My Cricket Heroes (Part 1)

West Indies legends: Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Sir Garfield Sobers

By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine

I am glued to the Indian Premier League (IPL). I never thought that I would be fascinated by the shortest version of cricket but I can’t move away from the television. My conversion to the IPL, and later the CPL and the Big Bash, started a year ago. It was then that I watched the T20’s seriously.

The glitz and glamor and the thrilling finishes left me spellbound. The four hour entertainment also filled stadiums and brought in much needed cash to the game. But the T20’s have had its critics, and from the senior ranks of the game. Clive Lloyd thinks that it erodes the skills that are needed for Test cricket while Michael Holding wouldn’t be seen near a T20 game. He says that it’s not cricket. Viv Richards, on the other hand, is on the staff of the Pakistan League and retired players from Australia, Sri Lanka, and South Africa can be found in the IPL.

The purists of the game argue that Test cricket is the real deal. It is the ultimate Test that brings into play a wide range of skills for a prolonged period. A Test Match can end in a draw but the contest itself can be gripping to the last ball. I have been asked on several occasions to write about some of my favorite players. I have profiled some of them in the past, including Rohan Kanhai, Roy Fredericks, Clive Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharran, and others. I am aware that so many greats have played the game that it would be impossible to discuss all of them. I would therefore limit my choices to the modern era, starting from around 1950. It is the year when West Indies beat England at Lords and it is a good place to start.

My first two choices are Garfield Sobers and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. They are similar and yet very different. Sobers and Chanderpaul are both lefthanders, and once set, are difficult to dislodge. But Sobers had it all. They said he was five cricketers in one, rolled up in the total package. He could bat, field in any position, bowl fast, at medium pace, and dazzle with his chinaman and googlies. He was and is personable and always willing to give advice.

Chanderpaul lived for cricket. He was brought up using coconut tusks for a bat and played on the sandy beaches at the Mahaica foreshore. His father constructed a cricket pitch in the yard where the young Chanderpaul perfected his batting skills. One of the great influences on the young Chanderpaul was Garfield Sobers.

It is difficult to grow up in the West Indies and not know about Sobers. He played in various games in the Caribbean, and abroad, but one of the earliest introductions of Sobers was his 365 not out against Pakistan in 1958, at Kingston. The record was subsequently broken by Brian Lara in 1994 but Sobers still holds the record as the youngest triple centurion. He played an unforgettable role on the 1960 tour to Australia where Frank Worrell led the team with distinction. The first Tied Test occurred on that tour and gave cricket the impetus it needed to become a popular world sport.

Sobers went on to captain the West Indies and to dazzle the fans with his exceptional skills. Many argue that his record as captain could have been better but for sheer entertainment and watch-ability he reigned supreme. He was the first player to hit six sixes in an over and his innings of 274 against Dennis Lillee, and others, is seen as the greatest played in Australia. There are other records that can be seen on social media.

If Chanderpaul were batting at the other end Sobers would have applauded his determination and resilience. While Sobers took the bowling apart Chanderpaul would have defended stoically. But this does not mean that he would allow himself to be tied down. Chanderpaul has one of the fastest Test centuries and it was compiled at his home ground Bourda against the Australians. In that innings, he played all the shots, driving and hooking to all parts of the ground.

Sobers did not play as many limited over games as Chanderpaul; the record shows that Chanderpaul has scored over 7,000 runs in fifty-over games and has a healthy average of over 40.

The great players often say that averages mean little. It is the joy of bat hitting ball or knocking wickets over that count. But when the media constantly reminds one that a certain statistic is needed to overtake a record, a player finds it difficult to ignore it.

There is no question that Chanderpaul would have liked to break Brian Lara’s record for scoring the most runs in Test cricket. But Chanderpaul was treated in a shoddy and disrespectful manner by the West Indies Cricket Board. The former president Dave Cameron promised that ‘this Caribbean hero would be given an appropriate send off’ that befits a national treasure but it has never happened.

Chanderpaul was caught up in cricket politics and was pushed out of the team when it was said that he had at least another year of Test cricket left in him.

There are those that claim he was the victim of racism and favoritism that has dogged Caribbean public policy. Since his retirement, Chanderpaul scored heavily in county and domestic cricket so his ability was hardly impaired. A treasured bright spot occurred when the University of the West Indies conferred an honorary doctorate on Chanderpaul for his services to cricket.

This was appropriate and perhaps the University of Guyana will confer honorary degrees on Chanderpaul and Clive Lloyd to honor them and to help bring about social cohesion in Guyana. The lead up to the event can be a T20 game at Providence with a Chanderpaul Eleven versus a Clive Lloyd Eleven with Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai as coaches.

There is no doubt that Chanderpaul will make an ideal coach in the West Indies cricket structure. It is hoped that the new administration, under Ricky Skerritt, will make use of his services, and that of other senior players.

Chanderpaul and Sobers belonged to different eras but their commitment to cricket and the Caribbean nation could not be faulted. They are two of my favorite players.