

Run machine. It's one of those pervasive cricket clichés, like Ravi Shastri's tracer bullet. But for a while I thought that Shivnarine Chanderpaul might have been an actual run machine, a technically advanced automaton whose purpose was to keep West Indies competitive. The evidence was compelling.
How else could Chanderpaul be struck in the head by a Brett Lee bouncer in Jamaica in 2008, crumple to the ground in total numbness, both physical and cognitive, but then get up, bat on, and score a century? It was a Terminator-like revival, from a figure more Danny DeVito than his twin, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
How else could he bat for more than 25 hours in a Test series between dismissals, face 1050 consecutive Test deliveries without losing his wicket, as he did against India in 2002? How could he bat for more than 17 hours between dismissals in 2004, again in 2007, and more than 18 hours in 2008? It's like John Isner winning a set 70-68 at Wimbledon and then doing it again, and again, and again.
The proof that finally convinced me Chanderpaul was flesh and blood was the discovery that he has produced a son. That and the fact that we're living in an age of planned obsolescence. Machines are no longer built to last, certainly not for 20 years. Chanderpaul functions as effectively today as on his Test debut in 1994.
Yes, Shiv is a man. A quiet man, an inspiration to introverts like me everywhere. He goes to work, does his thing, does it damn well, and does it over and over and over again. He is understated and underestimated. How can a man with nearly 12,000 Test runs still be viewed as an underdog? In part because his team rarely wins. But also, I suspect, because of his nature.
If a stubborn batsman can be said to be married to his wicket, Chanderpaul and his are celebrating their 20th anniversary and still going strong
Twitter tells me more than I ever thought I would know about Shane Warne's relationships, Chris Gayle's eating habits, Kevin Pietersen's opinions. I couldn't care less. In Chanderpaul I sense a kindred spirit, reserved and self-contained. He seems not to care what anyone thinks, and I respect that. He has played Test cricket for two decades but is still a mystery. I like that.
Chanderpaul has been so good for so long that he has played with the 163rd West Indies Test cricketer, Desmond Haynes, and with the 300th, Leon Johnson. And most in between. He knows that quicker and easier doesn't mean better. When your name is Shivnarine Chanderpaul, you probably work that lesson out when you first learn to write your name.
There were other things Chanderpaul learnt early in life. If a stubborn batsman can be said to be married to his wicket, Chanderpaul and his are celebrating their 20th anniversary and still going strong. Mind you, they'd been going steady for 12 years prior. At 8, he was fending off concrete balls hurled by grown men in a training method his father believed would make him tough.
If it sounds harsh, it was at least effective. It also led to his unique stance, originally concocted to protect himself. Chanderpaul is now 40, but he still faces up that same way, 90 degrees askew, as if expecting the square-leg umpire to bowl to him. Glenn McGrath usually seemed unshakeable but said it was off-putting to run in while the batsman stood front-on with his bat behind his shoulder.
For the viewer, it's mesmerising. He's not in position, he can't be ready, oh he's punched a three through cover. He's not watching, he can't play that shot, oh he's tickled another two behind square. Of course, he's always watching intently from behind the supermarket-bought anti-glare strips under his eyes. Always ready to nudge and nurdle.
Fittingly, he shares his name with a small stabbing weapon. A shiv can bring death by a thousand cuts. What better description of Chanderpaul? Alas, his work often does not prove fatal to his opponents. He has played in 74 losing Tests, more than any other player in history. Sachin Tendulkar won fewer Tests than Chanderpaul has lost. Still he chooses to bat on.
And on, and on. Most recently it was another series without losing his wicket. He batted more than 12 hours against Bangladesh without once being dismissed. He became the first 40-year-old in 20 years to score a Test century, and moved up to third on the ICC's Test batting rankings. By the ICC's reckoning, only Kumar Sangakkara and AB de Villiers are currently better Test batsmen than Chanderpaul.
Where would West Indies be without him? His Test record is notable for its strength against the best opposition teams. He averages 63 against India, 52 against England, 50 against South Africa, 49 against Australia. Chanderpaul has his critics, those who say he should bat higher than No. 5, take on more responsibility in a team that lacks potency. I say get off his back, just let Shiv do his thing.
Usually his thing is to demoralise bowlers slowly, silently. But occasionally, he can destroy them. Consider the list of the fastest Test hundreds: Viv Richards, Adam Gilchrist, Jack Gregory, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, David Warner, Chris Gayle. Sorry, what? Shivnarine Chanderpaul? You no more expect to see his name in that company than you do Chris Tavaré's or Bill Lawry's.
His 69-ball century against Australia in Guyana in 2003 proved that he cannot be defined solely by his seriousness. There were hooks and pulls off Lee and Jason Gillespie, no quarter given to loose balls from Stuart MacGill and Brad Hogg. And the next match it was back to normal, a cautious 21 off 92 balls. It was like seeing Lloyd Bridges turn comedian in Airplane, just to prove that he could.
But he can't do everything. Captaincy wasn't for Shiv. He led West Indies in 14 Tests but the role did not fit him. Not everyone is suited to leadership. Little wonder this little wonder was among them.
"As a captain you have more responsibilities, you have to say more things, you have to be more open, you can't be quiet, you have to try and get involved in everything," Chanderpaul once said. "At times it can make you stressed out, doing these things over and over."
I hear you, Shiv. You may get called a run machine, but I know you're just a man. The man. Keep doing your own thing, what you've been doing at 20, 30 and 40. I hope you're still doing it at 50.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale