Unsung hero


Chanderpaul has sweated it out from his childhood to be where he is now — tenth on the list of leading Test run-getters. At 9918 runs, 25 centuries and still counting, the southpaw's legacy has grown manifold though it may not be adequately recognised in this age of flash and dash and instant stardom. By K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul is in many ways a mirror to the mythical Shiva, his favourite deity from the Hindu pantheon. Shiva is often seen as a grim contrast to Vishnu's effervescence and just like that Chanderpaul has traversed an 18-year international career that is often lost between the anecdotes that old-timers share about Sir Vivian Richards and the lingering halo of Brian Lara.

Now as Chanderpaul trudges towards his cricketing twilight, Darren Bravo's batting style that is reminiscent of Lara, often garners more media space. Yet, the man, who remains the last link with the great West Indies sides of the past, is not done yet and in the recent Tests at home against Australia, Chanderpaul had scores of 103 not out, 12 and 94. Chanderpaul's success is a reflection of his resilience and self-belief that helps him to defy set notions about batsmanship.

The seeming reluctance to doff our (the public in general and the media in specific) hats to him was raised in a press conference at Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium last year after his unbeaten 111 had helped the West Indies to score 256 for five on the opening day of the first Test against India. Asked whether he has got enough credit for his contributions to the West Indies team since 1994, Chanderpaul paused a bit and then said: “I think so. I am not too sure but I think so.”

The reply reflected the man's persona moulded entirely on few words off the park and long stints at the crease. Hailing from the Unity village in Guyana, a tiny nation that has a rich vein of the Indian diaspora due to the indentured labourers who worked in the sugarcane plantations during the colonial era, Chanderpaul has sweated it out from his childhood to be where he is now — tenth on the list of leading Test run-getters. At 9918 runs, 25 centuries and still counting, the southpaw's legacy has grown manifold though it may not be adequately recognised in this age of flash and dash of instant stardom.

A fisherman's son, Chanderpaul blended sweat and fierce focus to turn around his life and enhance his cricket and family's social stature. His father Kemraj with that typical Caribbean drawl, once told the late Peter Roebuck: “I tell he to watch the footwork of (Alvin) Kallicharran. I tell he (Sunil) Gavaskar never go out in de nineties. I tell he, if you afraid get hit, stop playing de game. Little children go out and play all kinds of things. I tell he marbles never carry you nowhere. He concentrate on cricket since he small.”

Chanderpaul has defied conventions since his early days of batting at Unity. His exaggerated stance of legs splayed wide apart was supposed to hamper his flowering as a batsman. He proved that stereotypes about the ‘right technique' can be altered a bit. The notion of left-handed batsmen tickling the romantic in us with their medley of aesthetics and grace was also turned on its head as Chanderpaul is never the type, who will play a silken cover-drive that will move a sports writer to quit prose and dabble in poetry.

The former West Indies captain would rather flick, cut, nudge and pull his way past rival bowlers. “He never took attacks apart or looked elegant. He slipped under the radar but he was always a bloke you needed to crowbar away from the crease. Three times in Test cricket, he has gone for more than 1000 minutes without being dismissed and that takes exceptional concentration and patience,” wrote Shane Warne about his adversary.

And the same Chanderpaul has also scored a 69-ball 100 against Australia at Georgetown. Talk about a monk who also indulged in the odd streaks of mayhem! And it is a trait which is also visible in ODIs that garlanded him with 8778 runs.

When Chanderpaul made his Test debut against England at Georgetown in 1994, the West Indies team had the likes of Desmond Haynes, Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose and now while he dons the role of elder statesman, his team-mates range from Narsingh Deonarine to Kemar Roach. “I talk to the young fellas when I observe a few things and I feel that I need to tell them,” Chanderpaul said about his mentoring role.

The most-capped West Indies player (139 Tests at the time of going to the press) is second only to Lara (11,953) among the list of leading run-scorers from the Caribbean. It is a feat that many would have presumed beyond his reach when he played his first Test as a 19-year old. Chanderpaul was initially expected to be like Larry Gomes, who played a dour but critical role in the 1980s after men like Gordon Greenidge, Haynes, Clive Lloyd and Richards had scrawled in their dominant signatures. True to his life, Chanderpaul has busted all presumptions about him and yet in public discourse he remains the proverbial after-thought during references to great West Indian batsmen.

In Rahul Bhattacharya's ‘The sly company of people who care', that won The Hindu award for best fiction recently, a group of lads play cricket in a Guyanese countryside and pay their respects to the famous Caribbean willow-wielders. And as usual, Chanderpaul comes in last after ‘Sir Prince Brian Charles Lara', ‘Sir Emperor Vivian Richards' and ‘Sir Shree Carl (Hooper)'. Bhattacharya writes: “Last but not the least, we struck deep respectful impenetrable Shiv Da Chanderpaul eyes-on stances with twitching brows and itchy hands and flickering tongues.”

Just like Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis, Chanderpaul will forever cope with less space under the arc-lights. The 37-year old however doesn't mind, obsessed as he is with scoring runs and paying his respects to Lord Shiva with the odd fast in a week. He continues to be the spine of the West Indies batting and skipper Darren Sammy will be hoping that the sands of time stay away from Chanderpaul.