Shivnarine Chanderpaul- A West Indian legend bids adieu
Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them and some achieve it through tremendous hard work and resoluteness. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the West Indian cricketer, who has had his last hurrah in international cricket recently, certainly belongs to the last category. He never had the swagger of a Vivian Richards or the gifted talent of a Brian Lara. Nor did he possess the destructive ability that a Chris Gayle boasts of. Yet, Chanderpaul grew silently but steadily to become one of West Indies' greatest batsmen ever.
Till late 1980s, the Windies boasted of an invincible side featuring many fearsome cricketers and registered many glorious victories in a ruthless fashion.But, the team went into a seemingly perpetual decline in the subsequent years falling down to abysmal levels. It was the emergence of Brian Lara and Chanderpaul that lent their batting order a sense of respectability and prevented them from sinking further. They provided the oxygen that the team desperately needed to stay alive. Had it not been for the duo, it would not be an exaggeration to say that their batting line-up would have been considered no stronger than that of Zimbabwe or any other minnow.
Unlike Lara, Chanderpaul may not have been a flamboyant batsman but was easily the most effective and prolific West Indian batsman after Lara in modern cricket. He was not a batsman who bludgeoned the bowlers and dominated them but was the kind of old-fashioned batsman who wore the bowlers down, accumulated runs and played mammoth innings akin to a master builder who constructs great edifices, by patiently adding one brick after another. Here are some important features of Chanderpaul’s remarkable career.
Rose over the mighty shadow of Lara
As long as he donned the West Indian jersey, Lara was regarded as their best batsman, and rightly so. Often he was compared to India's Sachin Tendulkar, who is considered by many as the greatest ever batsmen, at least in modern cricket. If Lara was the West Indies' version of Tendulkar, it is fair to say that Chanderpaul was their version of Rahul Dravid. Much like Dravid, who inspite of possessing an immaculate technique, was put in shade by Tendulkar, Chanderpaul too remained under Lara's mighty shadow for a good part of his career. However, Chanderpaul never allowed this to affect his batting and went about accumulating loads of runs silently and made the world notice his feats. He clearly demonstrated to the opponents of the Windies that they need to reckon with him too instead of being obsessed with Lara alone. At the end of a long career spanning more than two decades, Chanderpaul fell short of Lara’s record tally of 11953 runs by a small margin of 86 runs.
The debate ‘who is the greatest Test batsmen around modern era’ always revolved around Tendulkar, Lara, Ricky Ponting and to some extent Jacques Kallis. That Chanderpaul is not even considered as a contender in spite of having made a staggering amount of runs shows how under-rated he has been. A career spanning over 21 years with 164 matches and 11867 runs – these are phenomenal numbers by any yardstick and only a handful of batsmen in the history of the game managed to score more number of runs than Shiv. Apart from Lara, Chanderpaul is the only batsmen from the Windies in the last 25 years (among those who played considerable cricket) to possess a batting average of more than 50 in Tests, which is considered as the benchmark for great batsmen in the modern era.
A lynchpin in ODIs too
While Chanderpaul’s test credentials are unquestionable, he was a key member of the ODI side as well. Initially, he was considered a misfit and was regularly hauled over the coals by the critics for his slow batting, but the way he later adapted was remarkable. Chanderpaul enjoyed a more than decent career in ODIs too.The fact that he played more than 260 ODIs and managed to close to 9K runs is a testimony to this. After all,the criticism centered on his Strike Rate (71) is a bit exaggerated considering that his contemporary greats including the likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq and Sourav Ganguly too had career of strike rates of just 75 and 74 respectively, which means Chanderpaul was not too far behind them. Did any critic ever say of Inzamam or Ganguly that their strike rates were unimpressive and hence were unfit for ODI cricket?
Substance over style
Shiv's batting style may not grab eyeballs like that of most other greats.His batting stance, which looks as if he is expecting the bowler to charge in from mid-wicket and bowl to him and with bat kept high in the air for a certain period of time till it makes contact with the ball, is definitely not one that pleases the game's beauty lovers. And for someone who does not have knowledge about his batting record, his bizarre batting stance may give the impression of Shiv being a tail-ender.
His batting may not be studded with a dazzling array of strokes that can leave everyone stunned but is replete with nudges, delicate deflections, a few sweet drives and quick pulls. But, look at the amount of runs he scored and one can understand his value. By adhering to text book technique, he often kept the bowlers at bay for long hours. Being stylish is not always synonymous with being great but a player of great substance can not be denied a place in the list of greats, regardless of his style. Shiv is one such cricketer who is more of substance than style. Cricket lovers are often guilty of valuing style of a player more than the substance he possesses. Had there been a parallel universe where substance is rated higher than style, a player like Chanderpaul would have attained far greater fame and recognition than he had got now.
Consistency and longevity
Consistency and longevity have been two greatest hallmarks of Chanderpaul’s career. Even a cursory look at his stats reveals how prolific and consistent he has been. To be able to maintain that high level of consistency and constantly raise the bar for himself over a period of more than two decades is legendary. Apart from minor slumps, there was really not a period in his amazingly long career when Chanderpaul was woefully out of form for too long.
Void in the Windies’ cricket
For more than two decades, Chanderpaul made a sterling contribution with the willow to the West Indies cricket. His resolute defence, water-tight technique and occasional aggression helped the team register a few magnificent victories and also saved them from semingly inevitable defeats on innumerable occasions. A partnership between Lara and Chanderpaul was probably the most reassuring sight for the West Indian fans and gave them confidence that any storm would be weathered, no matter how difficult it might be.
Post Lara’s retirement, the reliance of the team on Chanderpaul increased manifold and he continued to be the glue that held a line-up which had the propensity to collapse at the slightest hint of danger. He was often a lone-ranger fighting a losing battle for the team. And, he fought off many attacks across the world considerably well. Losing a player of such calibre would certainly leave a massive void in the team. Considering the fact that the West Indian management already tried and tested a slew of batsmen to unearth a world-class player but miserably failed to find out someone who is even half as good as a Lara or a Chanderpaul, the void left by his absence seems bigger and bigger.
Taking into account his splendid service to the West Indies cricket, Chanderpaul deserved a farewell Test but he was not destined to have it. The current West Indian team is certainly not so packed with excellent batting prospects to think that giving Chanderpaul a test would damage its winning chances in the match. Even after Lara’s assertion that Chanderpaul earned a farewell series, he was unfairly denied a farewell Test by the selectors but his place in the pantheon of the all-time greats of the West Indian cricket is undeniable.