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The relentless fighter from Guyana

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Shivnarine_Chanderpaul_West_Indies_cricket_WIImagine a scene: a platoon of brave soldiers stationed outside a city at the outbreak of a brutal war, defending it from the scathing attacks of the enemy, come under a surprise attack. This isn't the first time that the platoon has been attacked and it is on the verge of total obliteration at the hands of the enemy forces. Some bravely march on before meeting their ultimate end, and some give up the fight and succumb to the inevitable. But, there is one brave marksman who refuses to give up, and continues to aim consistently at the enemy forces. Firing near fatal blows (he isn't one to squander), he sticks out his head long after his compatriots have been done away with. Eventually, a gunshot from his side of the camp, aimed the enemy, hits the marksman, gravely injuring him, putting a sudden end to his fighting career. Here we see the unwanted end of one of the bravest and most decorated of all marksmen to have represented the platoon. The surviving troops in the platoon can hardly believe the grave undoing of this braveheart, and understand little of what just happened.

If you are aware of what transpired a few days ago in the West Indies, then it wouldn't take you long to realise that the brave marksman who got undone is none other than Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and the shooter who did him in is the Chief Selector, Clive Lloyd. By leaving Chanderpaul out of the squad chosen to lock horns with Australia in the current 2 test match series, the Windies have inflicted a damning condemnation upon their most stable test batsman. With 164 tests under his belt with 11867 runs, at a fine average of 51, West Indies will have a lot of searching to do to find a match of this capable Guyanese veteran, who struck 30 tons and 66 half centuries. A true great of the test arena, Chanderpaul was the flag bearer leading an obdurate resistance for West Indies and was achingly close to overtaking Lara's position as the highest test scorer for Windies. For a man who seldom uttered a word on the field, let alone that being a hostile one; for a remarkable test career where he fought his way to 5 scores in excess of 150 and compiled 2 double centuries for West Indies, the man deserved a fitting end towards a legendary career. 

There are a few batsmen like Sehwag, Hayden, Afridi and McCullum, who play cricket as if they are taking a stroll in the park, and one must caution against hailing their attitude to their game as being casual, for they make cricket look easy. Then there are some like Kallis, Hussey, and Dravid who toil and plan, entrench themselves at the given situation of the game before turning a tide for their side by sweating it out and in the process, demonstrate sheer batting class. Chanderpaul, the gritty Guyanese, was in another league. You could imagine him as an unlikely painter, who would paint a truly unforgettable portrait. And he would do it time and again. In the process of painting a fine portrait, he would apply the skilled artistry as expected from a renowned artist.

Ever since he first strolled down the pitch, two decades back in 1994, Chanderpaul has guarded West Indies from many defeats. Still fit at the age of 40 and 164 tests old, Shiv’s career was often marked by a Windies slump amidst his able attempts to lend solidity to their batting order.

When Windies' most decorated star Brian Lara retired in 2007, Chanderpaul was 33, and at the peak of his fitness. He had already played a part in headlines that read "Lara and Chanderpaul rescue West Indies" or, "Chanderpaul and Sarwan steady West Indies". He was an able repairman of West Indies machinery gone wrong, a reminder to the opposition that all was not over till he got out. A disciplined batsman and consistent performer, in Chanderpaul's hands lay the task of battling for Windies’ survival. In the period post 2007 up to the point of his inglorious ouster, Shiv scored 15 test hundreds in a test side that had no promising name save that of Gayle. Shiv's incredible stay at the game was largely witness to the oddball situation where Windies had to battle with the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the lowest rankings of the ICC, but Chanderpaul never complained. Silent and a stranger to controversy, the batting great from Georgetown was on many occasions the most impregnable of all Windies wickets. You can ask India, against whom Shiv scored 7 of his 30 test hundreds. This isn't to say that the batsman with perhaps the most unorthodox batting stance was any easy pushover for other sides. Chanderpaul waged focused assault against England, South Africa and Australia, and scored 5 test hundreds against all of them. Had he been given a chance, he may have been on his way to score another ton against Australia in the current match.

