April 12 2003
Shivnarine Chanderpaul has risen above the imposters of West Indian cricket to prove himself the backbone of their team, writes Peter Roebuck.
By scoring the third-fastest century in the history of Test cricket, Shivnarine Chanderpaul did his utmost to restore the dignity of a floundering West Indian team. Chaos had reigned before this elf from a nearby fishing village embarked upon his enterprising effort.
Batsmen had come and gone feebly, mustering neither the will nor skill required to resist a wayward Australian attack until it seemed that this West Indian side was going to go down without a murmur.
Fortunately Chanderpaul chose this hour of need to produce an innings breathtaking in its audacity and inspired in its execution, an innings that recalled his brilliance against Shane Warne in Sydney years ago.
Chanderpaul began by moving behind a delivery from Andrew Bichel and pushing it past the bowler to the boundary, a stroke simple in appearance and devilishly difficult to play.
Jason Gillespie dropped short by way of testing the diminutive Indian’s backfoot game and his foe pounced, and with a flash of hand and wrist sent the ball scorching away forward of square. Throughout, Chanderpaul’s pulling was superb, with the ball struck hard and along the turf.
It is a cruel fact of life that brilliance is generally brief, petering out against the rocks of life. Many batsmen fear these dashing beginnings, realising the dangers of getting carried away.
Chanderpaul was not of this persuasion. He looked utterly alive, his entire body moving with every stroke in the manner of a puppet on a string. Of course, he developed his own technique on the rudimentary village green and in the dying waves of Unity, an hour or so along the coast where locals erected fishing nets and took it in turns to hurl balls to their promising lad with cricket in his blood. Chanderpaul and his relations took their cue from Rohan Kanhai and Alvin Kallicharran, his illustrious predecessors.
Such was the disarray in the ranks of the home team that Chanderpaul’s early progress was hardly noticed and it came as a surprise to discover that he had reached 50 in 37 balls.
At the time it seemed almost an irrelevance, at worst an inconvenience so far as the Australians were concerned. Confidence was so high among the visitors that the spinners resumed after lunch, though Gillespie had been sparingly used, sending down a mere 30 deliveries before lunch, a fair haul for a midwife, nothing much for a healthy fast bowler.
Australia’s faith in the spinners was not justified by their performances. Chanderpaul tucked into the tweakers with relish, deftly moving back to place shortish balls through mid-wicket, a tactic that upset the length of Brad Hogg, previously the beneficiary of extravagant strokes unworthy of Test batsmen, strokes that confirmed the deterioration of batsmanship in the region, at least among those raised outside the Indian communities. Something has gone wrong with West Indian youth.
Much as he enjoyed facing the left-armer from Perth, Chanderpaul took an even greater liking to the offerings of Stuart MacGill, twice bending to sweep the ball over the boundary at mid-wicket, strokes of calculated aggression that contrasted with delicate leg-glances and handsome drives through cover, the shots that took him rushing through the 90s as cheerfully as the Great Gatsby, and into three figures.
Steve Waugh let the game roll along too long before changing the pace of an attack that was taking a beating. Not that the pacemen were all that dangerous, and Brett Lee’s fielding was downright awful as his concentration wavered.
Still, the captain had shown his attacking intentions before the match as Australia played five bowlers for the first time since the Berlin Wall was dismantled. Considering the nature of this pitch and the absence of the bowlers who, alone and in tandem, have been mainstays of this team, the selection was surely correct.
Upon reaching his hundred at a rate surpassed in Test cricket only by Viv Richards and Jack Gregory, a mighty hitter from the antipodes, Chanderpaul waved to thousands of spectators roaring their approval, then bent on hands and knees to kiss the pitch in the manner of an arriving pope.
Alas, he did not survive the emotion of the moment and the drinks break, a dangerous combination, and played a loose shot against Bichel. Not for the first time on a day with hardly a dull moment, replays indicated that the finger might have stayed down. Both umpires made mistakes, and the home team suffered.
Chanderpaul and the Guyanese Indians have an enormous part to play in West Indian cricket.
Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chanderpaul and the emerging Narsingh Deonarine carry the hopes of batting in the region. Happily the Indians are now being given their due. Otherwise West Indian batting is in serious trouble.
Although the day belonged to an Australian team that did not play particularly well, Chanderpaul’s innings will linger longest in the memory, a game and fertile effort that set him apart from the imposters who continue to play such a part in the cricket of a group of islands that have produced most of the truly great men the game has known.