Shivnarine Chanderpaul scored his 29th Test century today. His 122 not out was the typical Chanderpaul innings, anchoring the brittle West Indian batting to a respectable score. It’s precisely what we’ve come to expect from the Guyanese stalwart. Moreover, I’m pleased that he’s managed to get a big score after having reached 50 only once in his previous four Test matches.
I’m pleased because, at 39, Chanderpaul is in the twilight of an unexpectedly awesome career. The fitness issues he battled in his early days didn’t offer much hope for such longevity. How he scores so many runs with that technique is baffling to every batting technician. Yet, 19 years on, Shiv remains the lone world-class obstacle in the West Indian line-up.
The clowns at the WICB do not have the best track record with handling ageing players. Brian Lara and Desmond Haynes are two prime examples of those who were given the not-so-gentle push out of the team before they were ready. For Chanderpaul, there will be no Test series like the manufactured farewell for Sachin Tendulkar. The little master is a one of a kind talent, and Chanderpaul is not his equal. However, the comparison serves the purpose of illustrating how West Indian cricket culture has, traditionally, not treated its elder statesmen with the deference they deserve in plotting their international exits.
Chanderpaul has experienced this before when he was unceremoniously axed from the ODI team. He was made scapegoat for the Windies’ horrific performance at the 2011 World Cup. Yet, it was Chanderpaul who once scored 150 while opening in an ODI game. In spite of a reputation of being a dogged and slow accumulator of runs, Shiv (to this day) remains the only West Indian batsman capable of building the kind of innings needed in the 50-over format. I believe there is a direct correlation between the team’s struggles in ODIs over the last three years to his absence in the middle order. However, the powers that were decided he was no longer useful to the team going forward and that was that.
All this is to say that I am very happy that Chanderpaul managed a big score to cement his value to the Test team. We’ve seen what has happened with Ricky Ponting, Tendulkar, and now Jaques Kallis. When the greats get to a certain age, minor slumps are treated as evidence of irreversible decline; there is a reduced patience to see them through the inevitable bumps in the road through which all international cricketers must navigate. I have every confidence that, had Chanderpaul’s “slump” continued for a few more Tests, the WICB would be very swift in showing him the door.
Save for Tendulkar, I’ve never seen a cricketer other than Chanderpaul who loves batting as much. If he continues to make runs, I can see Shiv playing until he’s 45. He’s never been the most comfortable with the press. He never seemed at ease as captain. But, charged with defending his wicket and scoring runs, Shiv has shown that he can do that for days on end.
I am not ready to bid him adieu. I hope and believe he has many more runs to score. One need only have witnessed some of the breathtaking on-drives he played at Hamilton to see that he’s still got lots to offer West Indies cricket. More than anything, I hope he is able to go out on his own terms. For all the yeoman’s service he’s given to West Indies cricket, it’s the least that we and the WICB can give back to him.