Chanderpaul’s return to form is Lancashire gain
Garfield Robinson casts an admiring look at the man who held the West Indies together for so long
Shivnarine Chanderpaul is 42. By that age the overwhelming majority of those who bat for a living would have long hung up their helmets. The West Indian batting great, however, recently signed on as a Kolpak player for Lancashire. He’s in good form, too, having recently compiled a faultless hundred for Guyana against Jamaica’s very capable bowling attack in the West Indies’ 50-over competition.
West Indies quickie Jerome Taylor bowled with pace and elicited a fair amount of swing. Chanderpaul was untroubled.
Upcoming fastman Reynard Leveridge was even quicker. Chanderpaul unhurriedly hooked and pulled him when he dropped short and eased forward to drive whenever he pitched up. So composed was the Guyanese left-hander that many were left thinking that, perhaps, the West Indies selectors should take another look in his direction.
That’s not going to happen now, of course, as his new status prevents him from being considered for West Indies duties. Were it up to him he’d have played for the Caribbean side until his last breath. But there is no way he was going to give up his opportunity to play for Lancashire waiting for a call that was unlikely to come. He loves playing cricket too much to take that risk.
Andre Agassi hated tennis. That, at least, is what he claimed. In his 2009 autobiography, Open, he recorded this: “I play tennis for a living though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, always have.” And yet, in spite of his stated dislike, in spite of his emphasis on appearance in his more youthful days (“Image is everything,” went his ad campaign for Canon cameras), Agassi became one of tennis’ greatest players, remaining at the top of the sport for 20 years, winning Olympic gold and numerous other titles.
It was his father, an Olympic boxer, who pushed him into the sport, placing a racket in his hand as a toddler and insisting on hours of training at their Las Vegas home. Before long, Agassi gave up formal education and was enrolled in an elite tennis academy, his future decided, more or less, by his father.
In Unity Village in Guyana, and probably a few years after Agassi’s, a story with some similarities played out. Khemraj Chanderpaul, fisherman and cricket devotee, placed a bat in his son’s hand almost as soon as he could stand. Before he was ten, little Shivnarine, coached incessantly by Khemraj, was squaring up to much older bowlers.
To “toughen him up” the elder Chanderpaul encouraged fast bowlers to bowl short to his son, inflicting bruises aplenty on his frail frame. And so the youngster learned to never back down; he learned to always return to his feet, no matter how many times he was struck to the ground.
Cricket was placed above everything and, like Agassi, Chanderpaul had his formal schooling interrupted to focus on cricket. Like the tennis star, Chanderpaul stayed at the top for over 20 years and was one of the sport’s great players.
Unsurprisingly, coming from contrasting backgrounds, there were also striking differences between the two. Chanderpaul never sought to cultivate a celebrity persona; in truth, he hardly seemed to care about his image at all. But, more significantly, Chanderpaul loved cricket, or, to be more precise, he loved to bat.
Batting was everything. He thought about it deeply, practised it diligently, thereby pushing himself to the outer limits of his capabilities. Chanderpaul’s strength of character was such that it enabled him to plot his own path. The technique he developed was not aesthetically pleasing. Nonetheless, it is exceedingly effective.
It is also very enduring. Prior to his departure from Test cricket, Chanderpaul fell into a patch of bad form from which he was unable to extricate himself quickly enough to extend his tenure. The longer he struggled for runs, the louder the cries for leaving him out. The voices for his removal were by no means unanimous - – many felt he should be given more time – but even they would acknowledge that his age made it unlikely he’d be allowed a long leash.
He is now looking like the Chanderpaul of old: skilful, if stodgy; highly adhesive; highly efficient. The typical West Indian batting greats play with aggression, power and flair. Not Chanderpaul. Whereas batsmen like Lara, Richards, Sobers and Greenidge thrilled the crowds and kept the scoreboard racing with full-bloodied strokes, Chanderpaul nudges, taps, deflects, glides. He might not do his job with as much style, but he does it well.
It is evident that Chanderpaul took to heart a simple and timeless truth of cricket: the longer you occupy the crease, the more runs you score. To that end he has deciphered and refined a unique method. Only Geoffrey Boycott (190.59) and Rahul Dravid (189) faced more deliveries per Test innings than Chanderpaul (181.65), and the West Indian has stood undefeated 49 times (Boycott 32; Dravid 23).
At his best he is one of the game’s most difficult batsmen to dislodge. A few years ago after a particularly terrible tempest almost totally devastated parts of Texas, there was an area with one isolated, upright structure amid the sea of ruin. I took that image as a metaphor of Chanderpaul playing a lone, defiant hand at one end while total chaos reigned at the other.
He is sometimes castigated for being selfish; that he often sacrifices the team’s interests in favour of his own. And, admittedly, there have been times when he probably should have tried to impose himself more on proceedings.
I accept, however, that to some sizeable degree Chanderpaul might have compromised flexibility in favour of solidity, and that his adopted methods, on the whole, served himself, and the teams he represented, well for many years.
In the same way that we have to accept that the forthright batsman will be dismissed attempting forceful, even reckless shots, we should also accept that the stonewalling batsman would forgo scoring opportunities and, like the shot-maker, will refrain from departing from his usual methods. The player that changes his game according to the circumstances should be admired, but in this difficult business of batting you can scarcely fault a man for sticking to the approach that made him successful in the first place.
Chanderpaul returns to Lancashire in good form. Apart from his aforementioned high-class hundred against Jamaica, he has scored two centuries in five first-class games averaging almost 75 in the current 2016/17 regional season.
“I can’t wait to return to Lancashire this summer,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed playing for the club in 2010 and I’m looking forward to joining up with the team ahead of the season.
“It’s an extremely ambitious club and there are some fantastically talented young cricketers in the squad. I’m looking forward to passing on some of my experience to the younger players in the squad. The 2017 season is going to be an exciting and progressive one for Lancashire CCC and all concerned with it.”
Australian opener David Warner has acknowledged the significant impact Chanderpaul has had on his career. Lancashire’s young players will again have the opportunity to learn at the feet of a master.
Batting was everything. He thought about it deeply, practised it diligently thereby pushing himself to the outer limits of his capabilities
Prolific: Shivnarine Chanderpaul batting for the West Indies and, inset, on the attack for Lancashire seven seasons ago