Rarely pretty, but always effective: Shivnarine Chanderpaul was the glue that kept West Indies cricket together

After almost a full year of speculation as to whether Shivnarine Chanderpaul would finally give up on playing for the West Indies again, he has announced that he is retiring from international cricket. He was dropped from the Test squad back in May ahead of the series against Australia. A very poor run of form and his age were cited as reasons as to why he was no longer worthy of a place.

When I spoke to Chanderpaul in June last year he was adamant that he wasn’t ready to give up on playing Test cricket. He told me; "Retirement isn't on the cards at the moment. Not for now.” He was still driven to turn out for the West Indies and many would have felt that his particular brand of barnacle-type batting would have been exactly what the West Indies needed. Someone just batting time would have been an excellent addition to a West Indian middle order that continues to lack a modicum of stability.

File image of Shivnarine Chanderpaul. AFP

File image of Shivnarine Chanderpaul. AFP

The reason for this change of heart as far as retirement is concerned seems to stem from Chanderpaul’s upcoming involvement in the Masters Cricket League (MCL) that will be taking place in the UAE next month. Ostensibly this event is for retired internationals but there has been a fair amount of confusion about the qualifying criteria. This has led to the boards that are responsible for these players to seek clarification from the ICC on the subject, and has seen many of them saying that until they have had “official” confirmation of a player retiring they will not grant the No Objection Certificate (NOC) that they require to play.

Irrespective of whether that was the motivation behind Chanderpaul ending his international career, it is still worth pausing to consider what this polarising batsman gave to the sport. For many, Chanderpaul’s insistence at batting at five in the order, his taking of singles when batting with his tail and his bizarre batting technique were worthy of criticism. That is to miss the point of what he gave to a West Indies side that was forever in turmoil.

Chanderpaul’s career transcended the fall of West Indian cricket. He began in 1994 in a side that featured Desmond Haynes, Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose and Countney Walsh; a team that could genuinely be considered amongst the very best in the world, with only Australia coming close to them.

From that point onward the decline in West Indies cricket, a subject we have now become so accustomed to talking about, began to accelerate at pace. As Chanderpaul continued to accumulate runs in his unique fashion the whole world seemed to be on fire around him.

For the last decade of Chanderpaul’s Test career, starting at the beginning of 2005 until he announced his retirement, no West Indian scored more runs (6675), made more hundreds (19), scored more fifties (34) or had a better average (58.55). The next highest scorer for the West Indies is Chris Gayle who has 2500 fewer runs. While it was never pretty, what Chanderpaul did worked.

Those accusations of selfishness, made all the more frequently when Chanderpaul took a single of the first ball of the over when batting with the tail, were made while ignoring what the crabby left-hander was giving to his team. A West Indies team without Chanderpaul is a team that gets bundled out on a regular basis. Chanderpaul finishes his career with 4094 runs in not out innings, a record in Tests, but this has far more to do with the regularity with which he ran out of partners than it was to do with him putting his own wicket above the team.

Whether he was still capable of performing at the highest level at the age of 41 is up for debate, what isn’t debatable is the contribution that Chanderpaul gave to his national side. It has not been a great time for the men from the Caribbean in the 21st century, things would have been far worse without Shivnarine.

He finishes his career with more than 20,000 runs in international cricket, the majority of those made in a team where he had very little support and where he was batting in a rearguard that would have impressed Crassus, King Harold, General Custer and Admiral Yamamoto. When people look at the leading Test run scorers list of all time and see Chanderpaul’s name 87 runs behind Brian Lara they will rightly consider him one of the best batsmen the Caribbean islands have produced, but the achievement is all the more impressive because he did it the hard way. His runs were as much about fighting adversity and self-restraint as anything else. There is something very admirable about that.

Chanderpaul was never the most demonstrative of cricketers, that interview back in June 2015 was not the easiest to conduct as he is a man of few words. That his retirement announcement came via email to the WICB rather than in a flashy press conference is entirely fitting with his character.

It will be certain type of cricket fan that has Chanderpaul on their list of favourite players. He makes mine.

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Updated Date: Jan 26, 2016 10:37:25 IST

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