I did it my way – Shiv Chanderpaul

Shivnarine Chanderpaul speaks to Philip Spooner and outlines his life and times as an amazing West Indies batsman and ambassador for the game of cricket in the Caribbean.

If you think back 22 years ago, what were you doing? Where were you in life? What were your goals? Did you achieve them? Were you even born yet? Two decades is a pretty long time – a lot has changed in our world. Back in 1994, Nelson Mandela had just become the first black President of a united South Africa; the founder of Facebook was an 11-year-old with a dream of having a great impact on the world; and Lebron James was also 11, dreaming of winning an NBA ring.

That was the year Shivnarine Chanderpaul made his debut for the West Indies. The match was played at Bourda – there was no Guyana National Stadium. Kraigg Brathwaite was in diapers; he now plays alongside Shiv in the Test team and teenagers listened to music on the go with a Walkman and went to the phone booth – you can now do both, and a lot more, with a “smart phone”.

The debut match was West Indies against England and a young Chanderpaul stepped into the team alongside Brian Lara, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. England’s starting XI included Michael Atherton at the top of the order with Alec Stewart with Robin Smith in the middle while the new ball combination was Chris Lewis and Alan Igglesden with Gus Fraser coming on first change.

It was a day of destiny for the young man – he saw an opportunity and he took it. Now, 22 years later, he has risen to the very top of world cricket. He’s one of the greatest batsmen to ever play the game. Chanderpaul announced his retirement from international cricket last Saturday, and the cricket world paused to pay tribute to a legend, who crafted his own niche in the game’s history.

“That was one of my greatest days. I couldn’t believe when my name was announced in the team,” Chanderpaul recalls. “I was like ‘really? Me? Am I really going to play?’ All the hair on head was frozen and the hair on my hand was standing up. I had to calm myself and say ‘wait am I really going to play a Test match, today? Am I actually in this team? I honestly thought I was there to be just in the squad to learn, but to hear my name in the team was amazing. Then I composed myself and said ‘listen. . . this is your opportunity, go out there and grab it!”

Shiv walks around with a mantra that was handed to him by Faoud Bacchus, a right-handed opener who is famous for his one Test century – 250 against India at Kanpur in 1979. The former Guyana captain played 19 Test matches – remarkably all
at different grounds.

“The one thing that guides me, the one thing that sticks in my brain is ‘keep it simple keep it as simple as possible’. Faoud Bacchus said that to me. He said always keep your eyes on the ball and watch it closely.”

Shiv has cultivated his own approach, including the bizarrely square-on “Chanderpaulian stance”. He does everything precisely in the correct order – someone once remarked that he probably eats his alphabet soup in alphabetical order.

Then there is also the knocking of the bail to take guard – something taught by his father Khemraj; and kissing the pitch to celebrate a century – a tribute to Mother Earth for blessings bestowed.

“Preparation is vital. Preparation is the key. If you don’t prepare well you will struggle when the match comes around. When you step to the nets you have to know in your mind why you are going to the nets. You don’t just go to the nets to hit balls and bowl balls and then come out and say ‘I was in the nets for such-and-such time today’. You have to look at the areas where you have strengths and weaknesses and get better for the match which is coming up.”

That attention to detail has led to some amazing batting statistics. He ended his career with over 20,000 international runs – second most by a West Indian. That puts him among the best of the best and in a league of extra-ordinary gentlemen who worn the maroon cap for the Windies in the gentleman’s game.

When he called time in his career last week his stats showed: a record 164 Test matches. He has scored 11,876 runs at an average of 51.37 runs per innings. Chanderpaul made 30 Test centuries and ended just behind Brian Lara’s West Indies record of 11,953.

He appeared for the West Indies in 268 ODIs and has 8,778 runs with 11 centuries. His first-class career has stretched 349 matches, he has accumulated over 25,000 runs bolstered by a whopping 71 centuries.

The great Desmond Haynes had this to say: “When he first came into the West Indies team I was still around and I remember seeing a little boy and I was very impressed with his ability. He was someone who was driven and was determined to get better. He came into Test cricket with a good attitude towards batting – always looking to bat long and play within his limitation – and I was pleased with his progress.

“A very memorable moment for him was when he batted with Brian Lara when [Lara] broke the amazing Test record of 365 by the great Sir Garry Sobers at the ARG Antigua.

“Not many people remember the role Shiv played on that day but I will always recall how he stayed at the crease and did the perfect job.”

On numerous occasions Chanderpaul has stood up and batted resolutely for West Indies to pull them out of the fire. One such occasion was the first Test against Australia at Sabina Park back in 2008. He was struck a frightening blow on the head by a wicked bouncer from Brett Lee but soldiered on to make 118, which held the first innings together.

“I remember that clearly. I was looking to get a single. I pushed my foot out a little early and Brett Lee saw me push my foot out and bowled a short ball. I saw him pull it down and I tried to duck but it did not bounce and it knocked me out cold. I was flat out. When I got up,
I couldn’t move my hands and my legs couldn’t move,” he recalled.

“I remember when I looked at the scoreboard I realised the position we were in and I said to myself ‘I need to bat on in this innings I need to stay here’. I could not go off at that stage. The team needed me to bat on. Dr. Mansingh came out and I needed to get some clarity from him whether or not

I was good enough to carry on. I said ‘Doc, if I stay on out here am I going to be okay?’ He said ‘Yeah, you’ll be okay, you can bat on’. When he said that it gave me new ‘vision’ and I settled in to dig in again.”

