Chanderpaul’s bat a precision tool

Scarcely commented upon, it was. No doubt throwing garlands around a West Indies player was felt to be inappropriate during another supine performance from the touring team, but when Shivnarine Chanderpaul flicked Graham Onions for four in the final over of the fourth day, he went past Vivian Richards as the second-highest run-scorer in Tests for West Indies.

It was something he achieved, remarkably, in exactly the same number of matches as Richards. Only Brian Lara awaits now, although Shiv needs a pair of binoculars to sight him, so far ahead is Lara with 11,953 runs.

Whether he will get there at present he has amassed 8,576 Test runs – depends on his body, which has always seemed a trifle fragile, rather than his mind, which must be one of the strongest in sport. Chanderpaul did not have the greatest of series, but as West Indies subsided on the final day at the Riverside with barely a whimper, it was left to him again, as so often, to display some fight, integrity and pride in performance.

The evident pleasure Paul Collingwood took on taking Chanderpaul’s edge in the second innings was not only because it was his first as stand-in wicket-keeper; the left-hander’s dismissal is always a signal that the end of West Indian resistance is nigh.

No matter what the state of West Indies cricket, no matter how bitter the quarrel between players and administrators, or sometimes between the players themselves, no matter how heavy the defeats, Chanderpaul has simply put his head down and batted oblivious to the chaos around him. To have averaged more than 100 in Tests in each of the past two years in an ordinary team is staggering and something that Andy Flower, the England team director, would appreciate.

And yet when the greatest names of cricket are routinely thrown around, Chanderpaul’s is usually absent. His name was missing from C.M.J.’s list of his top 100 players this week and yet the man he went past in exactly the same number of games – albeit Richards had fewer innings – was ranked No 6 in C.M.J.’s greatest players of all time. No cricketer in history had more presence than Richards, who walked to the crease as if he, and he alone, were carrying the hopes of his countrymen. Chanderpaul, in contrast, walks out to bat as if he is walking to the gallows, but sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious.

When Chanderpaul arrived on the scene for the first time on England’s 1994 tour he was something of a curiosity and we were, initially, blind to his talent. We had never seen somebody bang the bail into the ground to take his guard and he looked so slight, fragile and bony that we reckoned he might struggle to hit the ball off the square. During Chanderpaul’s first Test, Phil Tufnell did a regular skit in the dressing-room, to great amusement, mimicking Chanderpaul’s stance and his lack of authority at the crease. Thereafter, Tufnell spent enough time bowling at the left-hander to perfect his imitation.

Chanderpaul is now a reassuring presence in a game dominated by biceps and bats as wide as tree trunks. He is a butterfly among elephants. The stroke with which he went past Richards was fitting, crabbing across his stumps and deftly turning his wrists where others would have powered their forearms through the ball and looked to smash it down the ground.

He relies on his eyesight, his instincts and touch, manoeuvring the ball with supple wrists and, by modern standards, a wafer blade. In a power-obsessed game, Chanderpaul reminds us that there is room for precision.

But, noting that he stands with his right shoulder pointing due east as the bowler runs in from the north, it would be wrong to dismiss Chanderpaul as a curio. He does enough things right to realise that there are certain basics that cannot be ignored. He watches the ball more carefully on to the bat than any current batsman, plays it later than most and you could balance an egg on his head as the bowler releases the ball.

And he likes to bat. Four times he has gone more than 1,000 minutes in Tests without being dismissed and no one has gone longer than his 1,513 minutes undefeated in India in 2002. A sense of calmness at the crease is the key, something that has developed alongside his spirituality; he once described his phenomenal concentration as a ‘gift bestowed by Lord Shiva’. Not that he is unable to raise his tempo when the situation demands – a 69-ball hundred against Australia is testament to that.

It has taken a boy from Unity, a remote fishing village in Guyana to demonstrate that cricket is poorer when it is straitjacketed according to demands of modern coaching and coaches. Chanderpaul’s game is largely self-taught, honed during many hours of practice with his father, Kemraj, at the village ground and on the shores of the Atlantic, and talking to elders who learnt about cricket not by reading the MCC coaching manual but by listening on the radio about heroes like Rohan Kanhai.

He knows his own game, even if others are blind to it. This is the man who had to wait until 2007 to be given an opportunity in county cricket and who was unwanted this year by Indian Premier League owners who overlook substance for style. Whether scoring runs for his club side in Guyana as a ten-year old, or ignored alongside Sachin, Ricky, Rahul and Kevin when lists of the great players of the day are drawn up, Chanderpaul has always been looked upon as a boy among men. It is time he was given his due. The Times, 21 May 2009