Thank You, Tiger!
You would think that I am mad, but I am very sure that I knew Shivnarine “Tiger” Chanderpaul long before he was born. I knew of him perhaps before his father thought of him! I believe that we should all be very pleased to be alive to celebrate Shiv’s record-breaking achievement of becoming the most capped West Indies Test player ever, with, now, 133 Tests.
If we really appreciate our cricket and cricketers, we should give tremendously great homage to a guy who has survived everything thrown at him, even West Indies team captaincy, to soldier on, regardless!
By now, many would know that the little village of Unity-Lancaster, in the Mahaica area, up the East Coast of Demerara, in Guyana, with approximately 2,000 inhabitants, has produced two West Indies Test cricketers, “Chanders” and me. That is not bad at all, for such a little place!
To add to that, both outgoing President of Guyana’s Cricket Board, Chetram Singh and outgoing President of Republic of Guyana, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, are also our ‘country-men”, products of Unity-Lancaster. It would not be an idle boast to claim these achievements as being unique for any village.
I am very proud to be fortunate enough to have my name associated with these erstwhile performers, especially Shiv. While I did not know the two presidents well in their youth, I have come to know them fairly well in professional life. I certainly knew Chanders’ father, and uncle, ‘much better than well’!
Shiv’s father, Khemraj, popularly known to everyone by the call-name ‘Cow-fly’, must be the proudest man anywhere to acknowledge that his son has become the West Indies’ longest serving Test cricketer, in terms of Tests played, when Chanders started his 133rd Test in Rousseau, Dominica, last week.
What many do not know is that Khemraj was also a very good wicket-keeper/opening batsman. He was our team’s ‘keeper/opener when the village played against any other village team, and he was sufficiently good, and credible, that he had even been ‘called to trials’ for Guyana’s senior team.
The ‘cricket-in-the-blood’ syndrome does not end there for Chanders. His uncle, Munillall Chanderpaul, who was Khemraj’s older brother, and who was called ‘Bunn’ by everyone – I have no idea where those false names came from – was also as good a wicket-keeper/batsman as his younger brother, perhaps better. He too had been called up and even played for a few times for Guyana.
Amazingly, both were fishermen. They worked hard to feed their kids and families, toiling on sea, sometimes for days on end, before returning in time to play cricket at weekends. While we were primary school students, it was their boats that we ‘borrowed’ from Unity foreshore, when we needed to get crabs in the islands situated at the mouths of Mahaica and Mahaicony rivers!
Those were the days when everyone knew everyone else, and everything about everyone else too. Unity was Indo-centric, while Lancaster was Afro-centric. Yet, in Guyana, maybe anywhere else too, there were no other two places that could have been more safely racially integrated, all great friends!
Playing with, and against, these tough guys gave as good an education as could be gleaned from a Test. No-one’s feelings were spared, and the language could not always be printed, but fun, laughter, focus, seriousness, will and determination to win, for us all, were instilled in those simple village games.
No cricket games, in the 1960’s, maybe to this day, could have had more intensity than when Unity Government School played Lancaster Government School, either at the Unity cricket ground, or at the Mahaica Hospital cricket ground. Most times, almost the entire population of both villages attended.
Preparation of either cricket ground’s pitches had to be seen to be believed. All of us, the entire cricket team, and many other villagers too, helped the so-called groundsmen to prepare the pitches, with a smelly mixture of cow’s excrement and mud, to conjure up the hardest pitches I have ever seen.
We pushed heavy rollers, or cut much grass, with cutlasses and scythes. We even marked boundaries and return creases. Talk about community service; we all completed much of that. These were the freer days, when Shivnarine “Tiger” Chanderpaul was not even a twinkle in his father’s eye, or hopes.
The fruit, though, does not fall far from the tree! “Cow-fly” and “Bunn” were determined that their left-handed prodigy son, and nephew, when he arrived, would play cricket well. They ensured that everyone helped with his cricketing education. Even village dogs, cows and donkeys must have bowled to Shiv!
“Tiger” played cricket for Guyana’s Under-19 Youth team by the time he was 14! I am pretty sure that no-one in West Indies cricket could ever do that again, at least not in my lifetime, not with our present approach. We have too many coaches now who want their own input, so the naturalness is curtailed.
When Chanders made his first class debut, in 1991-92, I was still living in Florida. However, by the time he had impressed enough to be considered for West Indies, I was back in the Caribbean.
I had the great honour to be doing commentary, at Bourda Oval, in 1994, when he made his Test debut, against that year’s tourists, England. That cricket season started my sojourn into sports journalism.
I remember asking my former West Indies fast bowling partner, Andy Roberts, who, by 1994, was a West Indies selector, why he and his panel had selected Shiv to play against England. “He has much potential,” said Roberts. “If he continues his bowling, he could even be a genuine all-rounder!” Shiv bowled much more back then, but, it was his batting that made him so much more of an asset.
In 1991-92, aged seventeen years six months, Shiv got no wickets in his first two first-class games. He made 168 runs from four innings; avg. 56.00, being run out, for no score, in his first first-class innings. In 1992-93, Shiv played seven first-class games, making 356 runs, avg. 44.50, including his first first-class century, 140 n.o., at Bourda, against the touring Pakistanis. He also took eleven wickets that season.
In 1993-94, his Test debut year, Shiv made 708 runs from 10 matches, passed 1000 1st class runs, and averaged 50.57. He took 13 wickets too. He was indeed impressive. The rest is high class history too.
On August 16, “Tiger” Chanderpaul will be 37. Despite so many bumps along the way, he is still here!
Before his record-breaking 133rd Test, he already had 9228 Test runs, from 132 Tests, highest Test score 203 not out, v South Africa, at Bourda, avg. 48.56. He also has, overall, 19,266 1st class runs, from 267 games, highest score 303 not out, against Jamaica, avg. 53.96; really tremendous consistency.
Shiv should be celebrated around the cricket world as one who always had one singular purpose, to represent himself, family, heritage and region, to his very best ability. There is nothing more which anyone can do but to give everything in your life for a cause.
We should all be shouting “Thank you, Tiger!” I am! Enjoy!