Shivnarine Chanderpaul Unplugged

Thu, Sep 11, '03


Shiv Chanderpaul

Guyana and West Indies middle order batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul is often described as the mainstay of the regional side. And, for good reason. In 66 Tests, the left-hander's turns have been a solid 4,155 runs, average 44.20.

He is the sheet anchor when things are falling apart and has shown the ability to dominate the best bowling attack in the world. These are roles Chanderpaul understands -- and relishes. In this Q&A with New York-based attorney Albert Baldeo, Chanderpaul discusses his career to date, including that spectacular 69-ball century against Australia...

Albert Baldeo: Welcome once again to New York. It's a privilege to have you here especially at a time when you have clearly established yourself as one of the leading batsmen in world cricket. [Your recent record] has included three 5 Test centuries -- against Australia and India. Many scribes have said that the West Indies do not do well when you are out of the team, as the stability you provide in the batting is missing. How do you feel making it back to the top?

Shivnarine Chanderpaul: I am pleased that my dedication, focus and commitment paid off. When I play for the West Indies, I overlook petty things and I focus completely on my game. I train hard, and I practice hard. I am hoping that injuries do not hinder me, like in the past. I am more committed to my religion and my game, and I really want to be the best batsman in the world. I am looking to achieve bigger goals.

AB: From your recent vintage performances, your goals and expectations are very realistic, and everyone is proud of you. But let us start from the beginning. Why did you pursue a career in cricket?

SC: I guess from watching my father and my uncle who introduced the game to me. I grew up with it, so I figured that with all the success I heard other Guyanese cricketers attain, that I should follow it seriously. Hence my father started to encourage and train me to become a cricketer.

AB: What age were you then?

SC: Very young, around the age of 8. Sometimes the whole village would bowl, and I mean bowl to me as if I was a big man, and it was here that I learnt how to combat the opposing bowling. They never cut me any slack on account of my age. Sometimes, they would soak the ball and pelt it at me very hard, so I had to learn how to defend my body and my wicket, and play shots like the hook and pull.

Some afternoons, I would apply hot water to my skin whenever I was bruised. So I learnt courage and consistency since then, which has helped me against bowlers of the caliber of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Bond. Because the pitch was shorter, and the concrete wicket faster, the village bowling was equally challenging as the bowling I faced in test cricket.

AB: Who are some of the people who played an important part in your career? I have been told that your father has always been at your side throughout your career. How important has his and others' presence and inspiration been to you in achieving your success?

SC: My father's presence and guidance has been very important because he was always there helping me along. Having your family by your side is always important. Although the West Indies team have a professional coach, I still take advice and encouragement from him and my uncle. Many other people helped me, such as Nazir Mohammed, his brother Sheik Mohammed who played for Guyana, and may have made the West Indies side had he been playing today, Lester Armogan, my Trinidadian friend, Nasir Karim, Neil Singh, Mr. Harry Jodha and his sons, Moses, Richard, Mr. Harold Dhanraj, Gary Nascimento and the entire GCC Club, another guy called Cecil Dhanraj I used to stay by in Georgetown, Maurice Rajkumar, Leslie Lowe, Chris Charran and the late Neville Sarjoo and others I cannot remember right now, but who I didn't mean to forget.

I learnt a lot from looking at Alvin Kallicharran's technique. Rohan Kanhai corrected a few flaws I had earlier in my batting technique, and I will never forget the advice he gave me. He really knows the game, and can impart a lot of knowledge to many young cricketers. I also think he is a batting genius. His batting average of around 50 shows what a great player he was.

AB: Tell us about your first test innings, when you were still a teenager, and one of the few to represent your country at the test level?

SC: I felt at home at Bourda, where I have played a lot of cricket. The crowd support took a lot of tension from me. I just went out there to do well for the West Indies, and got 62.

AB: You took some time to get your first test hundred, although your average at that time was over 45 per test innings. Tell us about that moment?

SC: That was back in 1997 against India, in Barbados. It was like a weight off my shoulders. I had been getting very close to a hundred all the time and every time I kept dropping short, so when I finally achieved it, I knew that I would get more test hundreds.

