A THORNY ISSUE: Jury out on possible Shiv return
WAS COURTNEY BROWNE bluffing when he said recently he was open to selecting players for the West Indies team irrespective of age?
Was he just flying a kite to get some general reaction on whether to recall the discarded stalwart Shivnarine Chanderpaul who has continued to be prolific as a batsman in regional play?
My jury is still out on the two questions because not so long ago Browne, who is now the chief selector, was part of the panel that dropped the Guyanese from the Test team when he was on the threshold of becoming the West Indies leading run getter in Test cricket.
Back then, there was divided opinion on whether the selectors should have allowed Chanderpaul to eclipse Brian Lara’s all-time record, despite the fact he looked a mere shadow of the batsman he used to be. It is worth noting that Lara was among those in his corner.
Not only that, some thought he should have been afforded a royal send-off and not the perceived scruffy treatment he received when he was given his walking papers. The sentiment was that a true devoted servant of our cricket deserved more respect.
Clearly those of us who held that belief did not rely on the evidence of the past on how other greats were treated when they, too, were on their way out despite the magnitude of their contributions.
Chanderpaul disputed the observations of the selectors that he had passed his best and as if to prove them dead wrong, he continued to play, and the runs in regional cricket are still being accumulated from his obdurate bat.
He has simply refused to go away; and, because he’s making more runs than some of the young turks who are supposed to replace him, it may have struck a nerve with Browne and the other selectors.
Could it be that even at the ripe, old cricket age of 42, they have observed Chanderpaul has reconstructed his batting, worked on his flaws and maybe is still worth a place in the Test and 50-over side?
If this is the case, they will have to duly agonise on what decision to take because age will in fact be a consideration, and whether they are prepared to bite the bullet and continue to rebuild the side with younger players, even when it is evident they are still below Chanderpaul’s standards.
Role in mentoring
In all fairness, I believe everyone should be given their due and, if the prolific, former West Indies captain is still fit enough, passionate enough and satisfies all the other criteria that make cricketers eligible for selection, then he should be considered.
If you want to look at it in a holistic way, you can probably still see a role for him in mentoring the youngsters who may still need that extra bit of help and encouragement out in the middle from an older head who has achieved plenty.
Ideally, Marlon Samuels should be playing this role as the most senior player who is consistently in the present line-up. However, he seems to be enigmatic and may not always be in the mood to perform this critical duty.
On the evidence though of the fighting spirit shown by the squad in the latter half of the recent series against Pakistan, shouldn’t the selectors not persist with their look to the future and not be tempted to turn back the clock no matter what form a stalwart is displaying?
Not only that, wouldn’t it be better to break that link with the past and allow captain Jason Holder to work with the younger players who would be more willing to respect him and support him as the de facto leader of the team? In fact, we are beginning to see a Holder who is more decisive and more proactive in the field. Would he be able to effect the team’s agenda with any shadows from the past hanging over his head?
Idealism is one thing, but I remember when coach Roddy Estwick begged the public to give the youngsters more time after a poor start against the Pakistanis. By the end of the tour he seemed justified in his sentiments. So this also adds another dynamic to the plans going forward. I know Estwick is all for pushing youth and if he has his way, he would prefer to gamble in that direction.
There is also a new coach in town and he will obviously have his own perspective on how things should be done and what components are required to make the West Indies a force again in the longer forms of the game.
Traditionally, Australia tend to go with the form players irrespective of age because they are hugely competitive and focus on the result more than anything else. Our culture is quite different. Once we believe you are on the wrong side of 30 or even 40, we look to put you out to pasture notwithstanding that we can’t find a valid reason to fault your performance.
When Chanderpaul was dropped, the selectors were on point regarding the deterioration in his batting, and it was only sentiment that would have caused his retention based on his track record. They were obviously not swayed by sentiment at the time and stuck to their decision despite the rallying calls from his diehard supporters.
Has he rehabilitated his batting to the standards of yore and can it withstand the scrutiny of top-class bowling against much stronger opposition? For all the runs Chanderpaul still accumulates, is it a reflection of enduring, admirable qualities of batsmanship or the quality of regional bowling?
These are all questions the selectors will have to weigh in their minds if they are truly serious about letting him make an unlikely comeback considering how he was axed from the squad two years ago.
Browne is well known for his singlemindedness and ruthlessness as well, so I am sure whatever or whoever he wants he will get. In this instance, if a man’s word is his bond there may still be some hope of a Chanderpaul return to the team.
• Andi Thornhill is a veteran sports journalist. Email email@example.com