Just Doing What He Does

It is early Spring in England. As I write, the rain is lashing against the window. The West Indies are due back in England soon. This, and the fact that he has just completed ten thousand runs in Test cricket, means that people are writing about Shivnarine Chanderpaul again.

They do this every few years. The rest of the time he just goes on doing what he does.

I can only recommend the outstanding pieces by Alex Bowden and Rob Steen which Cricinfo has carried in the last few days, but I can also add a few thoughts of my own.

The essence of great West Indian batsmanship is as hard to define as most other things in the game. But, if you were going to try, you’d probably come up with something which comprised the trailblazing style and run-hunger of Headley, the savage power of Weekes, Lloyd and Richards, the technical rigour of Greenidge and the elegance and skill of Lara.

Would you even think about Shivnarine Chanderpaul? Well, unless you were Guyanese, or drunk, or possibly both, you wouldn’t. And you’d be right, because, unless you really look, there’s little that Chanderpaul does that is different, or unusual, or exceptional, apart, of course from the crabbiest stance seen in international cricket since the retirement of Peter Willey, and what sometimes appears to be an inability to get out. As with so many players, though, the sum of the parts is greater than the parts themselves, and, in the case of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, that sum is really superb.

But, as I say, you have to look.

I started looking back in the nineties. The first time I came across Chanderpaul was when England toured the West Indies in early 1994. When Brian Lara pulled Chris Lewis for four to break the world individual Test batting record at the Antigua Recreation Ground, a slight young left-hander was at the other end, 70-odd not out.

Other people were looking too. I didn’t have Sky at the time so I had to rely on TMS. Trevor Bailey, always a shrewd judge of a player, liked him. During the latter stages of their partnership he posed the question ‘was Lara any better when he was nineteen?’. Of course, nobody knew, but it was pretty obvious that, as players went, Chanderpaul wasn’t bad.

I first saw him in the flesh at Taunton, early in the West Indies tour of England in 1995. Apart from the way he stood at the wicket, the thing that first struck me was the contrast between the way he looked and the way he batted. Seeing him line up, all spiky limbs, furrowed brow and jumpy, unorthodox stance, you fancied him as a journeyman blocker. Then you saw him hit the ball.

In spite of the way he appeared, there was a co-ordinated ease of timing and speed of reaction about Chanderpaul which immediately marked him out as a class player. Anything full was defended with a straightness of bat which belied his whippy, angular backlift, while anything over-pitched and drifting towards his pads would be turned through the leg side with perfect timing, left hand firmly in control. Anything short would be cuffed through midwicket, the same left hand keeping the ball on the ground. The scoreboard always seemed to be ticking over.

Throughout the seventeen years that have since passed, Chanderpaul has remained the impregnable, impassive, rock upon which the fragile West Indies batting has been anchored. Even before Lara retired he was one of the three go-to men for crease occupation and run-hunger in the world, with only the more widely-lauded Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis anywhere close. But then Chanderpaul always had a counter-intuitive ability to take attacks apart which those two simply didn't have, and, while as he has grown older and more careworn because of his team's decline he has become more defensively obstinate, the strokes remain there, and, on a good day, when the situation demands, they can still be seen. An overall Twenty20 strike rate of 107, and the memory of innings such as this tell you all you need to know about that aspect of his game. If you need to know more you can just think about the fact that he has batted for more than 1000 Test match minutes without being dismissed on four occasions.

After he had defied England in defeat with unbeaten innings of 128 and 97 at Lord's in 2004, I was hanging around in the pavilion at the game's end when Chanderpaul came down the stairs from the West Indian dressing room. He was later than most of his team-mates, and you fancied that he had taken the defeat a bit harder than the rest. He cut a slight, childlike, pre-occupied figure, and there was more than a hint of distance and unease in his eyes as he prepared to face the crowd of fans outside the pavilion door. What this suggested, and the years since have done nothing to diminish the impression, was that Chanderpaul doesn't really like recognition, or adulation, or confrontation; he simply loves to bat. In fact, he exists to do so.

Watching him against Australia recently, especially in the field, you couldn't help thinking, as with Ponting, about the things he'd seen. This is a man who played with Desmond Haynes, and Richie Richardson, and Courtney, and Curtly, and Brian, who began his career at a time when the West Indies still had a hint of invincibility about them. A man who has done more than anyone else to stem the tide of decline but who has been forced to give best to it time and again while still coming back for more, mainly, you suspect, because he knows no other way.

Next week he will be back in England for his sixth tour. Despite the presence in the side of a young batsman of obvious quality in Darren Bravo, it will be down to him to hold his side together. And in an English early season, with Anderson or Broad or Finn or Bresnan or Onions coming at them, they'll need some holding.

With Chanderpaul, though, you know that there will be no self-pity or reflection or world-weariness. He will not lament his fate.

He will, simply, bat. It is what he does.

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