In literature it is said that there is a limited number of basic plots that exist. Every story, regardless of the setting or the quirks, can be distilled into one of just a handful of templates.
Cricket is no stranger to compelling storylines. Through organised competition, evolving situations become animated by players – good or evil, as dictated by your allegiances – in the pursuit of victory.
My favourite type of story is that of the unlikely hero. It is the tale of the unconventional player who carves out an impressive place in history through his exploits. He is not supposed to succeed; he is an outlier. He makes a living out of defying conformists and converting disbelievers, and disturbs the natural order, eventually making pundits reconsider what is “right” or “wrong”.
My favourite cricketing tale of improbable success from an implausible source comes from the shores of the Caribbean. From a region known for élan and god-given cricketing capacity, a gutsy Guyanese grinder, built for grit over grandeur, is as expected as a snowstorm in Bridgetown. Nevertheless, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, West Indies’ Great Wall, has cemented an exclusive place in history with his classic underdog story. Moreover, the lore of the Tiger is about to advance to a new level of distinction in the very near future.
Over the course of the second and third Tests of West Indies’ current series against England, Chanderpaul will, in all likelihood, surpass a monumental number of Test runs – eleven thousand, nine hundred and fifty three. This is not just another number – it is a summit unlike any other.
In the face of collapses all around, Chanderpaul has been the abiding survivor, a bit bruised and battered, but never broken
Brian Charles Lara, the vaunted Prince of Port-of-Spain, scored 11,953 Test runs (11,912 of which came for West Indies and the rest for the ICC World XI) in becoming the highest Test run scorer ever among West Indians. He was a cricketing genius, and his career featured both individual feats of greatness and sustained excellence. The names below his are staggering: Viv Richards, Garry Sobers, Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, the 3 Ws, George Headley, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Learie Constantine, Desmond Haynes, and any other Caribbean legend you fancy.
Soak all of that in and then recall: Chanderpaul is on the verge of surpassing Lara’s princely tally.
True to the development of his story, Chanderpaul will not likely be receiving a coronation of any sort.
Over the course of more than 160 Tests, the imagery of Chanderpaul has varied from “hypochondriac” to “limpet”, “frail” to “barnacle”, and “scratcher” to “crab”. His one-of-a-kind approach to batting has been written about extensively over the years, having come to gain a level of admiration after several years of doubts and, at times, condemnation. The numbers, though, do not lie. Through celebrated abnormality, Chanderpaul will sit atop the West Indian run-scoring heap. It is an accomplishment that should be duly appreciated.
Chanderpaul’s longevity – his maintenance of physical strength as well as a continuously energised approach to the game itself – has been crucial. He has always been a grafter, and in the era of West Indian cricket that he has played in, the resilience that he has come to embody has been in short supply.
Additionally, few would argue with his steely determination. In the face of collapses all around, Chanderpaul has been the abiding survivor, a bit bruised and battered, but never broken. Indeed, attributions of “selfishness” have followed Chanderpaul as he has pressed on over the years (as he has accumulated the most not-outs ever by a top-order batsman), even though cricket inherently demands a “selfish” preservation of one’s position at the crease.
Such claims, and others, speak to some of the criticism that Chanderpaul’s intrepid ascension has generated: a view that seems rooted in trying to question how this little fellow, neither the artist nor the genius, can be perched atop such a list of luminaries. It is an interesting question, but it is, perhaps, a distraction. Asking either how or why is irrelevant.
Not every story needs to feature a dashing protagonist who wows at every turn. Such stories have charm, but they hardly capture the experiences of most people. For many, success is a battle. It is a process of learning about strengths and weaknesses, honing skills, minimising deficiencies, and, eventually, becoming the best version of oneself.
The old man of the Caribbean Sea – he who came from a rural upbringing, who rose through the ranks as a prodigious talent, and who persevered to become world-renowned – is about to score a few more. They will take him to the top. He will raise his bat. He might have a kneel and give the pitch a peck. He will shake a few hands and he might even crack a smile. And then he will keep on batting, for a little while longer at least. Yes, the “crab” will soon sit as the King. And deservedly so.