By Dev Tyagi
Every generation needs a hero. Someone who can both inspire and keep their nation’s flag fluttering with pride- isn’t that what we all seek? Perhaps more so in sport where you get a chance to blaze a trail for others to follow. Yet, there are some heroes who never truly get the credit they so deserve. Heroes who don’t get talked about often, winners you don’t hear salutations sung for despite doing everything in their might and ability to contribute.
One such hero, where it comes to the sport that unifies the Caribbean like no other, is Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Maybe it’s only just to ask a pertinent question as one of Guyana’s finest exports to cricket turns 47.
Whose loss is it that we didn’t celebrate Shivnarine Chanderpaul enough, a man who’s been a bowler grinder, run accumulator, holder of an unexplainable technique, whacker of crazy hundreds, amasser of boundless runs, and giver of hope to a team that back in those days badly needed some to merely contest in cricket, let alone win games?
That even after half a decade of the left-hander’s retirement, the revered ICC has still not found it relevant to induct one of cricket’s most disciplined, consistent, and selfless cricketers into its ‘Hall of Fame,’ is something as baffling and pitiable as the situation in present-day Afghanistan.
This, mind you, was a batsman who leveled up to Brian Charles Lara, of all willow-wielders, and had abysmal cricketing selection not intervened, would’ve gone on to surpass the “The Prince of Trinidad.”
In a sport where even if you don’t play for records, it is records, at the end of the day you end up conjuring, that Shinvarine Chanderpaul’s Test career got stalled merely 86 runs shy of Lara’s 11,953 is a sad story.
Moreover, it speaks of a brazen disregard with which some of the sport’s leading lights are often treated.
To suggest the simplest of examples, back in the cricket-obsessed land called India, the likes of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid never got a farewell Test, the kind of privilege modern masters like Tendulkar were afforded.
Similarly, in the present conception of cricket, one doesn’t quite know if Faf du Plessis, a tireless gatherer of runs for a South Africa often deflated by runs, and often stymied by politics, will get to play a farewell game.
Though in Chanderpaul’s case, the only low-scoring event, which led to his final appearance in Test cricket, circa 2015, wherein he averaged 18, saw a giant of the sport pushed to a corner, when his had been a career replete with runs doggedly collected for no fewer than 22-long years.
That we never quite gave attention to the man whose maiden season in international cricket- 2004- produced runs at the average of 50 is about as sad and absurd as overlooking the fact that the last three years prior to his departure from the game saw Chanderpaul produce runs averaging 71, 58, and- believe it or not- 98 (2014, 2013, 2012, respectively).
To many, Shiv Chanderpaul was the last remaining pillar of assurance to the West Indies that, at least, something was right about a team whose glory days belonged to the remnants of the past.
Moreover, there are sufficient examples of it, whether one speaks of his final-over six against Sri Lanka in an ODI with Vaas and Murali bowling or his 203 unbeaten runs against a Proteas pumped up with a Dale Styen bowling at peak pace.
To many others, Shiv Chanderpaul, was an old-fashioned, “bat-out-time” and “grind-the-bowlers,” batsman.
Truth, however, is, Shivnarine Chanderpaul- 125 fifties and 41 international centuries (Tests+ ODIs)- was an anomaly of sorts in the art of batting.
He was a reminder that for as long as one had the mental strength and values like discipline and toughness, often tagged ‘old world qualities,’ nothing else mattered, not even a batting stance that can only be imitated for a few laughs, not something that can be taught at a coaching clinic.
Today, when we regard the Wall of Dravid, a lot it is down to the fact that the famous right-hander, who stayed up for long periods of time, faced 31,258 deliveries.
Though, little is held to appreciate Chanderpaul, who faced not less than 27,395 deliveries, which are way more than what Carl Hooper, Sir Viv or even the great Brian Lara faced in Tests.
Although, a majority of these deliveries blasted at Chanderpaul’s watertight technique by some of the finest exponents of both spin and pace, including Lee, Shoaib, Donald, McGrath, Gillespie, Bond, Waqar and Wasim succeeded only in meeting the dead end of the bat.
Yet, that he emerged with 20,600 plus international runs (Tests+ODIs) indicates the Guyanese was more than an immovable object on the crease who was left on the 22 yards to merely frustrate bowlers.
With an open-front stance, batting with a ‘V’ like structure, Chanderpaul’s batting, lest it is forgotten, had strokes on all sides of the wicket.
During one of his imperious Test tons, the 153 against Pakistan at the Kensington Oval, captain Chanderpaul caressed when Abdul Razaq bowled a little wide repeatedly at around the vacant area between third slip and first gully.
A batsman who lacked the flair but never the resolve, Chanderpaul changed gears when needed and suddenly so, much to the benefit of a side that often found itself licking its wounds having lost one wicket too many early into a game.
Picture the marathon partnership along with his famous contemporary Carl Hooper, during the 2nd ODI at South Africa, 1999.
Of West Indies’ 292 on the board, the only grace-saving win in a series where the visitors lost 6 dreadful games, Chanderpaul contributed 150, a career-best score, on his own.
That he took just 136 odd deliveries to go berserk against a Pollock and Kallis-led attack offered greater insight into the mind of a batsman some fans still admire as the ‘Tiger.’
At Bourda, in 2003, under Lara’s leadership, it was Chanderpaul, not Samuels, Jacobs, Ganga or the Prince himself, who took on the mighty Australians in a rampant century that came of just 69-deliveries, a world record in that to this day, it’s the sixth-fastest Test ton of all times.
Not that the batsman of Indian heritage or roots went quiet against India, against whom he fired 7 of his 30 centuries with gusto and application, routing a Kumble, Srinath, Prasad and Zaheer Khan-powered India with a fourth of his career tons (Tests).
His limited-overs game saw Chanderpaul offer the team’s call to take extra responsibility with much pleasure sans any complaints.
Often opening with Gayle, and on other occasions with Hinds or Jacobs, Chandepraul kept shouldering responsibilities, and tirelessly so, even as batsmen around him came and went.
However, little did this pendulum of consistency deviate from the end goal- which was to contribute to a team’s cause even as in events where giant celebrations came about, such as the 2004 Champion’s Trophy win or the Coca Cola Singapore Cup, the man would comfortably let others hold center-stage by retreating to the background.
And it’s here where Chanderpaul’s true essence as a tireless vigilante in the middle remains: do everything for the team being the prime batsman but retreat into isolation, eschewing limelight much like the Dark Knight did when one went into search for the hero who saved Gotham, time and again.
There’ll be many who’ll come and fire way more than Chanderpaul’s 30 Test hundreds. Some will score rapider than the southpaw so, some in larger magnitude of runs, but not everyone will have the delight of earning respect, whether from a Kallis, Sangakkara or Lara himself as being the man who held onto an end so that the others could do what they fancied from the other end.
For being the keeper of the flame that is West Indies cricket, we owe a lot to you Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Enjoy your 47th!