THE DISTANCE BETWEEN Shivnarine Chanderpaul and the rest in the ICC’s annual Cricketer Of The Year award last week was every bit as absolute as Usain Bolt’s in the 100 metres at Beijing a fortnight earlier.
Its impact on a sport for which the West Indies once set the standards but who have now fallen on hard times should be equally as strong as Bolt’s on athletics.
It is a shining light amidst the continuing gloom, an example to the coming, indeed the present, generation of what can be achieved by “the sort of dedication, bravery and skill required to excel at the highest level”, as ICC president David Morgan put it in reference to Chanderpaul’s success.
His stats over the relevant period (from August 2007 to August 2008) were phenomenal.
His average of 91 an innings in his eight Tests against three of the strongest contemporary teams, South Africa, Sri Lanka and No.1 Australia, was fully 12.3 runs better than the next man, Australia’s Andrew Symonds.
In 13 One-Day Internationals, his 74.75 also topped the list, more than six runs ahead of Mohammed Yousuf of Pakistan.
No world record was involved and there were certainly no exuberant celebrations, even though, as a friend noted, Bolt was copying Chanderpaul’s stance in running the last 20 metres of the Olympics 100 sideways.
These are two West Indians different in every way except in their pursuit of excellence – Bolt the giant, loose-limbed, party-loving Jamaican, Chanderpaul the quiet, unassuming, “elfin” (to use Australian writer Greg Baum’s word) Guyanese.
The former delights in his success and relishes the limelight, the latter celebrates his landmarks with a gentle kiss of the pitch and regards the interviewers’ microphone as a dangerous weapon to be avoided.
Yet they have both stressed that hard work, commitment and love of their sport are what got them where they are. They are attributes seemingly ignored by West Indies cricketers of recent vintage, so many of whom have wasted natural ability far more apparent than Chanderpaul’s.
Chanderpaul, of course, could not have maintained his record of consistency over his 14 years as an international batsman without talent. It is just that it has been honed by diligent practice from the time his father and friends bowled at him as a frail boy, hour after hour, in the environs of their humble home in Unity Village.
He has not had the benefit of academies and centres of excellence or, until recently, a contract in English county cricket. It has been based on strict self-discipline.
While others are relieved when a long, hot session in the nets is over, Chanderpaul is begging for more. Even team media managers Imran Khan and Philip Spooner report they spend extra time hurling down balls to help him refine a certain shot. He has even installed a bowling machine at his home in Florida to keep him sharp.
It is such dedication that has developed his game so that he has become as adaptable as any batsman of his time.
His basic method is still peculiarly his own. It is based on a quirky front-on stance from which he commits himself so late to safety-first strokes where pushes and deflections are his main run-earners.
It is not pretty but, as he never tires telling the critics, it works for him. Ask the bowlers who, on four separate occasions in Tests, have taken more than 1 000 minutes between innings to dismiss him.
Yet, over the years he has had the confidence and inventiveness to develop an attacking side that can strike suddenly, like Clark Kent emerging from the telephone booth as Superman.
The contrast can be as great as his self-centred grind for 11 hours, 25 minutes over an unbeaten 136 in Antigua in 2002 and his seven-and three-quarter hour debut Test hundred against India at Kensington Oval in 1997 to his hundred off 69 balls against Australia at Bourda in 2003, the fourth fastest in Test history.
When someone had the bright idea of using him to open in ODIs to counter Chris Gayle, Chanderpaul often matched his power-hitting partner run for run. They formed the West Indies’ most productive ODI first wicket pairing until someone had another bright idea and slipped Chanderpaul back down the order.
Not that it has made much difference, as indicated by his ODI record, both over the ICC awards period and overall (average 40.49, strike rate 70, 74 sixes, after 235 matches).
For much of Chanderpaul’s career, he was in the inevitable shadow of the supreme genius of Brian Lara, often his fellow left-hander’s steady partner, most famously along the way to his first Test record 375 in Antigua in 2004.
He is now the last man standing from the team in which he made his debut, aged 19, against England on his home ground at Bourda in 1994.
Since Lara retired following the World Cup in April last year, Chanderpaul has averaged 105 an innings in Tests, with five hundreds, and 98 in ODIs, with two.
Quite apart from the team’s depressing decline, Chanderpaul has not been free of personal disappointment and despair.
Injuries and illnesses eliminated him from 17 Tests in the late 1990s into early 2000.
Thrust into the captaincy by the acrimonious dispute between the West Indies Cricket Board and the West Indies Players Association, he was let down by some senior players who dissed him for choosing to keep on playing rather than boycott the 2005 tour of Sri Lanka.
It prompted his resignation after the New Zealand tour of 2006 but it could not destroy his love for the game or his commitment to West Indies cricket.
As his exploits are acknowledged with the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy, Chanderpaul has set standards for all those to follow.
Xavier Marshall, Leon Johnson, Adrian Barath, Kieron Powell, Kraig Brathwaite and other up-and-comers, please copy.
Source: Nation News