Shivnarine Chanderpaul gets ready for beach cricket
© Nikhil Ramkarran

Cover story

Shiv on the shore

When the great flood or fire finishes the world, Chanderpaul may still be batting. Here he is in his element: his home in Unity, by the Atlantic

Rahul Bhattacharya  |  

One day Khemraj "Cowfly" Chanderpaul got vexed. He was a fisherman and a talented cricketer living on the northern coast of South America near where the Mahaica river drains into the Atlantic. The thing that vexed Khemraj was that in his village club team other guys were not making runs.

"So I say, 'Man, look there's nonsense goin' on now. I think it's time for me to start trainin' me son.'"

The son was Shivnarine. He was a quiet, fine boy - fine in Guyana meaning thin. This was the early 1980s, when Forbes Burnham had choked Guyana, among the western hemisphere's poorer nations, with rigged elections and a severely closed economy.

"Years was hard the time when he start playin'. You nah get to buy gear - it not available! You got to beg somebody and trade, and they don't bring it because they scared. So me had all them ole pads and me just cut them, you know, and tie up he hand, and he ribs. Soon he start to learn to play. He used to have a bat, the handle break, and I bound it up with bamboo and them sarta t'ing. Then after the amount of practise wha' he get, I put he in a helmet. I develop the trainin' from eight years. He learn the basic first. But everything he develop, he develop by he natural."

We will see how he develop. But for now, something else. Khemraj then trained Shivnarine's son. Tagenarine Chanderpaul, 18, known also as Brandon, has played for Guyana alongside Shivnarine. There is a chance that he might do the same for West Indies. Which means that the life and career of Shivnarine is as mind-boggling to contemplate as it seems. Except nobody does much contemplate it. Shivnarine slides low.

Chez Chanderpaul: from left, Lianna, Ciara, Khemraj, Brandon

Chez Chanderpaul: from left, Lianna, Ciara, Khemraj, Brandon © Nikhil Ramkarran

Shivnarine is a marvel. He is in the 41st year of his life, his 21st in international cricket. He has comfortably outlasted giants who began after him, among them Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis. Only one other current Test cricketer made his debut in the 1990s: Rangana Herath, who debuted five years after Shivnarine, and has played 101 Tests fewer. No great batsman in history has played so long for a side so poor. Few have been this hard to dismiss.

When the great fire or flood finishes the world and cricket, there is no guarantee Shivnarine will not still be at the crease 87 not out. Some day much before that, he will dig a bail into the crease, claim some variation or another of his grotesquely endearing stance and in the course of an equanimous innings score his 11,954th run to become the highest run getter in the West Indian Test annals. At that stage the next three in line will be Brian Lara, Vivian Richards and Garfield Sobers. It will be a triumph of resistance, which is as heroic a value as adventure, in life and in sport.

It is doubtful Shivnarine contemplates this point. He is slung in a hammock in the yard of his family home, his third child, three-year-old Ciara (Hindu name Damini) settling into sleep on his thigh, and Shiv is trying to keep things quiet, pulling the string hung from the beam above to a lullaby rhythm. There are ambient sounds of the Guyanese country: goats bleating, roosters crowing, gusts of Atlantic breeze, a man in a tempo hawking balanja-okra-squash-pumpkin-karaila on a megaphone, and a village drunk making hollering conversation. "Check me back later, man," Shivnarine tells him. "If I pass and I see yuh, I give you somethin'."

Chanderpaul's symbolic space in the West Indies is very different from his great Indo-Guyanese predecessor, the pioneer Rohan Kanhai

The village is called Unity. There is a simple profundity in Guyanese village names, formed in the aftermath of slavery and indentureship. When Shivnarine thinks of growing up in Unity he thinks of the village games, between Unity Cricket Club, the club of his father and uncle and his own, and the rivals, Young Stars, the crowds gathering for the big matches, the musical bands playing late into the evenings. He remembers Khemraj's training, tough but enjoyable work. Together they would prepare the pitch at the community ground and on that pitch, or out on the beach, the village would line up to bowl at him, or as he puts it, "Who can bowl bowl, who can't bowl pelt."

It takes a village - but in the case of Shivnarine it took more. A beautiful, imperilled picture of West Indian community emerges from the thanks that pepper Shivnarine's conversation. He is grateful to his uncle Munilal, a cricketer on the fringes of Guyana selection, who would often take him to Georgetown to play while Khemraj went into the ocean to catch fish that his wife Uma could sell. He remembers Neil Singh, the Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC) president, who took him as a 15-year-old to a gym owner called Rudy Persaud with the words, "Rudy, I have this young fella here and I need you to do some work with him." Under Rudy's tutelage he remained skinny but became strong, leg-pressing 500 pounds, deadlifting 300 and squatting 200 by 19.

He has thanks for Jimmy Adams who roomed with him in the early years, counselled him when he was down, telling him, "Fella, don't worry about anything, things happen in life", or "Come, young fella, let's go do some work", and together they would find a net close by. He believes Carl Hooper sat out of a Test match so he might make his debut, "so I must say thanks to him". He is beholden to Lester Armagoon - late, beloved Uncle Les, the Trinidadian businessman and travelling West Indies supporter, who one day watching a youth game in Bourda was impressed by a young batsman, and learning of his financial situation and the scarcity in Guyana, began purchasing and sending gear out to him.

