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

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

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

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Pro­lific: Shiv­nar­ine Chan­der­paul bat­ting for the West Indies and, in­set, on the at­tack for Lan­cashire seven sea­sons ago

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