Formidable barrier: Shivnarine Chanderpau
February 1, 2009
Amazing to recall, when England last toured the Caribbean in 2004, Shivnarine Chanderpaul was left out of the West Indies team for the final Test because the selectors judged he was suffering from lethargy. Well, that won’t be happening this time. Nowadays Chanderpaul does not do lethargy. His mind is as unbending as a machine, devoid of emotion and programmed for survival.
He is arguably the hardest man to dismiss in world cricket. Over the past seven years, only India’s Rahul Dravid, not for nothing nicknamed The Wall, has averaged longer at the crease in Test matches — 107.8 balls to Chanderpaul’s 104.3.
In each of the past two years, moreover, Chanderpaul has averaged in excess of 100, and that is something nobody can match. Neither has any visiting batsman to England — not even Bradman himself — bettered Chanderpaul’s average in the 2007 series of 148.67.
Nobody can claim that watching this tiny Guyanan dance around the crease like a featherweight boxer dodging punches is a pretty thing, but few would question the purity of his determination. It was not always like this. In his early days, Chanderpaul’s talent was never in question — he was taking half-centuries off England as a teenager — but, strangely for a man who would make an art out of blocking, he was in too much of a hurry and rarely converted fifties into hundreds. He was selling himself short.
“I was too anxious,” he recalls now. “I was trying a little too hard. I wanted to get to 100 but never realised you needed to take your time to get there. It was not going to happen all in one go. I needed to be prepared to bat longer and not rush everything. I had to work for my runs.”
This was a problem that took years to correct and one of the ways Chanderpaul did it was to approach net sessions as though they were Test matches. “I go to the nets and play it like it is a game situation, where you go out and try to survive. You play shots when you can but the aim is to not get out. Every session is like a Test match and I bat the same as I would in a Test. I think it helps when you play a game.”
Chanderpaul will bat for hours in practice. Geoff Boycott had nothing on him as a net junky. Back in 2004, when he had his “lethargy” problem, Chanderpaul sought to address the matter on a subsequent tour of England with marathon practice sessions that exhausted the goodwill of teammates. In the end he had to press into service the team’s trainer, Roger Rogers, to bowl at him. But the regime worked: in the Lord’s Test, he returned to form with 128 and 97 not out.
Hard work has remained part of the Chanderpaul method ever since. No batting coach helps him with these spartan sessions or advises him when technical glitches occasionally crop up. Chanderpaul is as solitary in his preparations as he is fighting a lone hand in a Test match while wickets fall at the other end. “I don’t need help from anyone,” he says matter-of-factly. “I do my own work. When something needs doing, I work it out for myself.”
Doesn’t he ever get bored during those long vigils at the crease? “No. Never.”
In that, he is unusual in a team short on people with an appetite for big scores. Chris Gayle, for example, has scored only eight hundreds in 75 Tests. Compare that with the record of Chanderpaul, whose unbeaten 126 in Napier before Christmas was his 20th century in 114 Tests.
England will have their plans for Chanderpaul, as they must. He is an lbw candidate early in his innings and has been known to nick balls aimed at off stump, but their team talks will also turn to managing the situation if Chanderpaul gets himself in. Because he bats five in a team with a brittle lower order, he has often found himself in with the tail. If that happens, expect England to attack the weaker links and try to keep Chanderpaul quiet.
Ryan Sidebottom, who bowled better at Chanderpaul than anybody else in the 2007 series and frustrated him out at Old Trafford, is aware of the challenge.
“He is so patient,” he says. “He doesn’t give anything away. Even when you beat the bat, he still hangs in there. Nothing seems to affect him and if you are slightly off line, he will punish you.
“The thing is that he plays the ball very late, which may be why he plays and misses quite a bit because he doesn’t follow the ball. You have just got to be patient yourself and make him play as much as possible.”
The only other bowler to dismiss Chanderpaul during that series was Monty Panesar, who turned one out of the rough to have him lbw at Lord’s and bowled him, attempting a sweep, at Chester-le-Street.
Even by his own high standards, Chanderpaul has just enjoyed an extraordinary 12 months. In 2008, he signed a contract with Bangalore in the Indian Premier League worth more than $100,000 a year, played half a season for Durham in the campaign that led to their first championship and then won a cool $1m in the Stanford Challenge against England without having to bat, bowl or take a catch.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he says of the Stanford day. “I was standing there, watching and thinking, ‘What is going on?’ I was happy, but also in shock. It was fantastic to win that amount of money. It can take a whole career to earn that.
“The money has not changed the atmosphere in the dressing room. We still want to do well and help our team get back to winning ways.
“It is nice to have the money, but you have to remember what you love doing and why you have been doing it your entire life. You don’t want to give that up right away. You just want to keep playing.” And, he might add, batting.
– Sky Sports will show live and HD coverage of West Indies v England