The Two Faces Of Chanderpaul
The most remarkable delivery I ever witnessed at first hand from Shane Warne came not at Old Trafford in 1994 – a stock Warne leg-break to Mike Gatting in which, if we are honest, context was everything – but on the stroke of lunch on the final day of the Sydney Test against West Indies in 1996.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul was then a young man on an adventure, just 22 years old in his 13th Test match and still fresh away from Unity village on Guyana's north-east coast. He had yet to make a Test century. Set 340 to win, West Indies were in trouble when Chanderpaul, a slender angular kid, joined Carl Hooper in a rumbustious charge so violent that Warne, the potential match-winner, was withdrawn from the attack.
Then, with the interval imminent, Mark Taylor brought Warne back. The delivery to the left-handed Chanderpaul – had it gone straight on – surely would have been a wide, so close to the line of the return crease did it pitch. Instead it bit, and jagged back so sharply that if it had not rebounded from Chanderpaul's pad on to the stumps it would have missed leg stump. It was an astounding piece of prestidigitation. Chanderpaul's innings of 71 from 68 balls had given notice, though, of a special talent.
Move on more than a dozen years and the potential has come to fruition. Chanderpaul is now ranked as the world's leading Test batsman, his unbeaten 147 in Trinidad less than a fortnight ago sending his average above 50. He is also the most feted man in Guyana; the motorcade from the airport into Georgetown on Monday morning, past ranks of excited schoolchildren, was organised by the government and an indication of his celebrity.
But in the intervening years, he has become a batting paradox, someone capable of playing the most startlingly incendiary innings, who on the other hand has superseded Rahul Dravid, The Wall, as the most stubborn batsman of his generation and perhaps of all time.
His achievements in this latter regard are quite staggering. He is one of only four batsmen to have gone 1,000 minutes in Test matches without conceding his wicket, but is the only person to have done so more than once. Chanderpaul has managed it four times. No other player in Test history has faced 1,000 consecutive deliveries without being dismissed. Only he and three others have averaged 100 in Tests in two different calendar years; he and Bradman are the only ones to do so in consecutive years. This is a phenomenon, a capacity to concentrate and play the ball impossibly late that can be attributed to his early years, when his father cut a rough, bumpy strip in a field for his son to practice on, which he did diligently against all-comers for hours.
Yet here is the paradox. From beyond the discipline could come an innings so destructive as to be confounding, something that almost belies his lack of physicality. West Indies, in preparation for the forthcoming one-day series, used not the new ground at Providence for their practice but instead went to Bourda – the wonderful ground where he played his best club cricket for the prestigious Georgetown Cricket Club and made his Test debut as a teenager against England in 1994. It was there against Australia six years ago, with the scoreboard reading 53 for five on the first morning, that he launched a counterattack of such ferocity that his 69-ball hundred remains the fourth fastest in Test history – and this against Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Andy Bichel, Brad Hogg and Stuart MacGill. He no longer plays like this, the occupation of the crease paramount in his mind as a means of offsetting the dilettante West Indies batting of the last few years. But the potential remains dormant.
Yet the paradox extends further, for rarely have his one-day innings appeared as violent. None of his nine centuries in the short form come close to repeating his Test-match pyrotechnics, 150 from 136 balls against South Africa and 149 not out from the same number of deliveries against India the nearest.
Sometimes, though, the figures do not tell of the structure of an innings, how a game plan is carried through. In 2004, at Bourda, the one-day game against England had been reduced to 30 overs per side with West Indies batting first and Chanderpaul opening. It was painful to watch as he took root, the team's chances disappearing with each ball dead-batted. It took 34 balls to reach double figures, and after 50 deliveries he had reached only 14. The bemused crowd were on his back.
From the next 46 deliveries he made a further 70, in a remarkable and sudden change of gear. West Indies lost a close game, but only a special, single-minded batsman can have the confidence to take such a game-plan and have the confidence to see it through. England haven't seen the last of Shiv yet.