If you were to consider the top five West Indian batters of all time, without a doubt you would include George Headley and Brian Lara. Uniting both players is not merely their exceptional talents with the bat, but that they excelled in weak sides. Headley, for example, was known as “atlas” because he carried the team’s batting on his shoulders.
I wonder where Shivnarine Chanderpaul would come on the list. The latest ICC Player of the Year may not have the strokes of Lara or the dominance of Headley, but he has carved himself into the most immovable portrayer of his craft.
In the tour of England last year, he kept a home attack at bay for nearly 17 hours between dismissals whilst averaging 148. He thereby became the first player to record three 1,000-minute vigils in Test cricket.
Chanderpaul provides an apt case of how environment has affected style of play. He originates from the humble fishing village of Unity on the northeast coast of Guyana, an hour’s drive from the capital Georgetown.
Unity’s population includes those of both East Indian and African descent. These are represented by the two Test cricketers the village has produced, Colin Croft and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Cricket was, as they say, in Chanderpaul’s blood, with his father keeping wicket to Croft while both uncles played for strong clubs. It helped that they grew up minutes from the cricket ground.
Not that the ground is how we imagine cricket pitches to be. Having no nets or square, it’s just a field of rough grass, often shared with goats and cows. His father and uncles cut a pitch, though it remained muddy and bumpy, not helped by the grazing animals wandering over it.
This type of pitch would encourage the watchful and defensive cricketer, and obviously didn’t hinder the young Chanderpaul. He was playing for his village at eight years old and for the Demerara Cricket Club Under-16s at age 10.
Joining the prestigious Georgetown Cricket Club, he scored 117 on debut. It was at Georgetown’s ground, Bourda, that he made his Test debut against England in March 1994 at 19, in which he impressed with 62.
Chanderpaul’s ascent is further affirmation of the rise of the East Indian community in West Indies cricket. About 160 years ago, hundreds of contracted labourers migrated to the Caribbean to work on the British-owned plantations. The descendents of these workers form roughly half the population of Guyana and Trinidad.
By the middle of the 20th century, three large communities lived side by side—the ruling whites who were on their way out, the Africans who had broken free, and the Indians who were still settling in.
Whilst players such as Sonny Ramadhin, Alvin Kallicharan, and Rohan Khanai played at the highest level, there was a feeling in the 1980s that the all-conquering West Indian sides were African-Caribbean by design.
Not a single Indian was selected to play under Viv Richards and the Ethiopian/Rastarafri colours of red, yellow, and green introduced to the West Indian logo suggested African colours for a team that was supposed to represent the whole of the Caribbean.
Recent West Indian sides have included Ramnaresh Sarwan, Darren Ganga, Dinanath Ramnarine, and Mahendra Nagamootoo from the Indian community.
Chanderpaul doesn’t dwell on issues of ethnicity. “My batting is for everyone,” he says. Yet as he is associated in his village with Croft, on a national basis he and now retired Carl Hooper, an Afro-Guyanese, have been projected as symbols of a coming together.
Their social place has even been portrayed in song: “We must play Carl and Shiv/That’s how we must live.”
Cricket has taken a battering in recent years in the Caribbean, yet the likes of Chanderpaul remind us of the merits of hard work, the ability to persevere, and the potential that a group of disparate islands have when all come together as one.
Source: Bleacher Report