Wednesday, May 27, 2009


If I have anything approaching a Regular Reader, they will be aware of my love of Test Cricket, simply the best game the world has ever invented. The players are utterly fascinating in their almost infinitely varied approach to the game. And the fact that it is played across the world, with England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, India and Sri Lanka being the major countries constantly involved, brings the differences between nations and even continents into play in a way most other games lack.

The World Series in Baseball ? – do me a favour!

However you look at it, there are always certain players who, when you realise they are playing, make you get out of bed earlier then you’d planned just to watch them.

It is a simple fact of life that there are not too many English names in such a list at the moment. Pietersen is the only batsman who gets anywhere near a place on my “Pick a World Eleven” to play a visiting First Eleven from Mars, and I’m not even totally sure that he’d get my final vote. South Africans Graham Smith, AB De Villiers and JP Duminy, India’s Virender Sehwag (on a good day the best there is) and Gambhir, New Zealand’s Jesse Ryder (a real hooligan, but he hit a stunning 201 against the Indians a couple of months ago) and possibly Brendan McCullum, the new boy from Australia Philip Hughes (I suspect England are in for a hell of a shock with him batting against them this summer), as well as Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara from Sri Lanka – well that’s a decent lot to get on with. You can see why Pietersen may not even get a look in.

But there’s one guy who never seems to get a mention in these lists and I really don’t understand why – a guys who bats in a totally unique and distinctive way, Shivnarine Chanderpaul from the West Indies. He seems to be an intensely private man, who never gets anywhere the limelight. And yet, to pick a couple of cricketing numbers from his last two years, over 6 Test Series against Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka (arguably the 5 best teams on the planet) he AVERAGED 105 runs over the 14 matches. The Best of the Rest of the world average around 50. That stat alone is pretty unbelievable. Only Bradman, back in the 1930s can touch such a feat.

As a cricketer, you’d throw him back into the river if you were picking a player on the way he looks. He’s small (5ft 7in), wiry, introspective and almost diffident on the field, and he looks as if he couldn’t hit the ball off the square let alone get it to the boundary. He bats as if he’s never seen a coaching manual, with a hysterically open stance which looks as if he’s expecting the Square Leg Umpire to bowl the ball to him. But he shuffles his way across the wicket, watches the ball unerringly and plays the ball VERY late, and with very soft hands. It looks really odd until you see where he is when the bat makes contact with the ball. Then it all makes sense.

But it’s his mental approach which lifts him high above the others. His approach is almost Zen like, in a trance on occasions. Absolute Concentration, like no other batsman I know today.

With the West Indians today not being a particularly reliable batting line-up, the number of times Chanderpaul is left there to marshall a rearguard action, and nurture his fellow batsmen through an innings must get him down dreadfully. But, he always seems to find the grit and guts to stay there, with each ball being played severely on its merits. But when the bad ball comes, Pow. He’s got a beautiful little flick that can send the ball miles. It simply doesn’t seem possible that a guy of his stature can hit a ball that far. But he can.

People complain that he is a selfish batsman, which I’m sure irritates and angers him. Yes, the number of times he’s Not Out is very high, but he would counter, that by saying that, if all his team-mates did what he’d just done, they’d have scored around 1,000 runs in an innings, rather than the typical 237 All Out (Chanderpaul 118) that seems to happen all too depressingly often. Why he doesn’t brain the rest of them with his bat at times like this, I can’t imagine.

Two more stats. Who hold the World Record for staying at the crease without being out for longer than anyone else? Yup. Shivnarine Chanderpaul. He batted for 1,512 minutes (25 hours!!) against India before giving his wicket away. Of the only six times a batsman has stayed at the crease for longer than 1,000 minutes in the history of Test Cricket, four of those were Our Man.

And yet, that sounds like someone whose batting looks akin to watching paint dry. Nothing could be further from the truth. When he wants to go for it, you’d better watch out. The fourth fastest Hundred ever in Test cricket was his – 69 balls. And if you want to see someone in a 50 over One day International performing the impossible, just watch this YouTube Clip. West Indies need 10 off the last two balls of the match. Impossible. Step forward Our Gallant Hero.

One Four off the penultimate ball, and a deft flick to Mid Wicket off the last which flew over the ropes for Six. You’d have got odds of a million to One against two balls before, but Shiv played two shots of genius under tremendous pressure.

I just love to watch him bat. He frustrates the bowlers, but then blasts them around the ground when their frustration gets the better of them. His total determination is an utterly admirable trait, particularly in someone from the Carribean, where that commodity is not in plentiful supply.

And he’s just passed the great Sir Vivien Richards to become the second highest West Indian run maker ever. Two more different ways of batting you’d struggle to come up with, but, if I needed to select any batsman in the world today to make a Hundred for me if my life depended on the outcome, I’d pick this man.

I’ve got a ticket to the 20-20 World Cup finals in a couple of weeks, and guess who I’m going to see.

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