Is Shiv great?
In the last few days, as the career of Shivnarine Chanderpaul enters its twilight, the debate is already on in earnest about his legacy in our pantheon of great West Indies batsmen. Some, like my good friend Oral Tracey, have gone so far as to openly declare that he shouldn't be considered great at all. To be great in cricket, indeed in any sport, is to perform at a high level constantly above one's peers. Once we accept that Shiv has constantly outperformed his peers, his greatness is a matter of course.
Even Shiv's biggest critics will argue that he has great career numbers. None can argue that an average in the low 50s after well over 100 Tests is exceptional. By the time he finishes, he will be in the top five run-getters of all time in Test cricket. To argue against Shiv being great is to flail against reason. That makes no sense at all.
Despite his phenomenal record, Shiv isn't given his due in the Caribbean. We praise his durability and doggedness, but we don't see him for what he is: one of the very best batsmen in the modern era. One man told me on radio that he is a great "run accumulator", but not an outstanding batsman. He claims Shiv can't be great because he merely plods along with risk-free efficiency. That, of course, is nonsense. Batsmanship is primarily about one's ability to accumulate runs, which makes that argument so illogical it borders on the absurd.
Now don't get me wrong. Like many others, I, too, have often been frustrated by Shiv's unwillingness to change gears when he bats, especially when set. We know he can step up the tempo. His 69-ball hundred against Australia a few years ago remains one of the most explosive test innings of all time. I, too, have been bewildered at his refusal to shield the tail. I am just as mystified as anybody else why he refuses to bat higher in the order.
I am sometimes reduced to wanting to hurl things at the TV because he seems more interested in being not out than making a hundred. These, though, should not deny him his greatness. If he did all the other things we want him to do, he would be 'greater', that's all.
We in the West Indies have been spoiled. We have been blessed with a long line of shot makers and, therefore, we are not as appreciative as we should be of what Shiv has done. Shiv currently scores at a strike rate of 43.52. We scoff at that to the point where we almost want to ridicule him. But think on this: Rahul Dravid also averages in the low 50s (52.31), but scores slower than Shiv (42.51 per hundred balls). Nobody in his right mind in India would question Dravid's greatness. Indeed, the man they reverently call 'The Wall' has often been said to be Tendulkar's equal, if his not his superior.
In Australia, Allan Border is revered. Next to Bradman, he is arguably their most respected batsman. Allan Border typifies everything that Aussies like. He is seen as gritty and determined. His strike rate is 40.98. Shiv scores quicker than he as well. Had Shiv been Indian or Australian, he would be feted wherever he goes.
Shiv is often criticised for not producing enough match-winning innings. We must be careful how we say that. Shiv hasn't been blessed with playing in a great team. That should be the end of that. Brian Lara, who we all idolise, has played on more losing teams than all the accepted batting greats of all time, and yet, strangely, we don't use that against him when we decide his greatness. To play match-winning innings, you have to have a team to put you in match-winning positions, a luxury Shiv has hardly had too often in his long and distinguished career.
We are being unkind to the little Guyanese. He is not my favourite batsman by a long shot, he wouldn't get into my all-time West Indies eleven. But questioning his greatness falls nothing short of cricket lunacy!
Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.