About 18 years ago, the marauding Calypso Kings are playing their former Colonial Masters England. The Calypso Kings consisting of highly talented cricketers, enthralled the cricketing public with their panache, elan and flair. Among those tall and big Bajans, Jamaicans, Antiguans, there was a 20 year old all of 110 pounds playing his first test for West Indies. He looked like a tiny man from Lilliput, who was playing in a side made up of giants like Walsh and Ambrose.
As the 20 year old came onto bat, you wondered whether this man not taller than a school ruler will survive the hard grind of test cricket. He would shuffle across his stumps with Crab like movements, had an open-chested stance, an ugly back-lift and scoring every run seemed to be a mighty struggle for him. In a team made up of players, with swagger and having the chutzpah to play across the line and smash the fastest of bowlers for a six, he was the odd man out. In the last test of that series though, the odd man out in the team scores a gritty half century and even guides Prince of Trinidad to that monumental record breaking innings of 375. As a cricket enthusiast you start wondering how can he do it?
Yes, I am thinking about the Guyanese left-hander Chanderpaul, who 18 years after his debut scaled the 10000 run-mark in the just concluded series against Australia. So, just because Chanders has now crossed 10000 run-mark in test cricket, it doesn't mean that it has been all smooth sailing for him throughout his career. During his career, the Westindies team from an all conquering undisputed kings of world cricket, have become a side that struggles to win a solitary match. There were times, when he has struggled for form, in the mid and late 90's, he had fitness issues and when he was appointed as the captain of the side, Chanders looked completely lost.
As a microcosm of life, a sportsman's career will also have periods when they look lost, but true champions are the ones, who would be able to wade through all those swamps and marshes that come in their way and attain the ultimate goal of having a successful career. Chanderpaul definitely belongs to category of champions, as he has overcome all those obstacles to become a successful test match batsman.
To describe the way the Guyanese left-hander plays, one has to look back at all those battling knocks he has played when Westindies were in dire straits. When I think of some of his monumental knocks, the one series that will always be etched in my memory would be the West Indies tour of England in 2007. The Windies had an inexperienced side and even the Prince of Trinidad Lara had retired. In alien conditions, everytime Windies played, they were blown away by England's seamers and Monty's spin. One man, who always stood up-to England's attack though was Chanders himself.
I vividly remember his hundred at Old Trafford in that series in 2007. The track was taking turn and there was variable for Monty to work with. Even in such treacherous conditions, Chanders made a gutsy hundred. A few deliveries spun sharply and a few kicked off the surface, but Chanders with his exaggerated shuffle and open stance handled it superbly. He waited, waited, waited and waited for the loose delivery and when that loose delivery came his way, England's fielders invariably had to pick the ball back from the boundary. Everyone else got out but not Chanders. Yes, England won that match, but the knock by Chanderpaul, won the hearts of cricket fans.
Chanderpaul went onto make another masterful hundred in the final test of that series at Chester Le Street. This time around, there was enough sideways movement to keep the seamers interested, but let it be seaming conditions, or conditions that tended to help the spinners, Chanders had answers for all.
I have to say a few words about Chanderpaul's quickfire half century at Sydney in 96/97 too, as it came on a track, where the ball was spitting and turning. West Indies had already lost quick wickets in pursuit of a huge target and with Wizard of OZ Warney in the opposition ranks, even going past the three figure mark looked like a tall order for West Indies. Chanderpaul though, again with his crab like movements kept Warne at bay. A few deliveries spun viciously, a few kept low, a few kicked off the rough and bounced awkwardly on the little lefthander, but even the man with a bagful of tricks Warne couldn't get Chanderpaul out. What more, Chanderpaul made Warne scratch his head as he started to score quickly and captain genius Taylor had to even remove him out of the attack.
Finally, one of those deliveries spun too much and even Chanders didn't have an answer to it as he was cleaned up by Warne. On expected lines, Australia went onto win the match, but most of them who saw that match would likely remember it for Chanderpual's exemplary knock on a wearing pitch.
Shiv is also a versatile player which can be seen by his century in the 2003 series against the marauding all conquering Aussies.Yes, the Aussies perhaps would admit that they weren't at their best in that match yet, Chanderpaul's knock made my jaws drop, as he smashed the Aussie bowlers to all corners of the ground and got his century of just 69 balls! I surely didn't expect Chanders to come out in such an aggressive fashion against Lee and Bichel and pull them in front off square.
Chanderpaul hasn't played memorable knocks only against Australia and England, as he has also been a thorn in the flesh of subcontinental sides especially India. Everytime I watched West Indies play India, it looked like the Indian spinners were resigned to the fate that Guyanese lefthander would bat for the whole day and score a century.
To be honest, Chanderpaul's concentration prowess never ceases to amaze. I have also wondered many times as to how can he be so successful with his technique. He plays with an exaggerated shuffle, where he just walks across the crease yet, you seldom see Chanderpaul being beaten outside the off-stump, or getting out LBW. Chanders has a very open chested stance and hardly plays anything straight down the ground and has a limited range of shots through the off-side. In-spite of those limitations, he is able to score runs on a consistent basis by deftly manoeuvring the ball into gaps on the on-side.
Now, it isn't like Chanderpaul has never been worked out by a team. I certainly remember in the early part of the last decade, a few teams trying to catch Chanders on the move so as to get him out LBW, or even target his legstump to get him out bowled. Here, one can think of the test series in Sharjah in 2002, when the likes of Younis and Razzaq got him out LBW, or bowled by catching Chanderpaul on the move. As Chanders wasn't in the best of nick, he was also getting out caught behind in that series.
The next time I saw Chanders though, he had even more of an exaggerated shuffle and open chested stance. What surprised me more was, Chanders making heaps of runs and looking more comfortable with that minor adjustment in his technique! Chanderpaul's great concentration prowess, his hardwork, self belief in his own method has worked wonders for him.
Chanderpaul's success as a batsman definitely tells you that a cricketer doesn't need a copybook technique to succeed at the test level. It also tells you that cricket isn't about how a batsman scores his runs, but how many runs a batsman scores. Purists may cringe at the way Chanderpaul bats, but in the end, it is the scoreboard that matters.
Yes, Chanderpaul lacks the panache and flair of Lara, the finesse of Afghan, Martyn and Jayawerdene, can't play breathtaking strokes like KP and S'wag, nor does he have the magical wrists of Azhar, VVS and Malik. As I said though, in the end, it is all about how many runs a batsman scores and not about how he gets those runs. So, for his dedication and hardwork, the price tag he puts on his wicket every-time he walks to the crease, the ability to weather the storm and invariably steer the weak Windies team to shores of safety and his self-effacing dignity on a cricket field, makes Chanderpaul an all time great player.