Sticky customers

Sunday, Aug 05, 2007 

It’s tough batting for 1,000 minutes without getting dismissed. Shivnarine Chanderpaul has done it thrice.
Photo: AFP

Rare grit: Shivnarine Chanderpaul kisses the wicket after scoring 100 runs against England during the fourth cricket test at The Riverside.

When Shivnarine Chanderpaul made his Test debut, back in the early 1990s, I recall reading a profile of him that spoke of the advice given to him when he was growing up. “Dee man Gavaskar,” his father told young Shiv, “Dee man Gavas kar, if he make more than fifty, he always get to a hundred.”

When his son made eight half-centuries in his first 10 Tests, the senior Chanderpaul must have been pleased; but the pleasure might have been mixed with irritation, for not once was the fifty converted into a hundred. In his next nine Tests Shivnarine scored four more half-centuries. It was only in his 20th appearance in West Indian colours that he finally hit his first century. He now has 16 Test centuries to his name, less than half as many as Gavaskar, but still, 16 more than you or me.

Unique style

I do not know if Chanderpaul pére is still alive. If he is, he must be greatly satisfied with the progress of his son. For, as Simon Briggs writes in Cricinfo, despite being the “possessor of the crabbiest technique in wo rld cricket, Shivnarine Chanderpaul proves there is life beyond the coaching handbook. He never seems to play in the V, or off the front foot, but uses soft hands, canny deflections, and a whiplash pull-shot to maintain a Test average over 40”.

Somewhere in the West Indies there must surely be a father telling a promising boy batsman about “dee man Chanderpaul”, dee man who, if he once get in, never get out. This past summer in England the dogged left-hander put his name on one of the most select lists in cricket: of those who have batted for more than a thousand minutes in Test cricket without being dismissed. Actually, he put his name there again — or, one should say, again and again. Six batsmen feature on this list: they include the great modern masters Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, and Rahul Dravid. The list is completed by Nasser Hussain and Shoaib Mohammed. All except Chanderpaul have done the deed only once.

Curious fact

The interesting thing about this list is that it contains two Indians, a Pakistani, an Indian-born Englishman, and a Guyanese of Indian origin. The Anglo-Saxon and Afro-American worlds are represented by the solitary figure of Jacques Kallis. This is curious, for, the literature of cricket is replete with stories of Englishmen who defended heroically to save Tests and series. Among those thus memorialised are the 19th century stonewaller W.H. Scotton, and the England captain of the early 1920s, J.W.H.T. Douglas, whose initials were said to stand for “Johnny Won’t Hit Today”. Then there was Trevor “Barnacle” Bailey, whose innings against Australia are even more widely written about. And represented in drawings as well. I recall a marvellous cartoon by Roy Ulyett, in which Bailey’s bat was about five feet wide and made of brick. The furious fast balls sent down by Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller would hit this wall with a thud, and fall tamely to the ground.

Hyped reputations

The English have always been very good at inflating the reputations of their heroes. The rest of the world, and we in the colonies in particular, have been made to believe that there never were any poets as eloquent, any generals as brave, any explorers as intrepid, or any monarchs as benign as the English representatives of that particular trade or profession. (The only field of human achievement that is exempted from this hyperbole is cuisine — even the English wouldn’t dare claim that their food is the tastiest in the world.)

Having been brought up myself on tales of Douglas and Bailey, I was surprised to see the list being flashed on the screen when Chanderpaul put his name on it for the third time. My first reaction was surprise; the second reaction, however, was delight. For, I also discovered that the first man to bat for a thousand minutes in Test cricket without being dismissed was Shoaib Mohammed. In this case, obdurancy and defiance surely ran in the genes, for, by now even English cricket writers recognise that Shoaib’s father, Hanif Mohammed, was the greatest defensive batsman in the history of the game.

Going on and on

Hanif is the hero of my two favourite stories about cricket. One is told in the last pages of my book A Corner of a Foreign Field, so I will not repeat it here. The other concerns an innings he played in Bridgetown exactly 50 years ago this winter. As Hanif battled to save a Test match against Wes Hall, Gary Sobers and company, a boy watching from atop a palm tree outside the stadium lost consciousness — through a combination of heatstroke, palm wine, and the dull drone-like sound of Hanif’s defensive bat. He fell to the ground and was taken off to a nearby hospital. When he recovered consciousness two days later, the boy’s first words were: “Is Hanif still batting?”. The answer, alas for him, was in the affirmative.

In all, Hanif batted for 970 minutes, scoring 337 runs in the meantime. He got out in the end, but by then the Test had been saved. Had he batted for another half an hour, he would have become the first man to bat 1,000 minutes without being dismissed. That, years later, it was his son who first achieved this honour is wonderfully appropriate.

Source: The Hindu

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