They call him Shiv, they call him Chanders, they call him ‘Tiger,’ they call him just plain old Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Whichever name you use for him, you will not see it on the 14-man list of players named by the West Indies selectors for the two-Test series against World Champions Australia which starts in Dominica tomorrow.
The 40-year-old veteran of some 164 Tests whose class is undisputed has had a drastic downturn in his form and has been omitted from the West Indies squad.
If this omission proves definitive, it would leave Chanderpaul an agonising 45 runs behind Brian Lara on the West Indies’ all-time Test batting list. Despite his unique stance, Chanderpaul’s technique has helped him amass 11,867 Test runs for the West Indies, an aggregate second only to double world-record holder Lara’s 11,912.*
Like that other great left-hander before them, Sir Garfield Sobers, the left-handed Chanderpaul’s fate is reminiscent of the fate of the peerless Prince of Port of Spain, who was prematurely run out of the game in 2007.
Other West Indian greats who have been on the wrong end of a less than accommodating West Indies Cricket Board were Sir Vivian Richards and Desmond Haynes.
“Some other great West Indian batsmen were asked to step down,” former Trinidad and Tobago youth batsman Lester Cassimy told Wired868 while commenting on Chanderpaul’s omission and recent decline, “were forced out when they were interested in improving their lot. So they (the WICB) must still find a way to make him go off quietly into the sunset.”
Following his failure in back-to-back series against South Africa and England in which he looked a shadow of himself, there was uncertainty and anxiety in the air surrounding Chanderpaul’s place in the team. The reaction among the Caribbean public has been mixed since his omission.
Former fast bowlers Michael Holding and Tony Gray have come out in support of the selectors’ decision to bid the batsman goodbye but Lara and former WIPA President Dinanath Ramnarine have taken issue with the move, insisting that such a faithful servant of West Indies cricket should be given a proper send-off, allowed to retire on his own terms.
“They should have arranged that before,” said an adamant Cassimy. “The question is what a proper send-off is? We’ve benefited tremendously from him but are we saying that we are willing to bat and or play with a man short?” he asked rhetorically.
Despite perennial team failure, Chanderpaul’s long career has featured great personal success. No other West Indian has played 150 Test matches and only Lara has amassed over 11,000 runs and 30 or more centuries. Chanders also has to his credit 66 half-centuries and, although some see this as negative rather than positive, 30 not-outs, the most by any specialist batsman in Test cricket.
When it comes to the ICC Test batting rankings, it seems he is never too far from the illustrious top 10, currently headed by another seemingly ageless left-hander, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara; his recent dip in form notwithstanding, the “Great Wall of Guyana” is still ranked at 12.
Recently, however, Chanderpaul has not been as hard to dismiss or as prolific as in the past, having mustered just 183 runs in his last 11 Test innings. In the last Test innings against England in early May, he virtually surrendered his wicket, leaving his bat hanging outside off-stump in the way of a wayward Jimmy Anderson delivery which ricocheted off the bat and crashed into his stumps. But the stubborn stalwart is clearly unconvinced that his decline is terminal.
When the Aussies last visited in 2012, he held his own, accumulating some 346 runs in the series against the likes of Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon and batting his way to a Man-of-the-Series award despite West Indies’ 2-0 series defeat. In September last year in three innings against Bangladesh, he might also point out to the doubters, he racked up 270 runs without being dismissed.
The naysayers can, however, point to the weakness of the Bangladeshi attack in comparison to the rampant Aussies who have a dangerous pair of Mitchells, Starc and Johnson, in their bowling line-up along with the rapidly improving Josh Hazlewood. They are, some say, more than likely to prove too great a challenge for the now almost 41-year-old batsman.
“Johnson and Starc are two of the fastest bowlers in the world,” Cassimy commented, “The West Indies are coming up against them now and we need a full-strength eleven. The truth is that Chanderpaul has not helped the West Indies’ cause for the last two Test series they’ve had.”
He went on to applaud the adventurous Jermaine Blackwood and suggested that the West Indies have discovered a gem in the right-handed Jamaican batsman. He is certain that the youngster’s success is at least one reason why Chanderpaul should make way for young blood in the regional team.
“With Simmons’ method of dealing with players,” he suggested, admitting to being “excited” at the prospect of having Dwayne Bravo, Keiron Pollard and Andre Russell available for selection in the foreseeable future, “we are likely to get players to play for West Indies again.”
But in the present, he pointed to the inclusion of three rookies, 21-year-old Shai Hope, 25-year-old Rajindra Chandrika and 23-year-old wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich, as a second reason why Chanderpaul must go now. If he does, will the new-look West Indies still have the capacity to offer the kind of stubborn resistance that many have long admired in the shy left-hander from Unity Village in Guyana?
In April 1994, Chanderpaul displayed maturity way beyond his 19 years in his fourth Test match. During a four-hour stint, he scored 75 runs and had one of the best views in the ground as the majestic Lara went past Sobers’ long-standing record Test score of 365.
With just Junior Murray and the bowlers to come, the “Tiger,” though little more than just a cub at the time, stuck around long enough to see his more celebrated partner over the finish line. Naturally, Lara’s achievement got all the rave reviews but Shiv had played his part no less well.
A mere 12 months earlier, he had struck his maiden first-class century versus the touring Pakistanis at home in Bourda, where he still averages an impressive 126.33. Then in January 1994, the left-hander notched his first century for Guyana in the Red Stripe Cup versus a dangerous T&T team captained by Lara and including the dynamic leg-spinning duo of Rajendra Dhanraj and Dinanath Ramnarine as well as current West Indies coach Phil Simmons. Not for the last time, Lara grabbed all the headlines with a match-winning 169 but the young “Tiger” had caught the public’s and the selectors’ eye.
