His retirement has not only marked the end of an era in batting, it marks for some of us the snapping of the final link to childhood…
BY LIAM CROMAR
Chanderpaul. Even the name has a slight ungainliness about its three syllables. It does not have the flowing seductiveness of “Lara”. You can try and smooth it by softening the ch– to the sh of champagne, of shimmy, of chassé. But within my head it is Tony Cozier’s distinctive tch– that marks its ground, that hunches slightly, that frowns and knuckles down: this name means to stay. The ch– of chisel. Of charge. Of champion.
Wait: champion? Too brash a word for Shiv, surely, but he was just that: indeed, he was the highest scorer for West Indies in their triumphant 2004 Champions Trophy final, and averaged 63.50 across their four matches in that competition.
To state the obvious, with Chanderpaul it was always the stance rather than the shots that stuck in the memory. Yet his stance, the development of which Christian Ryan has done a superb job of chronicling, would have remained a mere quirk, destined to be only occasionally recalled and derided, had it not been allied to such consistent, near-phenomenal success.
Such was his consistency that, in the end, my mental impression of Chanderpaul’s simple presence eclipsed the memory of his technical specifics. He was just there – resolute, uncompromising, grimly watching another batting collapse – but always there. If a marine metaphor must be used to describe him – and Chanderpaul always attracted one particular comparison – it has to be barnacle. A barnacle that opposition captains must have often wished they could blister.
Batting, it has been observed ad nauseam, captures the melancholic essence of life. It can be viewed as an existential tragedy in miniature, a lifetime’s story writ small, as the batsman walks to the crease, does what he may, and finally succumbs (in most instances) to the inevitable sentence of time. Chanderpaul did better than any other West Indian (save, bizarrely, for Courtney Walsh) when it came to dodging bullets, with 49 not-outs. One short of a fifty: it seems another fitting near miss, to go with the all-time West Indian run record, for the apparently indomitable Shiv.
For many, Chanderpaul will have been the final cricketer among their contemporaries, as Alex Massie observed in his tribute. For me, though, Chanderpaul was not of my generation, but of my generation’s preceding generation. He was the last player who had seemed to have always been playing to me, the last player that I could not consciously remember a time before. Cricket, according to my history, was divided into BC and CE – Before Chanderpaul and the Chanderpaul Era. As his career went on, and on and on, Shivnarine Chanderpaul became a link to my youngest self, a means by which I could trick myself that I had a measure of control over the passage of time.
Anyone in range ran the risk of being forced to discuss the “elder statesmen” of the game, the longest-serving players. Kumar Sangakkara, Misbah-ul-Haq, Ricky Ponting, the usual suspects. Then I’d point out that Chanderpaul predated them all, some not even debuting in the same decade, and relapse once more into marvelling at his longevity.
Certainly his batting belonged to a different era. In a world of “positive cricket”, there appears to be little prospect of another Chanderpaul appearing. Perhaps even less chance than another Lara, for while the modern opportunities in T20 for a Lara-like genius are clear to see, will any young player feel a 21-year, 164-Test career to be worth the candle? Look around and I can’t easily see who might be the next West Indian batsman to 11,000 Test runs. Or 10,000. Or 9000. Or 8000. Chris Gayle, on 7214, might have a shot, if his back can be held together for long enough. For any of the current team, even 6000 would be a massive achievement – just scraping past the halfway mark of Chanderpaul’s 11,867.
It is fitting that his departure, protracted and acrimonious as it was, reflected his characteristic unwillingness to exit, the fairly unambiguous “I AM NOT RETIRING” texted to his coach being a case in point. His refusal to be prised from the crease continued to the last.
In a way, the life-batting metaphor emerged across his career on the macro as well as the micro scale. And because of the aforementioned link to my childhood, as long as Chanderpaul’s career continued, I could discount my getting older, if not entirely ignore it. But now his enforced exit from the crease – the “bullet” he could not dodge – brings home the underlying angst of the batsman leaving the crease. At least, it does to me, in a way that no other player is likely to be able to do in future.
Thankfully, of course, we are only describing a retirement, not a passing. The exit from the crease remains only a metaphor, and there is no literal bullet, something that cannot, sadly, be taken for granted in the world climate that cricket now operates in. We have yet to see what field Chanderpaul’s second innings will be played in. One imagines, though, that it will be marked by tenacity. The simple method of never knowing when he was beaten is a strategy that seems to have served Chanderpaul well enough over the years.
Having approached the metaphysical, it’s time to return to ground level, quite literally. Chanderpaul left his mark on me. Or rather, he left me making his mark. A habit born out of pragmatism rather than tribute, owing to often finding myself with plastic rather than metal spikes: I can’t remember exactly when I started using a bail to mark my guard, but I could normally count on some chirpy fielder making reference to Shiv. Not that comparison to a champion could ever count as sledging.
Long may such chatter persist, recalling Chanderpaul to mind, if not to team.
(Liam Cromar is a freelance cricket writer based in Herefordshire, UK @LiamCromar © ESPN Sports Media Ltd.)