Chanderpaul shows class again

Tony Cozier

Just a few days before he and the brilliant Ramnaresh Sarwan steered the team to the unlikely winning target of 253 with their partnership of 153 in the first Test against Sri Lanka at the Queen’s Park Oval, Chanderpaul had been showered with honours by his peers of the West Indies Players Association (WIPA), an organisation with which his relations have not always been cordial.

That was followed by another, even more internationally prestigious tribute, his selection as one of the five cricketers of the year by the game’s oldest and most respected publication, the Wisden Almanack.

Such accolades were long overdue. Perhaps it’s because of his fidgety, eccentric, spreadeagled stance and his functional method.

Perhaps it’s his quiet, unpretentious manner. Or a career spent in the shadow of Brian Lara, the player described by Mike Atherton last week as “one of the finest entertainers to have played in this or any other era”.

Whatever the reasons, Chanderpaul’s quality has always been undervalued, in spite of an impressive record in 14 years of international cricket, a sport that places great store on statistics.

Even now, he is ranked by the International Cricket Council (ICC) no higher than No.8 on the list of contemporary Test batsmen, as low as No.10 on the ODI register.

Yet, in the year since the great Lara made his lamented exit, Chanderpaul has taken over the role as the rock of the West Indies batting with effectiveness that only the formidable George Headley, ‘Atlas’ of the formative decade of the 1930s, could match.

In the eight relevant Tests, three in England, three in South Africa and now two at home against Sri Lanka, the slim, deceptively frail, left-hander has averaged 91.44. His returns in the contrasting demands of the limited-overs format are equally commanding – an average of 96.66 in 11 matches.

His 104 against South Africa in Port Elizabeth in December and his unbeaten 86 at Queen’s Park last week, as counterpoint to Sarwan’s masterful 102, were essential factors in two Test victories that hint at a gradual rise from the depressing decline that has enveloped West Indies cricket for so long.

His unbeaten 116 at Edgbaston last July was one of the sparks that ignited the West Indies 2-1 triumph in the ODI series against England.

The off-driven four and the wristy six over midwicket off Chaminda Vaas’s last two balls of the match that turned on its head the usual West Indies habit of snatch-

ing defeat from the jaws of victory typified Chanderpaul’s main attributes, intense concentration and the adaptability that is the hallmark of the best sportsmen.

Conscious that the team’s only chance was for him to remain to the end as the West Indies faltered in their quest for 236, he strained for 61 balls to raise 52 unconvincing runs.

His responsibility was heightened by his part in the run out of the rampant Dwayne Bravo. Only final victory would exonerate him.

It appeared an impossibility when he and the last man, Fidel Edwards, could only squeeze three runs off the first four balls of a final over from the wily Vaas.

It left 10 more to get off two balls against a bowler in his 313th such match with 392 ODI wickets to his name.

The early exodus from the stands was understandable – except, as Bravo noted later, that the one they call “Tiger” for his fighting spirit was still in. Here was a batsman who, with all his seeming limitations, sped to the fourth fastest hundred ever scored in a Test match, off 69 balls against the powerful Australians, in 2003 – and one who, by contrast, required 510 balls to accumulate 136 against India just a year earlier.

As the disbelieving thousands waited for the inevitable, Chanderpaul waited calmly for whatever Vaas would serve up. It happened to be two full tosses, the second obligingly shin high and angled towards leg-side. Normally, any reputable player would expect to despatch them. But there was nothing normal now. It needed someone with a clear head, unaffected by the commotion around him, with his eye firmly on the prize.

It needed Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

And on Sunday in the second ODI, he was at it again.

Source: Trinidad Express

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