By CHRIS FOY
3rd February 2009
Shivnarine Chanderpaul in a Test series, they ended up wondering if they would ever get him out. ‘The Crab’ had become an immoveable object and he has been just as stubbornly resilient ever since.
|Ton-derful: Shivnarine Chanderpaul celebrates his century against New Zealand in Napier|
When Andrew Strauss’s side confront the West Indies in Jamaica, starting today, they will be well aware that the key to emulating their stunning victory at Sabina Park in 2004 rests on how they deal with Guyana and the world’s No 1 batsman.
Chanderpaul’s record in the last two years has been so relentlessly outstanding that he has soared to the top of the global rankings despite spending much of that time fighting fires on behalf of a struggling team.
The 34-year-old left-hander – whose nickname stems from his ungainly yet hugely effective batting style – has raised his game to help the West Indies cope with the retirement of their last real icon, Brian Lara. He may lack the elegance of Trinidad’s favourite cricketing son, but that hasn’t detracted from his remarkable consistency of late.
In his last 24 Test innings, Chanderpaul has amassed six hundreds and 11 half-centuries. In 2007, his average was 111 and last year it was 101, lifting his overall career average to a shade under 50 – placing him among the modern-day elite.
That tour of England two years ago was when this astonishing purple patch began in earnest. With West Indian backs to the wall, Chanderpaul stood apart in taking the fight back to the hosts and briefly threatened to inspire a world-record winning total at Old Trafford. His five innings in that series yielded scores of 74, 50, 116 not out, 136 not out and 70. He hasn’t looked back since.
So what has been at the heart of his personal Indian summer which led to recognition as the ICC Cricketer of the Year for 2008? As ever, there is no secret formula. This is a tale of sheer hard graft.
Take a recent example. Chanderpaul returned from the West Indies’ tour of New Zealand on January 15 – giving him two weeks to enjoy a well-earned break. Back home in Orlando, he put his feet up for a few days but soon became restless. It wasn’t long before he was using his manager’s large back garden nearby for informal batting practice.
Oh no, not him again: Paul Collingwood watches Chanderpaul pile on the runs
‘It all comes down to the amount of work I put into my game and the blessing of God,’ he said. ‘Anything can happen on the park so you need a bit of luck. All I have done is work hard on eliminating my mistakes and staying focused when I’m batting.
‘I’m not sure about what my reputation is, but I’m just like any other batsman – once I’m settled in I can be difficult to get out. Sometimes these days I tend to be more relaxed, but sometimes I’m under pressure because of the situation the team is in. That sort of pressure can actually help me play better.
‘I still love playing cricket and I want to go on for as long as I can. It would be fantastic to be involved in another successful West Indies team. When I first started playing we used to win a lot of games so it would be great to be part of something like that again.’
Chanderpaul may have to wait a little while longer for the revival he craves, but there are a few rays of light on the horizon, where once all was dark. Between May, 2005 and June, 2007, the West Indies failed to win a single Test, losing 14 and drawing six in a wretched sequence of failure. But since then they have won a match in South Africa and secured series draws at home to Sri Lanka and down in New Zealand.
‘We definitely seem to be improving,’ said Chanderpaul. ‘The guys have been gelling together and playing some pretty decent cricket. In New Zealand we managed to draw the Test and Twenty20 series, so hopefully that has given us something to build on.
‘We’re getting better and feeling more confident, and we have a group of young fellas with a lot of talent coming through. We’re getting the vibe that people in the Caribbean are starting to believe in us again.’
Until the New Year, the West Indies were gearing up to tackle a Kevin Pietersen-led England team, then the batsman quit as captain over the fall-out from his rift with former coach Peter Moores. Thousands of miles away, Chanderpaul and Co were following the shambolic saga closely.
‘We heard about Kevin giving up the captaincy and the rest of it,’ he said. ‘It was big news all around the world and everyone was talking about it.
‘But I think England will still be focused on the job in hand, and Kevin will stay focused on his own goals. We expect England to come at us pretty hard. Even though they’ve had problems, we’ll have to play well. They won’t lie down and play dead.’
Yet, that is just what they did back on November 1, when these teams last met in altogether different circumstances. Then, a West Indies side under the banner of the Stanford Superstars claimed a crushing 10-wicket victory over England in the inaugural ‘Twenty20 for 20’ showdown – earning the players $1million each.
For Chanderpaul, it was easy money. He didn’t even have to bat for his slice of the gigantic pie. Now, with the future of the Stanford Super Series and regional tournament in doubt, he presents a strong case for the continuation of the events in the greater interests of cricket in the islands.
‘Stanford Twenty20 has always been a big thing in the Caribbean, even before England came here,’ he said. ‘It has always been popular and has created a real buzz around the region. It would be good for West Indies cricket for it to carry on, because it is putting money into our sport and getting young people interested in playing cricket again.’
Yet, the fight to keep the Twenty20 bandwagon rolling in the Caribbean can wait for another day. For now, Chanderpaul is just concentrating on keeping his own wheels in motion and England will be hard-pressed to apply the brake.
Shiv Chanderpaul was speaking to promote Sky Sports’ exclusively live and high definition coverage of England vs West Indies