The folly of omitting Shivnarine Chanderpaul

– by Roger Sawh

“Chanderpaul in One Day Cricket? He’s too old man! Brethren, he doesn’t score fast enough, he needs 150 overs! He’s been in so many losses man! Brotha, we’ve got to move on from him!”

In the above few lines lies a modern day cricket mystery that I struggle to comprehend.

The West Indies’ one day international cricket team of 2013 is the personification of the phrase ‘all flash and little substance’. Blessed with a galaxy of stars of the T20 arena, it’s a group that would command an IPL owner’s highest bids with ease, and given 20 overs of operation, would likely deliver breathtaking results. Sadly for them, T20s and ODIs are entirely different endeavors.

On the spectrum of cricket formats, ODIs are thought to be in the middle while T20s and Tests lie at the respective extremes. A closer consideration, though, gives a better idea of things as ODI cricket is more test cricket than T20 in nature. Because of the requirement on batsmen to be able to build an innings, ODIs necessitate patience, soundness of technique, deep consideration, concentration, and conditional awareness. Whereas in T20s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am 50 in no time at all is a game changer, in ODIs its effect is not quite as prolific – a steady and calculated approach bears great fruit in a 50 over war of attrition, as the value of an innings lies not just in the shots and runs, but also in the negotiation of bowlers, spells, fielding restrictions and playing conditions.

In the Windies’ set up, the vast majority of batsmen either lack completely or inexplicably suppress the rare talent of innings building. It is a talent that Shivnarine Chanderpaul, an evergreen of close to 300 ODIs that has been producing runs across formats despite approaching the age of 40, has bursting forth from his anti-glare eye patches. It is a gift that the powers that be in West Indies team selection are willfully blind to, and as collapses just continue to litter modern day West Indies cricket history, it is a boon that has been simply deserted.

Recent history bears testament to the need for a Shiv-like presence. Throughout the course of the Champions Trophy, when Chris Gayle or Marlon Samuels failed to provide a platform for an innings, the team’s batting would generally be lost at sea. In the just concluded tri-series with India and Sri Lanka, fireworks in Jamaica only temporarily hid the batting unit’s frailties, as the team eventually failed to make their own home series final. Fast forward to just a few days ago, when Pakistan surgically dismantled the West Indies batting approach on a minefield in Providence, Guyana, and you could see the tumour just grow.

After pinpointing the ineptitude of the order against pressure, and recognizing the gaping need for an anchor man, the Pakistani’s simply did what their team has the ability to do – they bowled a consistent and threatening line and length to allow the mentally fragile batsmen to whither in the South American heat. If only there were a stabilizer, a thorn in opposition’s side, a Trott-like gnat to hover annoyingly despite the predators fiercest swipes. If only substance had not been jettisoned for style, and if only conditional awareness had come into play when the squad was being picked to select a player, any player, that could dig deep and tackle the demons of the pitch and the opposition. Shiv Chanderpaul is world renown for prizing his wicket like none other – more often than not, he would have found a way to tough things out.

Those who call for Chanderpaul completely understand the argument by some against his inclusion. Quite frankly, though, it doesn’t hold when compared with the need that exists. Across the cricketing world, ODI nations have their best test batsmen in their lineups because they recognize that the format requires a chutzpah that great test batsmen possess. From Amla to Trott to Misbah, there is a knowledge that you need backbone in an ODI batting lineup, regardless of the lack of glamour. Until and unless some other batsman steps up to do the dirty work, the selectors have to plug the enormous hole in their order.

Shiv Chanderpaul never retired from ODI cricket – he was a victim of a post-World Cup 2011 purge that placed blame at his feet for an unsuccessful campaign that the team had. He was a scapegoat, and he was thrown away in ODIs for the wrong reasons.

Shiv is often described as a ‘crab’ at the crease. Crabs don’t make great entertainers. They don’t drive with elegance or pull with panache. They claw. They scratch. They exist in perpetual commotion with themselves, lacking suave but forever battling against all challenges. For the West Indies, there needs to be a survivor among the showmen; not only to see out the difficulties, but to help them develop strong shells of their own.