The Great Chanderpaul

It is getting to be something of a habit, writing about Shivnarine Chanderpaul in these leader columns. But the man, for whom run making is itself an acquired behaviour pattern, continues to defy bowling attacks around the world and the passage of time, as he keeps churning out the runs, even at the age of 38 and after 148 Test matches.

Chanderpaul has just scored his 28th Test century, against Zimbabwe, two above Garfield Sobers and six behind Brian Lara among West Indians. His Test aggregate now stands at 10,830 runs; again second only to Lara among West Indians. That he has scored so many runs is obviously related to his longevity and the number of matches he has played, but it is well worth emphasising that his average is now 51.81, a more reliable indicator of his productivity than any other statistic. Of West Indians to have played more than 20 Tests, only the legends, George Headley, Everton Weekes, Sobers, Clyde Walcott and Lara enjoy higher averages. Moreover, since 2005, Chanderpaul has averaged 61, making a mockery of conventional notions of the rise and fall of a batsman’s career over time. In addition, he has held the number one ranking in Test cricket on three occasions, in 2008, 2009 and 2012, and is, currently, still among the world’s elite, holding steady at number three.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been likened to various members of the animal kingdom: ugly duckling, crab and tiger come to mind. He has been described as stubborn, obdurate, single-minded, dogged, gritty, determined, brave, consistent, disciplined, dependable and, immoveable. And the list goes on in the same vein. But, in spite of his record-breaking accomplishments, there are still those who would withhold the adjective “great,” somehow finding ways to qualify their praise of a man who bats like no other of the acknowledged greats of West Indies cricket.

During the last Test match against Zimbabwe, Tony Cozier, the doyen of West Indian cricket commentators, aired his personal view that Chanderpaul could not be ranked among the greats of West Indies cricket because he had not played enough match-winning innings. One cannot help but feel that this is an unbecoming and surprisingly churlish opinion, given the well-known weaknesses of the teams in which Chanderpaul has played and the fact that no one would dare level such an accusation against George Headley, an indisputably great batsman who alone could not raise West Indies teams of generally modest talent to win consistently.

Let us be clear: we are not saying that Chanderpaul is as great a batsman as Headley was, but in both cases, context is critical. Since the retirement of Lara, Chanderpaul has been the one world-class Test batsman in the West Indies team, whose match-saving innings alone should merit the accolade of “great.”

No one would, however, claim for Chanderpaul the coruscating genius of Sobers or Lara. Not for him the almost brutal insouciance of Viv Richards or the power of Clive Lloyd. The old-timers would tell us that he is no match for the pure, classical elegance of Frank Worrell or the dashing individuality and artistry of Rohan Kanhai. As has been pointed out countless times before, Chanderpaul, with his crablike stance, is not one for the game’s aesthetes.

Yet, for the purists among us, those who truly love Test cricket for all that it represents of life’s ups and downs and the way that the five-day drama literally puts to the test skill and character, Chanderpaul is a very special cricketer indeed. For people who appreciate what it is to have a God-given talent and to realise and even go beyond what one might consider its natural limits, Chanderpaul is a case study of the will to succeed. And for those who truly understand batsmanship, especially when quite often the batsman is like the proverbial boy on the burning deck, Chanderpaul’s ability to apply his unorthodox technique and to draw from within, to stand firm, accumulate runs and wear down the opposition, is simply awesome.

Unfortunately, we live in times when style too often tends to overshadow substance, not just in cricket but in almost every aspect of West Indian life. Perhaps, ’twas ever thus. But the characteristics attributed to Chanderpaul above are worthy of any role model for young and old alike, in any age. Maybe, if more of our politicians, business leaders, citizens and young people were more like Shivnarine Chanderpaul our region would be in a far better place than it is now.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s record already speaks for itself. Those of us who have seen him bat and have formed an appreciation of the challenges he has overcome to score as consistently as he has and even to raise his game as he has grown older, should unreservedly acknowledge him as the great batsman that he is. And yes, we can all admit that he is different, but maybe we all need to be a little different to do better.

Source: Stabroek News Editorial