Shiv deserves his due
Shivnarine Chanderpaul has finally called it quits on his international career. It was a paradox of sorts. It was hardly needed, because everybody knew that international cricket was taken from him a few months ago.
The taciturn Shiv found that his career ended pretty much the way the man is - quiet, without fanfare. Many, including people like West Indies Cricket Board President Dave Cameron and former West Indies captain Brian Lara, felt that he should have been given a more high-profile send-off, but fate must have reasoned that such a tribute wouldn't have been consistent with the man's personality.
Shiv's departure means that for the first time in our history, we don't have a batsman of true world-class status. The conveyor belt that used to produce West Indies batting greats is now clearly malfunctioning. The cricket gods have given up on us.
From George Headley in the 1930s and '40s, to Garfield Sobers and The Three Ws in the '50s and '60s, Viv Richards in the late '70s and '80s and Brian Lara from the early '90s until his retirement from Tests a decade ago, we had always produced batsmen who were averaging over 50. That is no longer the case now that the little Guyanese has called it quits. Shiv's departure didn't just signal the end of a career; it also symbolically indicated the end of an era.
The arguments are already raging about how good he was really. Many are not prepared to give him his just due. He will be remembered as a stodgy accumulator who was seemingly more interested in batting for not outs than in helping his team to win.
History will not be as kind to Shiv as it should be. He has been unlucky. He came at the wrong time. West Indies cricket fans have been spoilt with a succession of batsman who were entertainers. All the true greats that we have produced were real crowd-pleasers. All of them, with the exception of Lara, for most of his career, were part of competitive teams that could be counted on to challenge the world's best teams.
Shiv's career coincided squarely with the ushering in of the West Indies' worst years. When he came along in the mid-1990s, the team was on a downward spiral from which they have not recovered. He will be forever be stuck with the tab that he is among the 'losingest' of all Test cricketers. Those who criticise him say he didn't play too many match-winning innings. It's a travesty that those who say that don't understand the dynamics of cricket and are not big on logic.
For you to play so-called match-winning innings, your team must be relatively competitive. The other players have to do enough so that your performance makes a difference to winning or losing. In other words, for you to play match-winning innings, your team has got to put you in match-winning situations. For many of the Tests Shiv played, the West Indies were so far behind that nothing he did could have changed the outcome. The man, after all, has 30 Test centuries. Were he in a half-decent team, many would have helped his team to win. His lack of match-winning performances is an indictment against the West Indies team, not against him.
We criticise his style only because, again, he was always in poor teams. Larry Gomes, another ultra-defensive left-hander from the 1980s, was NEVER criticised for his batting style. The public adored him. The difference is that Gomes was in a team of 'ball-beaters', and therefore, his approach didn't matter to the pace and panache of a West Indies innings. Indeed, I used to hear many a commentator complimenting Gomes on his calming influence on the stroke players.
It was a similar situation with Rahul Dravid. The Indian public worshipped him. He was called 'The Wall' because he presented an almost unmovable figure. He was a grafter like Shiv, but he had Tendulkar and Sehwag and VVS Laxman as company. These people played their shots, but even if they would get out, Dravid's role to help stabilise things would be key. In arguably the greatest Test innings of all time, when Laxman scored that stunning match-winning double hundred against Australia, after India were asked to follow on, Dravid was there almost unnoticed, carving out a ton of his own. Shiv is pilloried for his slow style only because the other batsmen in his long career weren't doing their job. He was a victim of circumstances in so many ways.
We must, though, give him his due. He is unquestionably among the best dozen or so batsmen we have produced in the West Indies. We won't be able to replace him anytime soon.
- Orville Higgins is sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.