In the Second Test of the 1994 home series versus England, Chanderpaul received his maroon cap at Bourda, replacing Simmons in the batting line-up. In his debut outing, he fully justified the selectors’ faith in him, scoring 62 in his first innings. Half-centuries followed in the next three Tests – inclusive of the 75 not out at the other end from Lara’s record-breaking 375; the “Tiger” was already threatening to roar.
But he struggled to convert 50s into 100s in his early Test-playing days and posted no fewer than 13 half-centuries before he finally slammed 137 not out versus India in his 19th Test match. It was the first of seven Test centuries against these opponents, arguably his favourite opposition. But he still struggled to convert good starts into triple figures and, with 50 Test matches under his belt, he still had only two Test hundreds to his credit, despite an average that hovered, remarkably, around 40.
In the 2002 home series against India, Shiv sought to extend his new-found love affair with the Indian bowling attack and remedy his conversion problem in the process. Against the Javagal Srinath-led Indian attack in the five-Test series, the “Tiger” amassed 562 runs – an alien term to West Indians now – at an average of 140.50. Lara’s West Indians ran away 2-1 series winners and the skipper’s left-handed middle-order partner added three more Test tons to his name.
Another Test series which will not escape Chanderpaul’s or West Indians’ memories is the 2003 home series against the mighty Australians. Fresh from their World Cup triumph, Steve Waugh’s troops made light work of the WI team with a 3-1 series win. But Shiv, who wore out bowlers with a method built on deft nudges, deflections and placement rather than power hitting, enjoyed what was arguably his finest moment.
Perhaps still envisaging a white ball zipping around at 90 mph, he treated the Bourda crowd to an uncharacteristic 69-ball century on the first day of the First Test. His West Indies teammates were in a similar One-day mode, the Caribbean side being bundled out for 237 inside two sessions. Shiv’s ton is now the 5th fastest in Test history, making him second among West Indians only to Vivian “Master Blaster” Richards, who had treated his countrymen to a brutal 56-ball onslaught against England in St John’s in 1986.
In 2003, however, by the time the final Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground came around, the southpaw had slowed down his scoring and, in combination with his countryman Ramnaresh Sarwan, he put on a counter-attacking 123-run partnership on the penultimate day as the West Indies sought to foil the Aussies’ plan to whitewash them at home.
Ably led by the redoubtable Glenn McGrath, the Aussies engaged in a relentless sledging war with Sarwan for much of the stylish right-hander’s innings but the “Tiger” kept his cool. He cruised to 104 and shared a vital 88-run partnership with lanky Anguillan off-spinner Omari Banks who saw off a potential Brett Lee hat-trick before joining with fast bowler Vasbert Drakes to help deliver the improbable win, steering the WI sensibly home to a mammoth record-breaking 418.
The record still stands to this day, only once threatened in 2013 when South Africa, looking set to chase down India’s target of 458, finished on 450/7.
The left-hander had even more responsibility placed on his able shoulders when Lara bowed out of the game in 2007. In England that summer, he responded to the added pressure with a quite sterling performance.
Despite most of his teammates struggling with both seam and spin in English conditions, Chanderpaul flourished, hitting back-to-back hundreds at Old Trafford and Chester-le-Street and accumulating a mammoth 446 runs in just five innings. He shared Man-of-the-Series honours with England’s left-arm spinner Monty Panesar and was later rewarded for his heroic efforts by being named as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 2008.
More success and recognition followed the next year as the “Tiger” amassed 909 Test runs in nine matches en route to being awarded the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy as the ICC Cricketer of the Year. Chanderpaul also tried his hand at captaincy and notched his first Test double-hundred in his debut as captain.
However, the team’s record with him at the helm was far from pretty, a solitary win as against 10 defeats in 14 attempts. The tipping point came when the WI suffered eight straight Test defeats between June 2005 and March 2006 and Shiv opted to hand the poisoned chalice of the West Indies captaincy back to his predecessor Lara.
Even ignoring the consistent frailty of the West Indies batting order, the heavy burden of captaining the regional side was enough to beaten any man into submission. But Shiv is no ordinary man. After all, ordinary is a word you can’t associate with 164 Test matches, a figure surpassed by only four men.
Cassimy was in awe of Chanderpaul’s durability and consistency saying, “His career has been fantastic, tremendous and unbelievable; playing over 160 Test matches cannot be easy.”
And it won’t be easy to give up playing after 160-plus Tests either, neither for the player nor for his fans. Shiv’s unique stance, his marking his guard with the bail or kissing the pitch after a milestone are as much a part of West Indies Test cricket as the bouncers the regions bowlers have sent batsmen’s way for decades or the googlies and doosras that have come his way for 20-plus years.
But his ability to master slow, turning pitches was a highlight of his career and, if the spinners found it difficult to turn too many past his broad blade, opposition quicks did not find it easy to bounce him out either.
“He was the rock,” said Cassimy. “He was the man who for years stood in the way of an opposition running through our team.”
So Chanderpaul now dreams of having a farewell send-off à la Sachin Tendulkar. The Mumbai maestro played his final and 200th Test before his home fans in Mumbai against a West Indies team that could not last three days in either of the two Test matches in the hastily arranged series.
Will he be afforded, as he has requested, a similar opportunity or has Anderson’s half-tracker sent his hopes of donning the maroon cap once again crashing to the ground?
“If we were coming up against weaker opponents next year or later this year, they could have given him a swansong,” Cassimy ended. “But whether or not he gets the opportunity, I think we should all say ‘Bravo! Well done, Sir Shiv. And thank you for your excellence.”
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Lara has two Test averages, the second one including the 41 runs he scored for the ICC World XI in an officially recognised “Test” against Australia in Sydney in 2005.