Farewell, Shivnarine

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December the 19th, 2013.

The West Indies are 78/3, with Southee having just snared Kirk Edwards caught-behind.

With Marlon Samuels the not-out batsman, Shivnarine Chanderpaul strides to the wicket. The first ball from Southee is defended; immediately the cackling starts from the crowd.

50-something part-time ‘cricket fans’ start drunkenly howling derision.

That’s not batsmanship! It looks ridiculous! Look at him, he stands front on! What a joker!

The second ball Chanderpaul faces, he strikes a nervous four. It’s a certain boundary, and out of the middle, but looks…shaky.

Perhaps it’s the milestone he’s looking for – Test century 29. Perhaps it’s the jeers from the close-in crowd at Seddon. Perhaps it’s just the need for the team to do well in this Test.

Whatever it is, it encourages more taunts from the crowd.

“Look at this guy! We’ve got him boys, he’s your man Timmy!”

It took him a while to really look settled. Indeed, it wasn’t until he was ten from 17 balls that a blow from the Chanderpaul blade was struck with customary crispness. And by this stage, the West Indies were no longer three down, but five.

It was Neil Wagner bowling, the first ball of the over. Straight, full, terror-less.

Crack, a gorgeous straight drive sent it scorching to the rope.

While alcohol can bring the worst out of some fans, it occasionally knocks sense into others.

“That’s why he averages 50,” slurred one of the mates of the earlier taunters.

This match was occurring just a couple of days after I’d been fortunate enough to watch Chanderpaul close up in a West Indian net session. I was located about half a metre from the great man’s blade, only defended from being the default wicket-keeper by a mesh fence.

No greater honour has been bestowed upon me. Witnessing the technique of the Guyanese legend at such a close proximity was amazing. The stance, the crispness of shots, the clearness of thought.

You could see him working out the ball long before it left the bowler’s hand; he was ready. Only occasionally did he misjudge, and then his skill with the blade allowed him to immediately readjust.

So when, at stumps on December 19th, Chanderpaul walked off at stumps with 94 not-out to his name, I was less than surprised.

The next morning, I was at the ground ready. Ready to see him make a century.

The catcalls from the spectators, after every defensive shot or leave, of ‘Get a move on Chanderpaul!’ had well died off.

And when he rocked onto the back foot, held the bat horizontal to the off-side, and dabbed the ball through the gap between gully and cover, it was Chanderpaul who had well become the central figure. Hecklers? Pah.

***

Things have changed now. Chanderpaul, following horror runs against South Africa and England, has been dropped from the West Indian side.

It wasn’t just the lack of runs that was concerning: three quarters of the West Indies middle order are under a form cloud. It was the way he’d accrued that lack of runs.

It had been seen in the series against New Zealand at home, in 2014. Sure, he still struck runs, but the reactions were slower. Those readjustments weren’t firing. He wasn’t hitting the ball with the same crispness.

Against South Africa, his miseries were hidden deep among the brace of successes from Amla, de Villiers, van Zyl, and the failure of all his teammates.

But when the West Indians hosted the Poms, his changes were highlighted. Front-and-centre.

He was no longer the wispy lad of 1994, no longer the Aussie-basher of the early 2000s, no longer the stoic straight bat of the post-Lara days.

The once great Shivnarine Chanderpaul had been brought to his knees.

Curtly Ambrose, once so instrumental in bringing Chanderpaul into the team, is on the panel which has scheduled his demise.

But kudos must go to Ambrose, his fellow selectors, and their Chairman of Selectors Clive Lloyd. They’ve made the hard decision, but done the best thing for the team. If a man is to average mid-20s, at least make him someone building for the future.

Most of all, however, credit must go to new coach Phil Simmons. After departing Ireland, Simmons has been faced with a number of huge challenges. He’s been seemingly indefatigable in taking them on.

And whilst not a selector himself, a decision like the dropping of Chanderpaul would only have been done with the consent (perhaps even the advice) of the head coach.

For that reason, I say farewell Shivnarine. I for one will miss you greatly.

But well done Phil Simmons on making the toughest call he’ll make as coach – well done on putting the team first, no matter how hard it was to do, no matter the fire you’ll come under.

Farewell, Shiv. Good luck, Phil.

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