I have a very distinct memory of a batsman in my school days. This boy would stand far away from the stumps and would start moving as the bowler got into his run-up. He’d be in front of the stumps by the time the ball was delivered and would then play a cut. He had the ability to play this shot on either side.
Believe it or not.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul is that sort of a batsman. As Cricinfo description says: “He has the crabbiest technique of any batsman.” I remember his unique mannerisms: His marking of the guard by knocking a bail into the crease, his front-on stance away from the crease, his walk into the crease as the bowler gets into the delivery stride and his nudges and pushes into the open spaces. One has read so much about the silken grace of left-handed batsmen, and seen so many of them. Their classic cover drives, great on-side play, back-foot elegance. Here is a complete anti-thesis of a purist’s concept of left-handed elegance.
Believe it or Not, he sits on top of the Test rankings today. In the latest ICC rankings, he is ranked No 1 with 856 points. Test rankings are a good, if not the best, index of current form.
Test Cricket is likened to classical music by some, thrown into a modern day cricket mélange of ODI pop music and T20 war dance. We have the lyricism of Sachin, correctness of Kallis, the audacity of Sehwag, Warner, d e Villiers and the like and the savagery of Gayle to give us a complete pot-pourrie. However, the No 1 Test batsman, by a long margin, is Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Believe it or Not!
Chanderpaul was born in a fishing village of Guyana, aptly named ‘Unity village’ as it had a mix of people of East Indian and African descent. It was probably fate which so ordained that his house was next to the only village cricket ground. He had an enormous hunger for batting, and would bat endlessly in nets and in practice matches. He played his first inter-club U-16 match at the age of 10. His precocious talent carried him into the West Indian Test side at 19 alongside Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. He made his Test debut at Bourda in Georgetown in front of his home crowd in 1994 aged 19 years and seven months..
It was no mean achievement to find a place in that West Indies side even in 1994, when the team was well past its prime. West Indies team is not formed from a homogeneous country. Making his Test debut at 19 was recognition of a batting talent that was unorthodox but very effective.
As Chanderpaul’s career took shape, victories became rarer and rarer in a faction-ridden West Indies team. Lara, Hooper and Chanderpaul became the fulcrum around which the team revolved. Bowling lost its sting once Walsh and Ambrose retired and a talent drain from cricket in the Caribbean brought the West Indian team to the very bottom, just ahead of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. After Lara retired in 2004, Chanderpaul really went on to shoulder the responsibility almost single handedly. He converted only his 14th 50-plus innings into his maiden century, but now he converts almost every third 50-plus innings into a hundred. Compared to someone like Tendulkar, he pales into nothingness. Twenty five Test centuries in 142 Tests with a highest of 203 not out may be mediocre when compared with Sachin and Lara. Even Kallis and Ponting have better record.
He has been described as a crab, or a limpet; possessed with almost superhuman powers of concentration. He is gutsy but unimpressive. He wears dark patches below his eyes. He rarely plays in the ‘V’. He is anything but flamboyant. His strike rate is a shade less than 43. He has barely a pull and a backfoot push drive as the only notable strokes in his armoury. Isn’t his ascent to the top of the Test rankings a definite Believe it or Not story?
–The writer is a principal secretary in the Rajasthan Government and a former president of Rajasthan Cricket Association. Follow him on Twitter: @Sanjay_Dixit. The views expressed are personal