AB: I remember that you provided the backbone for Brian Lara when he made the world's highest individual test score of 375. I saw that innings on tape and I saw you walking off the field on 75 not out. Tell us about that historic occasion with him, what conversations you had, and all that. Were you hoping that you would have been allowed to reach that elusive test hundred yourself?

SC: Cricket is an unbelievable game because no one knows what will happen. Brian Lara just went out there, he had a shaky start and then he went on to two hundred odd on the first day, and then he went on to establish the world record score of 375. There were many times in his innings when he wasn't so sure and I encouraged him and told him to keep on going. Although I was a junior player to him, I was his last hope, as the innings could have folded up. I rebuked him when he played a rash shot as if he giving away the opportunity, and he was just so grateful when he got to 375.

I knew that I had to keep one end going for him, so I was not thinking about my hundred, until after the innings was declared, when I realized that I could have been given the chance since the wicket was dead, and the outcome seemed a draw. I have always been a team player. Captaincy and stuff like that, I don't really let it get to me, and I give of my best at all times to my team. A few players like Ambrose came up to me to sympathize with me that I did not get a hundred too. I was happy to see Lara get there. I was proud of him. I walked through an arch of bats with Lara, and shared the spotlight in a motorcade with him. We shared a major partnership. But we had to give ourselves a shot at winning.

AB: As a spectator I was very disappointed also. The game did not seem to have much in it in terms of the West Indies winning it. With regard to those 25 runs, would you have gone for them had you been given a specific time in which to do so? I remember Alvin Kallicharran's debut test hundred at Bourda, when he moved from 58 overnight to 100 not out in one hour's batting to facilitate Sobers' stated intention to declare the innings.

SC: I certainly would have gone for that hundred, because, as it turned out, it was always elusive. It has always been the goal of every batsman, a century is the benchmark you aim for, especially in your first series. No one considers you a test batsman unless you have made a hundred.

AB: How did it feel to play test cricket at 19 years old, and with such illustrious players as the West Indies had then?

SC: I went out there with a lot of confidence, because the guys who I was playing with -- Desmond Haynes, Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Richie Richardson, Phil Simmonds, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose -- there were a lot of big names in the side. I got encouragement and respect from them and I have learnt a lot from all of them. I went out there and just played my cricket.

AB: What do you consider to be your greatest test innings? Reminisce on your other favorite innings...

SC: I would say my recent 104 against Australia. I batted with a broken middle finger on my left hand, and was able to reach that landmark, and assist my team to create history. Sarwan played magnificently also in that innings. After reaching my century, I didn't get anything much the next morning to help break down the 40 or so more runs we had to get, but we still got there in the end. I was sorry that I did not stay until the end, but every time I played a shot, a sharp pain radiated through my left hand and through my entire body, but I stuck it out.

The Aussies knew I was hurt, although we tried to keep it a secret, and they plugged away at me and my broken finger. I knew that I had to be there to the end and I didn't, but in one way it happened for the best, because the Aussies figured that they got me out and they came in attacking us a little more and it backfired on them and we actually ended up winning the game. My finger only recently healed, but I am fully fit and match ready once again. I also rate the innings I played with Lara's 375 as a great team innings. My 125 plus at Lords when Sachin and I made centuries, and Aravinda Da Silva a classy 80 odd at the Princess Diana Match gave me great satisfaction, because I received a standing ovation for my efforts there. In fact all my 8 test hundreds were made when runs were really needed, and others were out of sorts with the bowling. My 303 not out against Jamaica was an innings that showed that I can bat for long periods also.

AB: I must tell you that a lot of cricket scribes have considered your last hundred against the mighty Aussies to be one of the greatest test innings ever played, given your injury, your contribution to the victory, and the resolve and determination you showed in that match winning innings. I compliment you on that innings. It also seems that you are making it a congratulatory habit to score at least two (2) test centuries per test series, which augurs well for the West Indies cricket team, and which confirms your status as a leading batsman in the world today. I read that spirituralism has played a great role in your life. How has this helped your thought process, your focus on your game and your discipline?

SC: It is helping me in a big way to keep my mind and my concentration focused. It is not easy when you are playing out there in the middle, so much people around, players, and the opposite side, sledging, mental warfare etc. One has to always concentrate and build one's character. But once you have belief in yourself and in God, and you are able to stay focused, you are able to ignore negates, and perform your duties.

AB: Which bowlers you consider to be the ones that gave you the most trouble?

