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Is Chanderpaul still Chanderpaul?

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Shivnarine_Chanderpaul_West_Indies_cricketThe news that Shivnarine Chanderpaul recently met with West Indies coach Phil Simmons to discuss his future is a clear sign that the left-hander with the unusual stance is close to ending his days as the most obstinate batsman in the game. The Guyanese has long wielded a broad yet awkward bat for the West Indies, and since Brian Lara laid down his very upscale blade, his has consistently been the Caribbean side’s costliest wicket.

For a long time Chanderpaul has been the game’s most difficult batsman to uproot. During one series against India, he could not be prised from the crease for 25 hours and 13 minutes, spanning four innings and 362 runs. One can only imagine the profane thoughts his walk to the middle prompted in the minds of bowlers who were nonplussed as to how to separate him from his wicket.

Such adhesiveness didn’t come about by accident. Chanderpaul conceived and implemented methods that have worked wonderfully well for him and for what he has wanted to achieve.

It is a well-worn saying that runs can’t be made from the pavilion. Well, Chanderpaul has ensured that he stays in the middle longer than all but two of the game’s batsmen. Only Geoffrey Boycott (190.59) and Rahul Dravid (189) faced more deliveries per innings than Chanderpaul (181.65), and the 40-year-old left-hander has stood undefeated (49 times as opposed 32 for Boycott and 23 for Dravid) on more occasions.

 

Say what you will about his abnormal stance and ungainly play, it has served him well in racking up an amazing record with it. As things now stand, Chanderpaul is just 86 runs shy of reaching Lara’s record of 11953 test runs for the West Indies. No one would accuse him of being anywhere as gifted as Lara, and the fact that he will have taken 48 more innings than the Trinidadian to score the runs is a fair indication of the huge gulf that separates their respective talents. Yet it is also a fair indication of Chanderpaul’s high level of dedication to his craft and the hard work he invested in perfecting his one-of-a-kind technique.

But Chanderpaul is now 40, and if his recent showing is anything to go by then his run-scoring ability appears to be in steep decline. At one point during the West Indies’ 2014-15 tour of South Africa, Marlon Samuels issued a warning to the hosts. He had never gone through an entire series, he claimed, without Chanderpaul’s bat making some amount of noise, so he was sure they would see the stodgy batsman at his best before the series ended.

They didn’t. The great man’s bat remained mostly silent throughout -- averaging a measly 18.2 runs per innings – and remained so when he returned to the Caribbean to confront England, where he averaged just over 15.

Ordinarily, six tests without a big score wouldn’t have been that big a deal for someone with Chanderpaul’s stellar record. Were he 10 years younger, his current poor run would have been widely regarded as a temporary downturn in form from which the left-hander would soon emerge; the kind of slump that has visited every batsman not named Bradman.

At Chanderpaul’s advanced age, however, a dry spell is frequently considered terminal. At his age, a run of low scores is not normally attributed to bad habits infecting technique, or a run of bad luck. It is more likely to be seen as a diminution of the traits that made the player great in the first place: a slowing of reflexes, for example, a reduction in acuity of vision, or the decline of a previously pronounced ability to decipher line and length – maladies that are irreversible.

The considered wisdom, therefore, is that there will be no real comeback for Chanderpaul. Having made the lengthy, arduous climb to the top of the mountain, and having stayed there for a protracted period, he is now on his way back down. This is the path that all great sportsmen must tread, provided they stay in the game long enough. It can be disappointing, heartbreaking even, as the end approaches amid unmistakable signs of regression.

As depressing as the series of low scores are to the batsman and his fans, of more concern is the manner of some of Chanderpaul’s recent dismissals. In the first innings of the first test in Antigua, he was 46 when he tamely drove an innocuous delivery from the off-spinner Tredwell straight to the cover fielder. In the first innings of the Grenada game, the batsman who routinely forces bowlers to bowl in his areas reached out to drive Stokes, handing a catch to Moeen Ali at point. And in Barbados, a loose, angled bat redirected a delivery from Anderson onto his stumps during the kind of tense situation in which Chanderpaul would normally have thrived.

As his international career drew to a close, Ricky Ponting, perhaps Australia’s greatest batsman since Bradman, blamed his reduced production levels on increased pressure brought on by an inexperienced, underperforming batting unit. But as you saw him become less adept at executing his famed pull-shot, you knew he was not the player he used to be.

In the middle of Curtly Ambrose’s last series in England in 2000, his friend and former fast bowling comrade Winston Benjamin called, advising him against extending his international career.

 

Listen Ambi, I saw something today that didn’t used to happen. You bowled a short ball to (Michael) Vaughan and he pulled you. You tried to retaliate and it wasn’t working. Forget the extra year they’re talking about – time to call it a day. (Time To Talk, p. 227)

Chanderpaul is now losing his wicket in ways he never did before.

So what happens now?

The Australians are soon to embark on a two-test tour of the West Indies. I don’t know this to be true, but I’ve heard it said that Chanderpaul wants to rise to the top of the list of West Indies test run scorers. And while professional sport is a tough business with little space for such sensitivities, the great batsman and great servant of West Indies cricket should be allowed the opportunity of the two tests against Australia to achieve that landmark. Thereafter, the cricket authorities should afford Chanderpaul a departure befitting a player of his high stature.



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