On any given day one would prefer watching Mark Waugh caress bowlers with his impeccable footwork than seeing his twin nudging the ball around and waiting for the loose ball to latch onto. Likewise, a dancing Brian Lara belting bowlers across the park is a much better sight than the criss-cross steps that Shivnarine Chanderpaul takes to play balls across the line. But, when it comes to inspiration for youngsters playing gully cricket, I bet the images of Steve Waugh and Chanderpaul come more often than those of Mark and Lara. There lies the beauty of hard-working, determined men with limited potential. They can instill inspiration and confidence and make successful cricketers out of school-going cricket hobbyists.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s philosophy in cricket seems simple. He doesn’t bother much about the means to reach his ends. If an awkward stance can help him face bowlers comfortably, he will take it; If an ugly nudge can get the ball past the slip cordon and get him a boundary, he is all bats for it; if ducking shabbily to a bouncer can save him from getting hit, he will do it! He’s much like the character Boris from Woody Allen’s 2009 film; he feels he can choose to do Whatever Works!
The gritty, resilient lad from the Caribbean is now the 10th player to reach the grand milestone of reaching 10,000 runs in Test cricket and nobody before him would have sweated as he had in reaching the number. All his companions in the 10k club have been part of some wonderfully talented teams with a good success ratio. By no means am I demeaning their efforts but it very important to note that Chanderpaul has been able to reach the landmark amidst hardships, titanic struggles, cruel losses, uninspired teams and dirty team politics. The tattoo that he sports underneath his eyes, which are actually advertisements of a firm named Mueller have often been mistaken a some Caribbean Isle flag – an excellent example of why people intrinsically perceive the patriotism of the man!
At a time when West Indian cricket was in doldrums after the sole star among them – B.C. Lara – was about to retire, Chanderpaul came to the team’s rescue and has been handling the role of the anchor amazingly well. His career is now at its peak – not many can boast of such a statistic at an age of 38! It would take him only a few more innings to cross the legendary Sunil Gavaskar and we might even see him go past Lara’s numbers one day. If and when that happens, it could turn out to be one of the best examples of how mediocrity can triumph over excellence when it is bolstered by the necessary ingredients epitomised by Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
His innings have not always been dull, one-run-after-one-run constructions like many perceive. He has gone to other extremes as well. In the home series against Australia in 2003, he made an uncanny century when the team was completely collapsing around him – It still remains the 4thfastest hundred in Test Cricket. His proficiency extends into the ODI format as well where too he stands among the top run-getters with a healthy above-40 average. The annihilation of Vaas’s last two-balls in an ODI in 2008 remains among the best finishes – when Windies needed 10 off the last 2, he came up with a four and a six quite effortlessly!
Chanderpaul is what the other contemporary West Indian stars are not. He has been doing what some of his colleagues from the past have failed to do. While stars such as Ambrose, Walsh, Lara have distanced themselves away from Cricket after their retirements, the onus is on Chanderpaul to inject belief and hope into the next generation of cricketers from the islands. So far, he has been doing that with aplomb. Like the mark he leaves on the pitch by tapping the bail with his bat when he takes guard let us hope he remains grounded to West Indies Cricket post-retirement and leave a permanent mark on it even after he hangs up his boots one day! Till then, let us celebrate grit, work and passion watching the veteran construct innings the way ants build homes!