Playing for what everybody called a weak, inconsistent side, if you were to do a study of Chanderpaul's impact on the West Indies, then you would find that his determination and ability to focus for long spans of time enabled Windies to go past the tally of 300 runs in many tests, something that became rare as their game continued to deteriorate. Playing often to the beat of a fading drum, Windies would breathe a sigh of relief to note that Chanderpaul was still out in the middle even as much of their untidy batting let them down. 

He would take cautionary guard, eat up a lot of deliveries and tackle pace and spin with total dedication while delaying the inevitable: the West Indies defeat. He was lucky on a few occasions, and managed to help his side hold on to an unlikely draw whenever support from the other end came from Gayle, Bravo, Ramdin, Sammy, and at times the surprising spurt of the tail-enders. Chanderpaul seemed to be the lone batsman determined to lend useful support towards elevating the Windies to their former glories, a task that lies with the likes of Samuels, Bravo and Blackwood today. Driven to outdo the best and displaying an audacious degree of patience, Chanderpaul played ever so silently with the minds of the bowlers. He would wait patiently for that one bad ball, score on that and upset a bowler's rhythm. In so doing, he would crawl up towards those handsome scores over 50. The sublime hundreds wouldn't be complete without a customary kiss to the pitch. 

 

A batsman who preferred to take his own time before seeming anywhere close to being in the rhythm of a test match innings, it is surprising that Chanderpaul is the scorer of the 5th fastest test hundred, a fluent century coming off just 69 deliveries against the mighty Aussies at Georgetown during 1999. His batting has the admirable trait of playing to the merit of the situation. Known mostly for being a defensive batsman who digs a huge hole in which to pull the opposition by pure focus and concentration, Chanderpaul was a great adaptor of the game, who could up the ante when needed and demonstrate a sumptuous repertoire of power hitting, when he was done with blocking. 

A master of the defensive technique, Chanderpaul would continue to focus on constructing a solid innings for his side and was unfazed by all that happened on the 22 yards, be it his team cruising above a run a ball or collapsing within a short span of time. His greatest strength wasn’t the magical powers of his wrist work or the brute force of his forehand, for he wasn't a power hitter like those of Afridi, Gayle or Sehwag. His resistance to both fast bowling and spin would ensure that he held on to one end, as partners continued to score freely from the other. Hopping on at the crease and holding the bat as if its swing was from the third slip, and at times gully, Chanderpaul was every bit an effective player on the off side as he was an able scorer on the on side. The glance, cover drive, square cut and the pull defined the harmonious application of technique and skill, enabled the 40 year old to score 11,867 test runs. 

The shallow observers of the game who incorrectly label this truly modern day great as only a test cricket player forget that Shiv scored 8778 runs with 11 tons and 59 fifties from over 260 one day appearances for the West Indies, often coming one down ahead of even Lara, and on occasion opening the batting, depositing all his focus for the betterment of a largely struggling side.

Hardly ever saying a word to the opposition, even though he played alongside some of the fiercest competitors of the game, like Harbhajan, McGrath, Warne, Donald, Steyn, Andre Nel and Shoaib, the quiet Chanderpaul would rely solely on the grit and patient delivery of his bat to keep the bowlers quiet, who otherwise excelled not just with wickets but throwing an unpleasant word or two to the batsmen on the pitch.

If consistency is not the only merit to judge a fine test career, then in Shivnarine Chanderpaul's case the aspect of scoring heavily in the face of overwhelming odds confirms his status as a great. He can leave the game feeling proud of having played a key part in the Windies team across 2 decades. His heroics in defending his West Indies from the jaws of many a humiliating defeat, have earned him a place alongside the legends of their game with the likes of Kanhai, Richards, Sobers and Lloyd himself. Even a selfless man like Chanderpaul must take pride in his single handed battles that many a time rescued the Windies, and helped the team earn the much-needed joy that often neglected the men in maroon. Knowing that he helped the Windies triumph on numerous occasions in dangerous situations, the lost opportunity of going past Lara's 11953 test runs shouldn’t hurt him. 

He can look back on a glowing career, as he sits with his grand children to tell them fascinating tales of how was a proud battler for the Windies in both good times and bad. 

 


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