It’s got to be Shiv

Fazeer Mohammed

September 10, 2008

In a desperately weak West Indies side, the pressure is almost always on Shivnarine Chanderpaul to deliver ©

Surely they can’t bypass Shiv this time.

Not that he needs any formal acknowledgement to validate another prolific 12 months, but there can really be no other option for International Cricket Council “Cricketer of the Year” than Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Amid the darkest period in the history of the West Indian game, Chanderpaul has emerged from the considerable shadow of Brian Lara to confirm to everyone what most discerning observers already knew: that he is one of the premier batsmen of our time and, at the age of 34 and with 8,001 runs in Tests and 7,573 in one-day internationals to his name, must be ranked among the very best Caribbean batsmen of all time.

Of course, in a cricketing world given over to the sensational and the glamorous, and a Caribbean environment fixated with style and machismo as much as substance, Chanderpaul is almost always judged very harshly.

Few would pay money just to watch him and his crab-like shuffle across the crease. There are suggestions of selfishness and an unhealthy preoccupation with the asterisk (in other words, not to get out) that jeopardises opportunities to win or at least save matches. And on top of all of that, he isn’t a personality, a media-savvy character who can sell the game and sell himself.

But, and this is the critical point, he scores runs, plenty of them and in all forms of the game. So, when comparing him with the other contenders for the major prize at today’s ICC awards function in Dubai, Chanderpaul seems to be doing a Richard Thompson in holding off the rest of the field, although he doesn’t have to worry about the equivalent of a Usain Bolt well clear of the chasing pack and already celebrating victory.

Let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

For the period under review – August 9, 2007 to August 12, 2008 – Chanderpaul has compiled 819 runs in eight Tests at an average of 91 with three hundreds and six fifties. In ODIs, he has tallied 598 runs in 13 matches at an average of 74.75 and a strike-rate of 74.19 with one hundred and five fifties.

The stats on the other contenders for “Cricketer of the Year” are as follows:

  • Mahela Jayawardene: Tests – 10 matches, 1127 runs (ave 75.13), five hundreds, three fifties; ODIs – 22 matches, 504 runs (ave 26.52), five fifties.

  • Graeme Smith: Tests – 16 matches, 1476 runs (ave 56.76), five hundreds, four fifties; ODIs – 21 matches, 920 runs (ave 48.42), one hundred, nine fifties.

  • Dale Steyn: Tests – 14 matches, 86 wickets (ave 18.10), six 5WI, two 10WM; ODIs – seven matches, nine wickets (ave 37.00), economy rate 5.13 per over.

Chanderpaul, Jayawardene and Smith are also in the running for the “Test Cricketer of the Year” award along with Jacques Kallis, whose numbers for the review period are: 16 matches, 1331 runs (ave 57.86), six hundreds, four fifties; 27 wickets (ave 27.37), one 5WI.

Of course, this isn’t just a numbers game. But, even in the case of context, Chanderpaul still compares very favourably with the Sri Lankan captain and the trio of South Africans. His hundred in Port Elizabeth laid the foundation for a historic first Test victory in South Africa, while centuries against Australia at Sabina Park and the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium reflected the courage and determination that are his trademarks. An unbeaten 86 perfectly complemented Ramnaresh Sarwan’s hundred in guiding West Indies to a deceptively easy series-levelling victory over Sri Lanka in Port of Spain.

In one-dayers, who could ever forget those final two deliveries of the match at the Queen’s Park Oval when, with ten runs needed to win, he drove Chaminda Vaas straight for four and then hoisted a low full-toss for six over Jayawardene’s disbelieving head on the midwicket boundary?

While his lack of articulation and unassuming manner rule him out as an ICC poster boy, it is his constant flow of runs and not intermittent dribble of words that makes him worthy of being its “Cricketer of the Year”

More than these considerations, however, is the burdensome reality, as Lara experienced before him, that in such a desperately weak West Indies side, the pressure is almost always on Chanderpaul to deliver whenever he walks out to the middle.

Yet such has been the effectiveness with which he has first blunted and then prospered off the very best attacks, sometimes it almost appears that the opposition, recognising him as a virtual immovable object, concentrate their firepower on the man at the other end.

This is not meant to minimise the stellar 12 months that Jayawardene, Smith and Steyn have enjoyed, but their efforts are considerably enhanced as key members of much stronger and more successful teams, where responsibility is not resting so disproportionately heavy on their shoulders.

Jayawardene plundered big hundreds off England in consecutive Tests and followed that up with another century in the first-ever Test at Providence in Guyana. Apart from his batting prowess, Smith’s maturity as a leader was reflected in notable series triumphs in Pakistan and England.

Steyn, for his part, continues to reap handsome rewards with his pace and accuracy. Just being in such an elite shortlist is an achievement in itself. But having delivered with the bat in previous years and then missing out on international recognition in highly questionable circumstances, Chanderpaul is truly deserving of this highest accolade, firstly on merit, and secondly on sentiment.

It’s not his fault that the West Indies are in such a mess, and while his lack of articulation and unassuming manner rule him out as an ICC poster boy; it is his constant flow of runs and not intermittent dribble of words that makes him worthy of being its “Cricketer of the Year”.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad

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