By CHRIS BARCLAY | Thursday, 18 December 2008
Naturally Shivnarine Chanderpaul was the last man out of the nets when the West Indies practice session wound down ahead of Friday’s second and final cricket test against New Zealand at McLean Park.
FORM OF HIS LIFE: A streak of 20 test innings at an average of over 100 has seen West Indies batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul surpass Sir Garfield Sobers on the country’s all-time run scorers list.
Chanderpaul would doubtless have kept taking guard but his teammates had had enough and the local net bowlers were tiring in the Hawke’s Bay heat.
If there had been a bowling machine available and someone to feed it on Wednesday the 34-year-old from Guyana would have happily continued honing his strokeplay and a meticulous preparation for his latest assignment at the heart of the West Indies top order.
The unorthodox left hander is proof quality time in the nets corresponds with time in the middle – over the past two years Chanderpaul has practically been an immovable object at one end of the pitch.
Leading into the first test in Dunedin last week Chanderpaul averaged a remarkable 105.41 from his last 20 test innings.
Typically he anchored the West Indian middle order during the tourists’ only bat at University Oval – a chanceless 76 from 200 balls until he was the last wicket to fall, bowled by Daniel Vettori to a low percentage sweep he would not have contemplated had he not had tailender Fidel Edwards for company.
He also shared in a record 153-run stand for the seventh wicket with maiden test centurion Jerome Taylor, content for once to sit back and rotate the strike for the younger, audacious boundary hitter.
Although Taylor’s 106 was the eye catching innings, Chanderpaul still managed to register his 50th test half century and pass the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers (8032) on the West Indies all-time test run scorers list.
From Friday he will seek to improve on his current total of 8077. Another West Indian knight, the Master Blaster, Sir Vivian Richards is his next on 8540 while Brian Lara (11,953) remains out of sight.
Chanderpaul’s batting over the past 24 months – 1265 runs including five centuries and nine 50s – sees him in the form of his life, a happy predicament he can offer only a simple explanation for.
“I’ve been doing a lot of focus on my batting, a lot of work in the nets. Mentally preparing myself for the games, watching television and videos of the bowlers and getting organised properly.
“You keep putting in the hard work every day, you work on your problems, the things that are bothering you and also your strengths and try to improve in every area you can.”
It is a template that enabled him to amass 313 runs against the Australian in June. He scored a half century or better in four innings against the world champions. His final knock, an exact 50, was the only time he was dismissed.
Chanderpaul was the captain the last time the West Indies toured here in 2005-06 – a role that did not sit comfortably with him.
He was relieved of the post 14 tests into his rein after leaving a waterlogged Napier with a series average of 14.80 and has never looked back.
“Yeah, it has been a help,” Chanderpaul said of life as a former skipper.
“I have a lot more time to relax and focus on my game.”
The focus inevitably falls on him when he strides out to middle, taking guard by tapping a bail into the crease line as a reference and then assuming his unusual front-on stance before he swivels to a conventional batting position as the ball is delivered.
Although explosive opener Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan are also batting focal points, Chanderpaul is often the key to running through the West Indian tail.
Chanderpaul has proven incredibly difficult to dislodge early – scoring just one duck in his last 21 innings – and is seemingly unaffected by the pressure of having to hold the middle and lower orders together.
“I just clear my head and just go out and try to get focused on the job in front of me,” he said.
And despite being a metronomic gatherer of runs, milestones are rarely a priority for him – though overtaking the great Sobers was a source of immense pride.
“We all admire him and picture ourselves to be one day like him,” he said.
“As young fellas you heard the name, you see him and you want to be like him. It’s an honour to actually be up there.”