He continued: “Then I remember Ricky [Ponting] came up and said ‘No no, no he’s got to go off. He got a hard hit, he can’t continue. He should go off’. I knew why he was saying that. You see, he wanted me off the field because he knew I could hold them up. I looked at the scoreboard and I said I needed to bat on and on.”

A few weeks earlier, Shiv showed his batting prowess in the first ODI against Sri Lanka at the Queen’s Park Oval. He had to overcome a bout of illness in the morning to even make the starting XI, but by the evening he was celebrating a one-wicket win off the last ball.

He struck 10 runs off the last two balls – a four through wide mid-off and a six over midwicket off the wily Chaminda Vaas to spark wild celebrations on and off the field.

“Before the game I was sick and
I could not do too much. I was really struggling and I wasn’t sure how much I could really do. I felt like vomiting while I was batting. I was trying to get a few boundaries to try and keep us in the game to keep up with their run rate,” he said.

“The pitch was really difficult to bat on. . . the ball wasn’t bouncing. It was keeping really low and in the end when we had to bat, it was very difficult. Their bowlers tried to bowl as full as possible. I thought Chaminda would aim to be full and bowl ‘block hole balls’. There were many things going through my head. He was a very smart bowler. He went for the yorkers and I was able to hit both balls to the fence. The second-last one, I got to it and it ‘fired’. It was sailing past mid-off and I knew we had a big chance here.

“The next one was a full toss and
I swung as hard as I could. I timed
it really when but I saw Mahela [Jayawardena] circling and settling down at midwicket. I said ‘I hope I had enough on that’.

“Then I saw him going back and jumping and I knew I had done enough. I was so excited. I was just running. . . I was so excited. I didn’t know what was going on but I know I was excited. Then I felt someone come and pull me down. It was Fidel and he grabbed onto me and congratulated me.”

2008 was a great year. He averaged over 100 in Test cricket and was named the International Cricket Council’s Player Of The Year and took home the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy. That year, he was also named one
of Wisden’s Five Cricketers Of The Year.

“It was really big for me. I never expected to win something like that, knowing we have so many good players out there. To actually come out on top, it’s a great honour.”

Since then, Chanderpaul has grown in stature and is seen as a shining example to many who have shared a dressing room with him, including Tony Palladino, an all-rounder who played alongside him for Derbyshire last year.

“Shiv is a real student of the game, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and one hell of a player. At first hand, I saw Shiv’s open stance and his superb hand-eye coordination.

Even at this latter stage of his career he trains harder than most,” said Palladino. “On match days he follows the same routine: setting the bowling machine to its maximum, serving up 90 mph inswingers, taking them on wearing no helmet – not recommended.

“Roughly 250 balls later, he walks out ready to play.”

“I love chatting to Shiv about his career and experiences. He’s seen it all, so to be able to tap into that wealth of experience is brilliant for a cricket badger like myself. He never tires when talking about the game. Shiv is a real student of the game, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and one hell of a player.”

Kraigg Brathwaite, the young West Indies opener, noted: “I model myself on Shiv. I look to see what he does – how he prepares, how he gets going, how he builds an innings – and try my best to learn from him. I have batted with him a few times in Test cricket and the great thing about him is, he always talks, he always shares information, he always tries to help you to relax and that helps to take some of the pressure off. He’s a great example to any young cricketer like myself.”

Away from the cut and thrust of the game, Shiv always tries to find time for his family. He is especially grateful to his father for all the love and support throughout his career. Now a third generation of the family has emerged. Shiv’s son Tagenarine, known affectionately as Brandon, like his father, is a determined left-hander. He played alongside his father during the WICB Four- Day tournament and was one of the leading batsmen for West Indies at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Dubai two years ago.

“My dad has done so very much for me throughout. In the beginning a lot of times
he would go to work and then come back and still bowl at me and get the other guys to come and bowl at me as well. He dedicated
a lot of time to me and my development and helped to prepare me and make me who I am today,” Shiv said.

“He has now dedicated a lot of time to
my son to try and get him into cricket also. Brandon is now playing and is doing okay. He is still very young and has a few things to learn, but he is enjoying his cricket and wants to do well.

“The first thing is, everyone out there will want to compare him with me but I told him not to worry about that, to just be himself and do what he knows he can do. I told him ‘you can only be you . . . whenever you step out there, play your way, express yourself and be yourself’. He’s got the talent but he needs to work hard on his game. If you want something as your profession, you have to make sure you prepare yourself and be ready to face the challenges.”

Shiv is a very private person but, unknown to many, he is one of the most fun-loving members of the West Indies team. He would often crack a joke to ease the tension during a tense moment or cheer-up his teammate after a long, energy-sapping battle of attrition out in the middle. He may not always demonstrate that side, as he often carries stern, stone-faced look while on the field, but off the field he enjoys a good laugh.

Shiv has always used television sitcoms to help him wind down after a long day in the field. “In the beginning I used to like Sanford & Son [the 1970s series featuring Redd Foxx] and when that finished, I enjoyed watching Will Smith in The Fresh Prince Of Belair. Now I like The Big Bang Theory. This helps me to relax a lot, especially when you have a long day which has left you mentally and physically tired. I would look at these shows on the TV and that always helps me to relax and get some laughter. The next day you feel revived and you are able to get up the next day and go out and do your work again.”

Shiv signed off with a boyish grin and said: “…back then, more than 20 years ago I would never have expected this … I love my job and I’ve enjoyed it all.”