A biography of Shivnarine Chanderpaul

 – by Roger Sawh

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]hivnarine “Tiger” Chanderpaul is a paragon of success in the face of adversity. From humble roots, he has been able to ascend to some of the loftiest heights in the cricket world through a combination of God-given talent, exceptional dedication, insatiable desire, and steely resolve. Over 20 years on the international scene have made his name synonymous with overcoming challenges, and Shiv has now become a living and still-performing legend of the West Indies – his style is his own, his motivation is boundless, his class is undisputed, and his legacy is assured. The Tiger is a maestro with the willow, and he transcends race, class, and nationality to be one of the greatest cricketers to have ever emerged from the shores of the West Indies.

The Early Years

Shivnarine Chanderpaul was born on August 16th, 1974 in the coastal village of Unity in Mahaica, Guyana. The son of a fisherman, “Shiv” was a precocious cricket talent from a very young age. Lore has it that, under the watchful eyes of his father Khemraj “Cowfly” Chanderpaul, Shiv would train relentlessly for a future in cricket – he would face bowling from some of the fastest bowlers in his village, and seek to learn to combat the swing of a rubber ball on the beaches of Unity. These sessions honed a watchful eye and unique approach to batting, and made him a young sensation in Guyanese cricket.

As Chanderpaul got older, he looked to expose himself to an elevated level of competition by playing club cricket – he had stints with East Coast Police, Everest Cricket Club, and the Demerara Cricket Club before ultimately joining the Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC), one of Guyana’s foremost clubs. There he not only got to play in a more competitive setting, but he also came to further prominence on the national and regional stage. Soon enough, the little left-hander was playing for the Guyana Under-19 team – he stroked a century on debut while still only 17 years old (in 1992), and eventually toured England with the West Indies Under-19 team, where he made a double century and 150 (in 1993). The young man from Guyana was well on his way to the biggest stage.

Breaking into the West Indies Team

In 1994, after stellar performances for the Guyana senior team, Shivnarine was on the cusp of being called up to the West Indies test team during England’s tour. The unconfirmed legend suggests that senior West Indies players Curtly Ambrose and Carl Hooper were the lead conspirators in getting Chanderpaul into the playing eleven (as Ambrose had been very impressed by young Shiv’s gusto in facing him during a regional match between Ambrose’s Leeward Islands and Guyana). The story goes that Hooper waited until the eve of the second test match (in Guyana) to withdraw from the final team to face England so as to prevent the selectors from flying in their preferred replacement, Roland Holder of Barbados. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a shy and mild-mannered 19 year-old, got the last-minute call up to slot into the batting order, and entered his home ground, the GCC Bourda, to thunderous Guyanese applause. In his debut innings, he made 62 in front of his fellow countrymen, slotting in wonderfully well against the seasoned English bowling lineup.

Chanderpaul made five half-centuries in the six opportunities he had to bat over the course of that debut series, but his 75 not out in the final test in Antigua will always be associated with cricketing history, as it came while batting with the incomparable Brian Lara while the latter broke the world record of 375 for highest individual test score. Captain Courtney Walsh’s decision to declare when Lara fell, despite the fact that the match had almost come to a stalemate, left Chanderpaul unable to complete a deserved maiden century on that occasion – his inability to reach the three-figure milestone would become a central concern for him in the ensuing years.

The path to the maiden hundred

Despite strong returns in his inaugural series, Chanderpaul did not secure a permanent spot in the West Indies team. While he made his one-day international (ODI) debut later in 1994 versus India, there were suggestions that his frail physique could not withstand the rigours of international cricket. It was not until he batted masterfully against Australia in 1996 that he seemed to cement a place in the team – the innings of 71 off 68 balls that he played in Sydney was commanding, and was only undone by one of the finest balls ever delivered by Shane Warne.

In 1997, during India’s tour to the West Indies, Shiv was finally able to get the proverbial monkey off of his back – in his 19th test match, and after a wait of about three years, Shiv Chanderpaul stroked an absorbing seven hour 137 not out at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. Fans across the region rejoiced, and he soon followed his first test century with a maiden ODI hundred at the same venue later during that tour. Images of Chanderpaul enjoying the Suzuki Vitara jeep he won for being the man-of-the-series are iconic for long-time supporters.

Onward in the face of losing

While the fortunes of the West Indies team were on a regular downward curve, Chanderpaul’s career grew. He made a wondrous 150 while opening the batting in an ODI versus South Africa in 1999, and featured in a number of pivotal partnerships with the likes of Lara and his countryman Carl Hooper. While injuries affected him from time to time, he built himself up both physically and mentally to become the glue of the West Indies’ batting. Also, his reputation around the world was growing, and the moniker of “Tiger” (conferred because of his intensity at the crease and ability to be ferocious while batting) had now become quite popular.

Over years of playing, Shiv has played many memorable innings against various teams, but he seemed to save some of his best efforts for contests against India, Australia, and England. In 2001-2002, he plundered three centuries in four tests against India; in 2003 against Australia, he bludgeoned test cricket’s third fastest century (off 69 balls) at his home ground of Bourda, and later in the series scored a fourth-innings century while pairing with Ramnaresh Sarwan to chase down a world record of 418 in Antigua, and; in 2004, he almost scored centuries in both innings at Lords, making 128 not out and 97 not out against England.

