Shivnarine Chanderpaul: The Crab is one of the greats

Over the past decade, he has averaged more than Sachin Tendulkar and made as many scores over 50. He also has to his credit the fourth-fastest Test century of all time (69 balls).

Updated: August 17, 2012 10:52 IST
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Bangalore: Over the past decade, he has averaged more than Sachin Tendulkar and made as many scores over 50. He also has to his credit the fourth-fastest Test century of all time (69 balls). Only eight men have played more than the 144 Test matches that he has aggregated since his debut 18 years ago. Yet, when people talk of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who turned 38 on August 16, they're more likely to focus on the ungainly stance and the utilitarian scoring methods. Seldom will you hear the word 'great' in conjunction with his name, though his numbers and the way he has carried a brittle line-up for years more than merits it.

Of the 10 men to scale the 10,000-run mountain in Test cricket, only Chanderpaul and Mahela Jayawardene have at times been damned with faint praise. In Jayawardene's case, his formidable home record has been the stick to beat him with. The fact that Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara were also significantly more successful on home turf is conveniently ignored. For Chanderpaul, who has also been more prolific in familiar conditions, the barbs are directed more at a technique that wasn't cut from purist cloth.

When it comes to perceptions of Chanderpaul, there are echoes of another left-hander who hailed from across the water in Trinidad. Larry Gomes played 60 Tests for West Indies between 1976 and 1987. He averaged nearly 40 in a time when 50 was rare, and was an integral part of the most successful side that cricket had seen.

Think back to the Lord's Test of 1984, and the way West Indies romped home in pursuit of 342. Gordon Greenidge smashed 214 from just 242 balls. He could bat with such freedom partly because the man at the other end was so assured and resolute. Unfashionable Gomes made an unbeaten 92 that day. It spanned just 140 deliveries, a tremendous strike-rate for that era, and was eclipsed only because of the sound and fury with which Greenidge cut and drove.

Gomes was never going to steal the limelight in a team that had Greenidge, Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Richie Richardson. So often, though, he was the fulcrum, the man who held up an end while those blessed with a greater repertoire of strokes expressed themselves.

Chanderpaul made his debut just as Richardson was exiting the scene and soon after Lara had earned rapturous applause for his 277 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. With Lara's batting so fluid, the comparisons were never going to be favourable. It didn't help either that one of the right-handers he played alongside, Carl Hooper, had the ability to make batting look as beautiful as a ballet recital.

Hooper averaged 36 over a career that lasted 102 Tests. Where he was profligate with his talent, Chanderpaul - whose father used to target his legs during throw-downs when he was a small boy - squeezed every last drop out of his. After a slow start in Test cricket, he now has 25 centuries, 12 more than Hooper managed. Of those, 20 have come in the past decade, when the story of West Indies cricket has been one of constant struggle and defeat.

Great cricketers can often make intriguing interview subjects. Glenn McGrath would happily dissect plans to dismiss the world's best batsmen. Tendulkar, on a good day, can be candid about the insecurities that afflict even the very best. Richards can make you feel ten years old again. Dravid and Ponting are both eloquent and passionate. Lara could cast a spell on you. Imran Khan would stop conversation in any room he was in.

Chanderpaul? Shy, and mumbling answers, if you could call monosyllabic responses that. He would thank God and talk of the temples he wanted to visit, but as far as insights into batting were concerned, there was more chance of him adopting the classical stance.

When you consider Guyanese cricket, it's common to think of Lloyd, or Rohan Kanhai of the falling sweep-shot fame. Or even of Colin Croft, who would happily have bounced his grandmother. Chanderpaul belongs in that league. His career has coincided with West Indian cricket's decline, and nothing would give him greater satisfaction than to be part of an upswing before the walk into the sunset.

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