The Guyanese have a saying:

The Guyanese have a saying: "One one dutty build dam." Dutty, a bit of earth; dam, a mud bank. That is a Chanderpaul innings © AFP

Khemraj's main move was to toughen Shiv as one might glass. He told me of a challenge he once issued a local cricket luminary on the sidelines of a match at Everest Cricket Club in Georgetown. "I tell he, 'Man, carry the kid out on the pitch, and choose any one of you bowler. If they hit he, is me fault, is me expense.' The guy make excuse, say the kid is little and thin and all kinda excuse he makin', and I say, 'Man, in India and Pakistan from the time they born, they play cricket.' Right, so cricket don't have little and small."

It was one of Shivnarine's outfield sessions with Khemraj that brought the boy his first break. A Mr Derrick "Zegga" Atwell took a look at him and offered a slot at Demerara Cricket Club (DCC), the home of Clive Lloyd, Lance Gibbs and Roy Fredericks. Shivnarine was then 10 or 11. Sean Devers, the Guyana youth cricketer turned radio commentator, remembers a frail kid. "Protected by a pillow as a chest guard and with his father Khemraj watching, the tiny lad valiantly took everything… including a few vicious bouncers. He was unconquered for nine overs when the innings ended."

It was such a time in Guyana that even public transport was squeezed and getting Shivnarine up and down from Unity to Georgetown became a challenge. "There wasn't much vehicle on the road them time, fuel was a problem for people to get." He left DCC to play closer home for East Coast Police, before, at 15, settling forever into GCC at Bourda, for decades Guyana's international venue. To counter the transportation problem, the Jodahs, family friends of the Chanderpauls, took Shivnarine into their Georgetown home for over three years. They too were a cricket-mad family, and one of the Jodah boys, Richard, was a Guyana Under-19 player.

I met Richard Jodah one evening in Bourda, atmospheric as ever with its wooden grace and dereliction, its peripheral Samaan trees, girls playing hockey in a corner pitch and boys cricket on the centre wicket.

"He look so frail. But when you look at his hands - to me it had two layers of skin on it. His hands was so hard! I guess the fishin', the things you do up there. So although he was looking frail he was very tough-tough inside. Not afraid ah nothin'. The fastest of bowler you could put to bowl against him at that age.

"One afternoon we had a first-hand look at something special. We were nettin' and we had a young fast bowler, Calvin Belgrave, who played for Guyana. Chandra was not 16 yet, just around there. He played a shot that make everyone just… He played a kind of half-sweep, half-pull shot. He was down on his knees, and he hit the ball into that scoreboard down at that end. And everybody stand up and sayin', 'What de hell! He could've been knocked!' But he just played it, you know, and he just continue battin' normally."

In his different avatars, Chanderpaul has come to symbolise the hope of precocious talent, of racial harmony, and finally a transcending resilience

Jodah's memories of that period conjure a nostalgic Georgetown adolescence: riding around town, three boys to a bicycle, Shiv on the handle, Richard's younger brother on the bar, Richard pedalling; Hindi movies at the cinema; Khemraj bringing fresh fish on the weekends; cricket equipment laid out reverentially on the beds of the shared bedroom; evenings on the steps, planning for this batsman or that bowler. Cricket obsession. If they were not playing at the club, they played in the cemented space below the house.

"I remember we used to have these flannel balls; we used to peel off the green, the fur. We used to dip them in a bucket of water and pelt them along the concrete. It used to be a very short pitch. The ball used to fly and hit the wall and hit you in the head and so on. And there again, we used to see, Chandra had a little more time to get behind. He just gets in a little earlier, you know, looks the part. That was the next point we knew that this guy would one day play for the West Indies."

One evening, Jodah was coming into GCC when he ran into Rohan Kanhai, West Indies manager.

"I was walkin' up the steps. Kanhai was coming down the steps. And Kanhai was askin' how he could get hold of Chandra. It was a couple of days before the Test match. They had a lot of preparation, I remember vividly. Somebody said, 'Look, Richard comin' up, the captain of the club.' Kanhai asked me if I could call Chandra. I say, yes, but he's all the way up the East Coast. I asked him if he want him now or I can get him tomorrow. He said now, he want him now. I was still young, I didn't be drivin' then. I got a friend, Mark, his dad had a car, and same time Mark was comin' in as well. I say Mark, we got to go up to Mahaica, Unity, we got to pick up Chandra. So Mark say, 'For what?' I say Mr Rohan Kanhai asked me to go and get him. So Kanhai said, 'Well, he's been included in the West Indies squad, but keep it quiet.' I said whoa, me 'en wait for him to finish! Me and that guy, Mark, we shoot turn back out and we start headin' up East Coast!

