John Updike, the great American novelist and poet, wrote, in his highly acclaimed tribute to baseball hitting legend Ted Williams, that retirement “was a little death that awaits all athletes.” Well, it appears that West Indies batting great Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 43, an age at which most of those who bat for a living have long hung up their helmets, has no intention of dying that little death anytime soon.
To be fair to the left-hander, it’s not as if he has one foot in the grave, or that he has given anyone the impression that he’s on his last legs. The runs are still gushing, and he is as steady and as solid and as difficult to dislodge as ever.
He struck three hundreds this last county season for Lancashire and was seventh in the division-one batting averages with a very commendable 51.93. Unlike Kumar Sangakarra, however, who at 40 decided to retire after scoring eight hundreds and averaging over 106 for Surrey, Chanderpaul has signed on to return to Lancashire for the 2018 season.
Now that he is back home in the Caribbean, the great batsman, always up for a game of cricket, has decided to make himself available to represent his homeland in the regional Premier Cricket League (PCL). This gesture has not gone down well in some quarters. The worry is that Chanderpaul playing for his country at this point in his career is not in the interest of Guyana’s or West Indies’ cricket as he will be occupying a spot that would have been best held by an up and coming player. The veteran batsman, after all, has already achieved more in the sport than many would dare dream of. The chances of him being recalled to the West Indies team are nonexistent, and so it is the time he lay down his blade and allow the younger batsmen to flourish.
And it’s not like Guyana is in dire need of his services either. Those opposed to his inclusion point to the fact that they were PCL champions last season and have already jumped out to a lead after two rounds in this season’s edition. They also have a fair number of players climbing up the ranks who could do with as many opportunities as possible.
Chanderpaul is, by some distance, still the best batsman available to Guyana. He’s probably still the best batsman in the entire Caribbean. But as great a player as he is and as loyal a servant as he has been, his services are not now required. He will best serve his country by surrendering his spot to a younger player.
But Chanderpaul is Chanderpaul; still the batting addict; still the master technician working assiduously to improve his already extensive skills. He is the same Chanderpaul that confounded former Durham teammate David Warner by batting for six hours against a bowling machine. Were he allowed to, he’d play until he dropped, until his last breath perhaps. Such is his love for batting and for cricket. If there is a game going on and he’s eligible to play he will want to be involved in it. It’s as simple as that.
But even if you think his motives are not wholly altruistic it is undeniable that he is an asset to any side that he’s a part of. The case for Chanderpaul’s exclusion is reasonable. It’s possible a player with real prospects for the future would benefit if the great man opted to stand down from the spot that he undoubtedly merits. But there is a strong argument to be made that there is, even more, to be gained from his presence in the team.
As well as they have been performing there has to be a lot they can learn from a player as experienced and as capable as Chanderpaul. Is there any doubt that batsmen like Keemo Paul will be better off for having the opportunity to gather at the feet and absorb the lessons from someone who has thought so much about the batting profession?
Some will contend that Chanderpaul could not have been all that influential in the West Indies team over the years since they have so long dwelled in the doldrums. Yet many a player, Marlon Samuels and Jermaine Blackwood among them, have spoken of the value of the veteran’s guidance during some of their longer stays at the crease.
What could be better for Guyana’s young batsman than viewing the methods and the approach of a master batsman up close? What could be better for them than having the proximity to be able to pick the great man’s brains and seek his wise counsel?
Guyana ought to be happy for their good fortune. It is unfortunate that a young player will have to miss out in order to accommodate Chanderpaul, but if that is the price of getting him on the team then it just might be worth paying it. There are rational arguments for and against Chanderpaul being included but if both sides are balanced on a scale then those who want him in the team probably have the weightier opinions.
David Warner, currently one of the game’s best, has often spoken of the telling effect playing alongside Chanderpaul had in his cricket. What is good enough for the young Warner ought to be good enough for the young Keemo Paul.