By Tom Fordyce
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n the first day of the brand new Test summer at Lord’s, it was as if nothing had ever changed.
Men wore striped blazers and duck-egg blue trousers, England’s bowling attack ran through a struggling opposition line-up and Shivnarine Chanderpaul pushed and poked his way to within earshot of a century while those around him could only flash and dash.
Chanderpaul is now into his 140th Test. With his strange batting stance, all skewed feet and sideways bat, he is as graceful as a breeze-block and as hard to shift as a foundation stone, an imperturbable oddity in a fast-forward Twenty20 world. So long has he been around that he probably refers to Old Father Time as ‘Junior’.
He is also as effective a batsman as his country have ever produced. His 87 not out here, from a total of 243-9, brought his tally of Test runs over the past 18 years to a staggering 10,142 – more than Gavaskar, more than King Viv, more than Boycott, Sobers or Greenidge.
He is the ultimate example of substance over style. And those more celebrated swashbucklers he has long since overtaken are enormously grateful for every last obstinate over.
“He’s a talisman, and he has been for quite some time,” says Sir Viv Richards, perhaps the most charismatic batsman in West Indies history.
“In a team of inexperienced players, Shivnarine has done as much as any West Indian batsman of the past. I have him up there with the very best – Lara, Sobers. He’s at the top of tree as far as I’m concerned because of the teams he has played in.”
Chanderpaul at the crease can look as ungainly as Richards was mesmeric. So how can that techinique produce so many priceless runs?
“It goes to show you that sometimes the coaching manual can be astray,” says Richards, at Lord’s as an expert summariser for Test Match Special.
“As a batsman you have to find a technique that’s suitable to you. He long ago found that style worked for him – the two-eyed stance looking back down the track.
“It might look a little ungainly, but the most important thing is that at the point of contact with the ball, his bat is as straight as anyone in the world, and he gets himself into the same position as anyone with an orthodox stance.
“He played a few shots through the off side today. If he wasn’t in a good position he wouldn’t be able to accomplish that, or to stroke the ball as sweetly as he did.
“It doesn’t matter if your bat pick-up is as wide as third slip or gully, if it comes down straight. If you find something unorthodox that works for you, you don’t throw it away.”
Chanderpaul experienced several moments at Lord’s on Thursday that could have derailed lesser batsmen.
He was perilously close to being given out shouldering arms to a vicious James Anderson in-swinger, reprieved from a lbw death by an unlikely referral, should have been sent packing after being trapped on the front pad by Graeme Swann, and managed to run out the immensely talented Darren Bravo by the length of the entire pitch.
None of it appeared to make the slightest difference to his tempo or temperament. As wickets fell to Stuart Broad with percussive regularity at the other end, Chanderpaul just kept keeping on.
Thousands of miles away in India, his former team-mate Chris Gayle was working a very different kind of batting magic, smashing an astonishing 128 off 62 balls, including 13 sixes, in the IPL.
Chanderpaul is no-one’s idea of a big-money IPL marquee man. It is no sort of failure, though. “He’s such a calm individual, and he plays within himself,” says Richards.
“If he was in a swimming pool, he’d always stay in water where he could keep his feet on the bottom.
“He just doesn’t get flustered. Some batsmen, after that run-out with Bravo, would have thought that they owed something to the team, and gone hell for leather.
“As a batsman you have to put that out of your mind. Whether it’s his fault or Bravo’s, it doesn’t matter once it’s happened. What matters is the team. Settle down, play your natural game.
“His temperament is as good as anyone I’ve seen. I’m quite surprised the younger batsmen in the team haven’t looked at his success and tried to replicate it.
“When he left the tour of India, there was a lot of talk that he had been sent a letter from those in power, saying he should think about packing it up and making room for some younger guys to come through. That is crazy.
“The West Indies need him so much, and he’s got a way to go yet. He was never an aggressive player, so as the years go by it doesn’t matter that his eyes are a little older. He lives well, lives healthily, and what he has achieved is a testament to his professionalism.”
Some critics believe Chanderpaul is a little wasted coming in at five. With only Bravo above him a Test batsman of real class, wouldn’t he be better facing more balls and ensuring he never runs out of partners again?
“Not at all,” says Richards. “Whenever a guy’s getting it done for you, leave them alone.
“We had the same issue with Jeff Dujon. Because he was such a flamboyant batsman, the thinking of some was that we should move him a little higher in the order. But often that doesn’t work.
“You try to get your players in areas that will most benefit the team. And Chanderpaul is at his very best at five.
“I’ve been a fan of his for a long, long time, because he has held this West Indies team together.”