Shivnarine Chanderpaul does not stand out when he is leading West Indies
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There is nothing discerning about Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Simple in appearance, bland on the field, his small face and his blasé approach don't at all suggest that he is the leader of a team. Every time Chanderpaul leads the West Indies into the field there is something unconvincing about his style. There is something lacking. What could that be?
Despite all his frailties he is, and was, the best man available for the top position after his senior partner Brian Lara decided to leave due to the sponsorship imbroglio before the home series against South Africa in 2004-05. He had been deputy to Lara for sometime now after another potential leader, Ramnaresh Sarwan, was fighting hard for his batting form. Chanderpaul's batting radar showed the rare blip as runs kept coming against all kinds oppositions.
Immediately after assuming the leadership role, he simply said, "It's a simple game of cricket and we will continue to do our best." Nothing fancy, no immediate future plans, no war cries, no promises.
Fair enough. But in these brittle times for the Caribbean, one wanted to hear something more; something extra that would give hope. The cricket-mad West Indians have been long-starved for spectacles. For the better part of the last decade, their nation has been struggling to keep stable feet on the ladder without struggling. Except for the pair of Lara and Chanderpaul, none of the emerging West Indies players have raised their hand, and kept raising it, when their team needed them to steer to safety.
Desperate selectors have painted the dressing room green by bringing in rookies every series, which has now become a norm. Of course, the lack of a stable unit is depressing for any leader, as he needs to establish a relationship with his mates. But in Chanderpaul's case, one feels that he just likes to keep his distance.
On the field, while batting, you rarely see him say encouraging words to his partner to keep the tempo high; while fielding his captaincy decisions appear so childish and without any logic at times. His after-match bytes lack the sting that would keep his players aware of the pain.
But then no one knows much about Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Maybe his docile approach towards captaincy could be because he still trying to break personal internal shackles. Hailing from Unity village he was brought up in the East Indian community surrounding. His education spanned nothing beyond a few years but his father helped him enjoy his cricket by coaching him on matting wickets. Today, he is one of the most successful batsmen in cricket and though his batting technique is quite dull, compared to the flamboyance around, he has worked hard to rise to one of the most distinguished positions in cricket today.
Despite his quiet exterior, Chanderpaul, known as Tiger to his team-mates, is very tough with himself first and then in his beliefs inside the dressing room. Even though he will not shout and get his point across in a commanding fashion, he gets it across only when it is needed. He is not the nagging-kind of teacher who keeps watch of his pupils over their shoulders. No doubt his humble background plays its part in him being closed and, at times, even intimidated by the attention his captaincy post gets him. But he has to accept that fact.
Chanderpaul needs to open out. He needs that for his confidence and more so for his young team to realise their professional worth. At the moment, the West Indies dressing room is a board of scattered pieces of raw gems with only couple of glittering diamonds in Lara and Chanderpaul. Just a month away from becoming 31, Chanderpaul works really hard on his fitness. When he is bating, his Svengali-like eyes with those anti-glare strips beneath speak of his toughness inside. If he can bring that toughness outside, communicate more with the youngsters, delve deeper into their doubts and help them clear them with the help of Bennett King, his coach, the West Indies can steadily start to walk the path they got lost on years back.
Outside cricket there are couple of his interests the normal man wouldn't be aware of: first, he is a voracious reader of religious texts. The other is he enjoys laughing freely at jokes. Both are good pointers to the free soul inside the West Indies captain.
He doesn't need to be a character to make his words heard. He needs to become more heard, more hard and become more commanding to nurture the seed of belief which is very weak at the moment in the dressing room. He doesn't need to go far ahead to search for answers. When in need he has always risen to the situation. When asked to bat at No. 3 back in 1996-97 against the famed Australian attack, where even Lara was having problems, Chanders showed his courage. Then in Antigua in 2004 he scored a brilliant 104 to see his team record the historic 418-run chase against Steve Waugh's Aussies.
Basil Butcher, a successful former Windies batsman, said this replying to what the team needed to get back to winning ways: "We need good leaders to inspire them. West Indians believe in stars even when they are talking nonsense. We have people who talk sense." Hear that, Chanders. Chanderpaul hardly talks, but he talks sense. He can take cue from those words.
Nagraj Gollapudi is sub-editor of Wisden Asia Cricket