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Shivnarine Chanderpaul - The old rear guard falls

Shivnarine Chanderpaul - The Old Rear Guard Falls
Shivnarine Chanderpaul will always be remembered as the mortal who outfought his own imperfections.
©REUTERS / Action Images

There have been two West Indian batsmen who have crossed 10,000 Test runs – one, a darling of the crowds and one of the most elegant and breath-taking batsmen ever seen on the cricket ground and another, almost inconspicuous, almost ignored until it wasn’t possible to ignore anymore.

While Brian Lara will be remembered as immortal genius, Shivnarine Chanderpaul will always be remembered as the mortal who outfought his own imperfections.

Take for example, his stance. It is from a cricket handbook that will be discarded around the world. His shots square of the wicket on either side are ill-advisable and his defence is almost like the stonemason’s hard day of toil – inelegant but will get the job done.

Chanderpaul and Lara were probably like Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar when it came to temperament. While one evokes moments of genius another built moment after moment of solidity, of patience that wouldn’t wear off even when genius is eroded.

With a technique that will never be imitated, Chanderpaul went on to compile 11,867 runs at an astounding average of 51.37 with 30 centuries.

If he had have been given a home farewell series, which he had so richly deserved, he was sure to rake up 12,000 Test runs, the first West Indian to do so, getting ahead of Lara who finished on 11,953 runs.

It is true that he had a lean patch, true that Clive Lloyd has been a big believer in youth as opposed to old warhorses, true that the game rarely gives you a dreamy farewell. Yet, Chanderpaul could have been in that West Indian set-up one of the top 11 players and if not for his age, would have surely been present.

That is the prejudice which hurts, even more so when West Indies lost seven wickets for just 35 runs to hand Australia the game after a hard-fought partnership between Marlon Samuels and Shane Dowrich.

Chanderpaul made his debut even before he turned 20, in a game that West Indies aced by an innings against England, a game where he scored a gritty half-century and had a century partnership with a young Lara who scored a mammoth 167 in just 210 balls.

In that game, Chanderpaul had looked almost a bohemian presence in the big men’s game. He was small and frail, almost a paradox from the land that produced some of the most feared batsmen and bowlers cricket has ever seen.

Chanderpaul’s fate, like Dravid’s, from that day on had intertwined itself around the glory days of Lara and later, where Dravid found redemption in a surging Indian squad, Chanderpaul only found himself mired amidst mediocrity during the downfall of the West Indian team.

For a man who played for more than two decades, Chanderpaul’s last half a decade was mostly spent rescuing the team from losses.

That is obvious from the fact that Chanderpaul holds the records for most notouts, 49 in 278 innings, among top seven batsmen, five ahead of Steve Waugh.

Interestingly, Chanderpaul, who had scored just two centuries in his first 49 Tests, scored 28 more in the next 115 Tests, a century every four games.

Sadly, Chanderpaul’s bad patch doesn’t even last more than a few months, which makes one believe he still had cricket left in him and that the selectors were just waiting for a lean patch, an opportunity he denied them for so long, for in the last seven years until 2014, Chanderpaul’s average was way beyond his contemporaries, that when he was playing for a side weaker than most of theirs with not enough support and a lot of pressure, almost always.

Those who mention age, should also note that Chanderpaul’s best cricket came after he crossed 35, averaging in the high 50s.

It is amusingly interesting that Chanderpaul also has the fifth fastest Test century of all time in 69 balls, against an Australia side at its peak in 2002/03.

That innings, still remembered for being one of the greatest counterattacking knocks ever seen, showed how Chanderpaul’s resilience was not due to lack of dazzling stroke-play but because of the presence of a chip that made him responsible, every time he walked into the ground.

Only time will tell if Chanderpaul’s replacement will be found, if anyone would come close to achieving what he did, if anyone could take the number five position and thump a bedrock there to anchor the team.

But, something tells us, it might be a while.

© Cricket World 2015