Chanderpaul one of a kind
One sign among the abundance at the Wankedhe Stadium last week grieving over the exit of Sachin Tendulkar – for that is what it seemingly was to his millions of Indian disciples – bore a simple, unanimously held sentiment.
“There will never be another Sachin,” it read. For a variety of reasons, the phrase would be equally appropriate when Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the stripling from Guyana whose 150th Test in Mumbai was predictably eclipsed by the emotion over Tendulkar’s farewell 200th, finally ends his journey.
Tendulkar is so far ahead of any batsman in history in matches played, runs amassed and hundreds accumulated, the assertion that his like won’t be seen again is not merely hyperbole; the punishing schedule of the game’s increased formats make it all but impossible for anyone to surpass the 24 years he kept going, from first Test, aged 16, to last week’s 200th, aged 40.
Chanderpaul, a year Tendulkar’s junior, comes closest among his contemporaries to the Indian’s longevity and consistency.
In pads seemingly borrowed from Curtly Ambrose and an ill-fitting helmet, he first waddled to the wicket for the West Indies in the Georgetown Test against England in 1994. He was 19.
Only Tendulkar has since endured longer, only the Australians Steve Waugh, Allan Border and Ricky Ponting and the South African Jacques Kallis have appeared in more Tests.
What separates Chanderpaul from them all is his uniqueness.
Others might surpass his runs and his hundreds, although that is not certain; anyone who does surely won’t do it with as weird a stance and such peculiar mannerisms while preparing for the approaching bowler.
Chanderpaul initially confronts them chest-on, a position that causes certified coaches apoplexy. As with everything else, he practised it diligently, explaining that it guarantees balance and ensures he stays as still as possible.
Even before he steadies himself, he indulges in a ritual of quirky movements. He starts by pounding the bail into the crease to mark his guard; the impact has snapped more than one. A couple of habitual adjustments follow – a fiddling with the pads, a quick check on the helmet. Then he’s ready.
Somehow, by the time the ball gets to him, he has imperceptibly turned his body round, the leading right shoulder in the approved position, directed down the pitch. The answer to those who shake their heads at such unconventional methods is in the statistics. His method of compiling them accentuates his individuality.
After Mumbai, his tally was 10 963 runs at an average over 50 (51.71), the accepted benchmark for those batsmen above to ordinary. Only the altogether more celebrated left-hander, Brian Lara (11 912 runs), has more; a teammate for most of his career, his typically dashing Caribbean approach to batting further highlights Chanderpaul as the contradiction to the general stereotype of West Indian batsmanship.
The absence of diamond-studded earrings, gold necklaces and designer sunglasses so favoured by the present players reveals the generation gap.
There are no frills to his method, none of the flair of Lara, Garry Sobers and a galaxy of attackers, none of the muscular power of Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Chris Gayle and the other heavyweights. He is not one on whom administrators depend to fill the stands.
With the physique and fighting qualities of a Manny Pacquiao and a never-say-die manner that has earned him the nickname “Tiger”, Chanderpaul appreciates his limitations as much as his strengths.
He has relied through the years on unwavering determination, steely wrists and a keen eye for profitable nudges and deflections through gaps in the field.
Everything is built on his powers of concentration. He once took 510 balls and almost 11 hours over an unbeaten 136 against India in Antigua; in the same series, he went 25 hours, 13 minutes without being dismissed. Yet his hundred off 69 balls against Australia in Georgetown in 2003 remains the fourth fastest in Test cricket.
A scoring rate of 43 every hundred balls and 43 not outs from his 255 Test innings prompt the accusation, not least from intolerant West Indians, that he bats for himself, rather than the team.
It is countered by reference to his role at No. 5 in a batting order that, for much of his career, was as fragile as any the West Indies have known. Lara was the obvious exception; since his departure in 2007, Chanderpaul has taken up the slack to average 70.52.
In spite of the decline and the turbulence through which West Indies cricket has passed in his time, with embarrassing defeats, the divisiveness of constant confrontations between board and players union and repeated changes of captains and coaches, Chanderpaul has kept clear of controversy.
In a stint as captain during and following the first strike in 2005, he came to realize that not everyone was with him. He described the Australian series in 2005-06 as “a very difficult period for me”, claiming he wasn’t getting support on the field or from management and then coach Bennett King off it. His simple solution was to relinquish the post.
His ire was raised once, when board chief executive Ernest Hilaire openly charged after the 2011 World Cup that there was no discipline and no application within the team.
He was indignant that Hilaire’s blanket assertion had brought his “reputation as an international cricketer and a loyal servant of West Indies cricket into question and disrepute”.
Hilaire soon moved onto the other pastures. Chanderpaul has remained as the glue that still tenuously holds the brittle batting together.
There is no indication that he is yet ready to take his leave. When he does, West Indians can honestly say that there will never be another like him.