Chanderpaul is a cricketer for the ages

Peter Roebuck

Shivnarine Chanderpaul is the most astonishing batsmen around and among the finest. From his first outing for the West Indies in Georgetown in 1994 to his coming 389th appearance this week, at the Gabba, he has batted by his own lights and been effective and entertaining.

Remove him cheaply and the job is half done. But he will not lend a hand. Chanderpaul likes batting and knows his game inside out.

He is, too, a survivor, not a bad quality in modern West Indian cricket. And with every passing year he seems to get better. Usually, he makes a nuisance of himself. Others might destroy, he picks an attack apart like a buzzard on a bone.

In every respect, it has been an incredible journey. He bats like a puppet, every part of his body in motion: arms, wrists, legs, nothing static. He can look out of his depth, a man of rubber in a time of steel, a skinny fellow in an age of muscle.

Bowlers think they will get him out in a minute, and then the minutes turn into hours and sometimes days and still the modest man from the fishing village continues to pull in his haul. In the end, everyone looks at the scoreboard and realises he has done it again.

Chanderpaul likes batting and is about five times as good as he appears. His chaos is but an illusion. Everything is in its rightful place.

Chanderpaul hinted at the riches to come in that first Test match. To widespread surprise, the selectors summoned the 21-year-old to try his luck against England. Although he had played for West Indies’ under-19 side, the promotion seemed premature. He looked like a shrimp and a sympathetic crowd feared for him. It did not last long. Supporters relaxed as soon as began stroking the ball around. England have been trying to shift him ever since – he averages 50 against them, 48 against Australia and 29 against Zimbabwe.

As it turned out, that opening innings was typical Chanderpaul. He pottered along in his compelling and yet unobtrusive way till he was dismissed for 62, with the job half done. Dismissals in the 60s were to become a habit and a limitation in his early years. Simply, he did not have the stamina needed to play long innings. Evidently fish are better for brain than body.

Not until he became stronger could his full powers emerge. Even now he has scored 21 hundreds and 52 fifties.

Intrigued by the youngster’s singularity, I visited his home on the rest day of that Guyana Test. To arrive in Unity was to encounter a small village built beside the sea and consisting of wooden houses sitting on stilts and a green used for numerous purposes, including grazing.

To meet the family was to discover that cricket ran in the family. His father and both uncles played good club cricket and the youngster inherited their passion.

”When he in his mother’s belly, she bowl to me,” reported his father, whereupon Uncle Martin added: ”When he a boy, I soak the bat in oil and he drink the oil.”

The rest, it seems, was inevitable.

And so they pushed the boy along. Not that he needed any prompting. Teachers tried in vain to make him attend to his books. Batting was his only preoccupation and he went about it his own way. At eight years of age he started practising in the community hall, which was not as posh as it sounds.

His dad said that he had ”started inside” because he ”heard that Kanhai practised on concrete. We got our own calculations here.” He told his son to ”watch the footwork of Kallicharran”, English technique was too stiff.

Kemraj wanted his boy to bend and weave and flow. It worked. Chanderpaul (35) has scored 8576 runs in 121 Tests at an average of 49.3. At times he has born a stark resemblance to an immoveable object.

Everything has been tried to shift him. Australian bowlers contemplating a pace bombardment might be interested to hear that Chanderpaul snr also told his son that ”if you afraid to get hit, stop playing the game”. As an alternative he suggested marbles. Chanderpaul said he was not worried about getting hurt. ”If ball hit me, nothing wrong. Can’t be out.” To improve his reflexes, he used to stand in the edge of the sea as pals threw the ball hard and sent it rearing at him off the dying waves. It was extremely fast.

Chanderpaul has come a long way since that startling debut. Now he is a sophisticate with a family of his own, a house in Miami, a fine record and a county championship to his name.

Depending on mood, he can bat in several styles. Dogged by instinct, he has nevertheless played some dazzling innings, not least a stirring hundred in 72 balls against the Australians in Trinidad and a thrilling counter-attack in Sydney cut short by a Warne leg-break that turned extravagantly. Always Chanderpaul comes to play. He’ll try his utmost to block Australia’s path.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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