Captain Tiger

In 2005, in the face of an unpleasant contractual dispute between the West Indies players and board that led to the resignation of Captain Lara, Shiv assumed the leadership of the senior team. His debut as skipper, leading an inexperienced side missing some of its foremost members, was at Bourda once again, and he did not disappoint, making his highest test score of 203 not out against a strong South African team to secure a draw. While he had seniority and a no-nonsense attitude, Chanderpaul did not prove to be a very formidable West Indies captain, and he resigned the post a year after assuming it to focus on his batting.

Blossoming into a colossus

After resigning the captaincy and rededicating himself to his original love for batting, Shivnarine has been a batting colossus. Some of his landmarks have been a breathtaking last-ball 6 to win an ODI versus Sri Lanka, a courageous test century after being struck in the head by a Brett Lee bouncer, and several fighting centuries in the face of capitulation around him. His batting averages grew from lower-mid 40s to much closer to 50, and his calling card became the hours he could spend batting without getting out – a testament to his skill, concentration, and unquenchable thirst for time in the middle.

With a penchant for consistent success, Chanderpaul has copped several awards over his career, most notably being named one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 2008, and copping the International Cricket Council (ICC)’s Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for being the World Player of the Year in 2008. Additionally, Shiv has ascended the official ICC player rankings to be rated among the top batsmen in the world for many years, including a highest ranking of 901 (being one of a select few players to ever cross the 900 point mark). He has been ranked as the world’s number one test batsman on multiple occasions since first achieving the ranking in 2008.

The 2011 ICC World Cup proved to be the end of Chanderpaul’s ODI career, as the West Indies team management decided to stop selecting him in order to breed a new batting core in limited overs cricket. This has taken place despite Chanderpaul’s obvious protestations and still-abundant skill (not to mention a glaring need for an experienced player like him in the West Indies lineup), leaving him with 8778 ODI runs. This makes him the second highest ODI run scorer in West Indies cricket history.

The Tiger has had limited appearances for the West Indies in Twenty20 internationals, but he has represented his native Guyana with distinction in regional competitions in the format – he was even a member of the Stanford Superstars team that was chosen to face England in the now defunct Stanford Super Series. Further, his class and inventive stroke play have given him the opportunity to play in domestic tournaments around the globe, representing teams in the Indian Premier League, Sri Lankan Premier League, and Bangladesh Premier League at different times. Additionally, Shiv is no stranger to the English County Championship, where he has excelled in both the longer and shorter formats across various stints.

Shiv’s test career continues, and the past few years have seen him intrepidly surpass some significant milestones: he has established a batting average that is comfortably over 50 (a landmark for batting greats), he has surpassed 10 000 test runs (and is now the second highest scoring West Indian of all time), and he has stroked 27 test centuries (which is again good for second most by a West Indian). Not only is he recognized as the senior statesman of the West Indies team, but he is also world-renowned as one of the most prolific and capable batsmen in the international game. In a nutshell, he has solidified a place among the pantheon of West Indian batsmen.

Shivnarine the Great

Shivnarine Chanderpaul has become a beloved figure across the Caribbean not only for his mountainous runs and pugnacious attitude, but also for his eccentricities. Some of his many ‘quirks’ include an exaggeratedly turned batting stance that is almost 90 degrees off of a regulation stance, a tendency to mark his batting guard by hammering a bail into the pitch, regular ‘fidgeting’ with his arm guard, thigh guard, box, and helmet, and wearing Mueller anti-glare eye patches while batting. Moreover, he is known for his method of celebrating centuries by kneeling onto the pitch and kissing it. These internationally known idiosyncrasies actually add to the persona of Shivnarine – he is a player that does things in his own unique way.

A devout Hindu, Chanderpaul is a philanthropist and benefactor of cricket. He has been instrumental in the enhancement of the game in his home village of Unity, where he has donated his time and resources to the development of facilities in the area. Additionally, he is the chief patron (and first Hall of Fame inductee) of American College Cricket, an expanding venture seeking to popularize the game in the United States at the college level. Moreover, Shiv has become an articulate and positive spokesman for Mueller Sports Medicine (the maker of the anti-glare eye patches he wears), and is known to be a wise and encouraging voice to batsmen at all levels. It is telling that he has helped to shepherd many batsmen on the first-class and international stages to batting milestones – he is regularly cited for his simple and calming advice while at the crease. His mentorship is most prevalent in his oldest son, Tagenarine ‘Brandon’, who made his first-class debut for Guyana in 2013. Shivnarine and Tagenarine have batted together at various times in club cricket in Guyana, and played together for the first time at the first class level in March 2013 against Trinidad and Tobago – it was only the second time a father and son played first class cricket together in the Caribbean (the first being in 1922).

From more than nineteen years of playing international cricket to hundreds of hours of practice to thousands of runs at all levels, Shivnarine Chanderpaul is now a national and regional hero. He was made an honorary citizen of Dominica in 2011 for becoming the most capped test player in West Indian history, and has received Guyana’s third highest national award, the Cacique Crown of Honour. In Guyana’s capital city, Georgetown, there is even a street named after him – Shiv Chanderpaul Drive.

The ultimate motivation for the man is a simple love for his craft. In the twilight of his career, the milestone of most test runs ever for the West Indies (11 953 by Brian Lara) is tantalizingly close, but true fans know that the numbers are secondary for Shiv – the drive of performing at the highest level is what matters most. From Bridgetown to Birmingham, Kingston to Kolkata, Port of Spain to Perth, and Georgetown to Galle, millions of fans love and respect Shivnarine Chanderpaul as a player, an inspiration, and a living legend – in short, Shiv Is Great!