SC: I would say Wasim Akram of Pakistan. Wasim is one of the very difficult bowlers to deal with, but I guess he is one of those guys who knows exactly what to do with the cricket ball and you know he could just go out there and work the batsman out. When he was younger, he was even more deadly, because his pace and his swing made him hard to play. He may be over the hill now, but he was the best in his heyday.

Shaun Pollock, Jason Gillespie and Shoaib Akhtar, when he is on the go, are also good bowlers. Of the spinners, I think Muralitharan and Shane Warne are the best. Both are crafty, and use a lot of tactics to add to their skill when bowling to any batsman.

AB: Which batsmen would you consider to be the best in the world today?

SC: I would say Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. It is hard to say who is better. Brian is more aggressive, and he takes more chances. Sachin is solid, and will play his shots after he settles in. Both are great batsmen. I also admire Steve Waugh. He is very dependable, and puts everything aside when he is at the wicket. I admire his determination most of all.

AB: Do you feel comfortable opening the batting? You have shared in 3 of the highest partnerships for the West Indies in One day matches, which stands unequalled. What about bowling?

SC: I will open the batting if asked to do so in limited overs matches. Everyone has to remember that when I do well, the team does well also. I will also bowl if called upon, in both limited overs and test matches. I have taken wickets in the past. I know that Pakistani Saeed Anwar's 194 is the highest One day score, and if anyone beats that, their team will do well.

AB: What about the "sledging" some teams implement, especially Australia? How do you focus or turn that out of your mind when they are right there upon you in the middle?

SC: I ignore it and focus on what I have to do. It then turns back on them in its own time because it would not get into you and once it does not get into you and you can keep your cool, it has a negative effect on the opposition instead.

AB: Your game is very similar to Steve Waugh's, where often you have been the backbone of the WI and rescued your team in many tight situations. Such a batsman is a most invaluable asset to a team, and yet, our people tend to go for the more flashy batsmen. Have you felt a bit shortchanged by the West Indian likeness for a more aggressive batsmen than for a batsman like yourself who is more dependable?

SC: On the whole people like to see cricket balls getting hit and bowlers getting wickets. This is a more exciting game, but you know, one has to adjust to whatever game you are going in to play in. If you going to play a one day game you got to adjust to the one day game if you going back to a test match you got to be able to adjust to a test match, so it all depends to what you can adjust to. I think people are believing in me more these days.

AB: Is it a hard adjustment for you to make from a five-day test match to the limited overs version?

SC: It can be, if you are not accustomed to it, because if you just came out of a 1 day series and you are accustomed to play shots at every ball, you may repeat that in a test match and get into trouble.

AB: How did you feel that day when you made the third fastest century in test cricket? Did you go out that day and said, "Well, I am going to break this record...I'm going to really teach these Australians bowlers a lesson..." How did that innings develop in your mind, how did it start, how did it come about?

SC: I had no plan. I just went out and it was just one of those days you get into a zone where things are going your way. I was surprised to know that I got a world record. I wasn't going to let the Aussies dictate to me on my home ground. I once collared Warne the same way in Australia, but I did not get a hundred, but I used my feet a lot in that innings to hit him off his length.

AB: You've played a lot of cricket with Carl Hooper. Do you think he can still contribute to the WI team at this level?

SC: Yes, I think so. But I don't know what he is going to do. I think he said he is planning to come back. I hope he does.

AB: What suggestion do you have to improve WI cricket?

SC: I think we have some very good young fellows, and as long as we keep grooming them, and they are willing to take advice, the future of our cricket looks secure. I think we could be number one again in the world because we have some very good talent out there. I think that if we channel them into the right track, so that they don't get off beat, and keep them focused, we will be world champions again.

AB: Are there any aspects of your game you have been working on?

SC: There are so many things I still feel I need to do a lot more work, such as my fielding and bowling. If I am given the opportunity, I probably would be able to do much better.

AB: How do you prepare for an innings? How do you feel next up with the pads on, going out to face Akhtar, Lee or Murali?

SC: I pray a lot. I call upon my inner strength. I would look at the TV and analyze the bowlers and the conditions. I try not to get nervous, and tell myself that I must get a start, and carry on. I always have to be ready to bat for my team, whatever the state of the game.