"On the way up it had a major major accident. So the one road we usin' that time was blocked off. Place started to get dark. And we worried now, you know. Finally we got through. When we went up, Chandra wasn't at home. Place was twilight like. I said to his parents, 'We need Chandra, we got to go down to the club.' They said Chandra on the beach. I say you gotta go get him, so they send somebody, and Chandra came. I said Chandra, 'We gotta pack, we gotta go!' Chandra said, 'Where?' I said, 'We gotta go, bro! Pack up!' He said, 'No boy, you kiddin' me' kind of thing. I said, 'Skipper, you just get drafted in the Test team!' He said, 'Wha!' I said 'Yes!' He ain't believin'.

"So his mom and everyone they start packin' he bag. At that time he had an injury in his feet, I think a nail or a fishbone get stuck and he was limpin'. I said, 'Skipper, this is do or die, right, you got to forget about this thing here.' We brought him all the way down. We had to check him in at the Pegasus hotel. We took him straight to Kanhai room. And I literally see this guy, you know, when I look at him, you know, he was like my little brother, you know, one of these feelin' you know, that he was soo... shakin' you know, I was shakin' too!"

That is what Test cricket meant, what the West Indian maroon meant: a badge of ultimate honour, of highest cultural expression, an audition for a starring part in the Caribbean epic in which every man, woman and child from the vagrant on the street up to high office saw him and herself reflected.

From this distance of 20 years and 20,000 international runs Chanderpaul's role is manifest, but at that juncture it did not feel quite so inevitable. A Georgetonian present at the Pegasus poolside on the eve of the Test recalls the patronising attitude of some England players: this was a quota selection and the Guyanese teenager would not last beyond a single Test match. England players need little excuse to be patronising but perhaps they were swayed by Chanderpaul's 3 and 28 in a tour match for the Board President's XI. He was a local prodigy but in the wider world not much was known about him. Some felt he had been picked as much for his legspin as his batting. He had only played 15 first-class games. His last innings for Guyana, though, was a 73 against Leeward Islands - which impressed Curtly Ambrose, who would become a big Chanderpaul fan.

The author puts Brandon through his paces at bumper-ball cricket

The author puts Brandon through his paces at bumper-ball cricket © Nikhil Ramkarran

On the third afternoon in the second England v West Indies Test at Bourda, March 1994, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 19, went in to bat to a crescendo. Years later the writer Ian McDonald would remember the "heightened tension and the prayerful hopes" at the ground that day.

"You had to wonder how this pinch-faced boy in the big pads could avoid being knocked down, much less score any runs. I will remember that first ball as long as I live. It was the fast bowler Chris Lewis who bowled it as a thousand hearts leaped into a thousand throats. Chanderpaul calmly got into line, took his bat out of the way, and let the ball go through harmlessly to the wicketkeeper. His Test career was underway."

There is a three-minute clip of the innings on YouTube: the matchstick frame, the giant helmet made further outsize by ludicrous white plastic ear guards, the limp that Jodah spoke of, and most eye-catching, a stance as extraordinary but completely different from the open-body absurdity that he would develop years later to stop himself falling over. On debut, Chanderpaul is bent so low over his bat that his back is parallel to the floor. His elbow protrudes out in a sharp, determined triangle down the wicket. Not until he is ready to play his stroke does he straighten himself, with supple alacrity. His boundaries are hit to overspilling delirium. At 50 he is surrounded by pitch invaders, most of them Afro-Guyanese, hugging and tugging at him, more and more of them, for longer and longer, until he is freed from their clutches by Jimmy Adams. When he is out it's like somebody died.

"He got bowled for 62," Jodah remembers. "He was battin' out of this world. Everyone thought it's a hundred on debut. When he walks in the pavilion, he glance up at us, you know, and we glance at he, you know, and he shake he head, and he walk straight through here. And that was the time we knew we weren't goin' to see him as a player among us as much. That moment there, boy. He go on and never turn back."

A band of admirers united in deep fondness for the eccentricities, irregularities and colossal achievements of this most singular cricketer. Call us the Chanderphiles

It was so long ago that Test matches could have a rest day. On this one, Chanderpaul went up to Unity. He took the minibus but Peter Roebuck, who was interviewing the family as Shivnarine walked in, noted that he had not had to pay his fare.

West Indian celebrity is its own thing. Beneath and sometimes at odds with the adulation is the fierce egalitarianism of small, informal societies that have had to fight for all manner of parities. Here nobody must be seen to be getting too big for his boots, even if he hasn't really. When Shivnarine Chanderpaul goes running around Unity, he receives no prolonged glances. When he drives down the coast into Georgetown, where a street is named after him, he is just another man behind a wheel. One driver nods and addresses him by his nickname, "Eiy, Tiger, wha' goin' on?" and Shiv nods back with a "Yeah, man." And at a traffic signal a motorcyclist who has drawn level to the vehicle stares in through the window into Shivnarine's eyes. Of course, Shivnarine will not meet that gaze. He is not a gaze-meeter. Besides, he knows, as I do, that all the man wants to do is position himself as an equal, convey something like, "Nah be acting big, banna, cause me 'en really care for dah" - but acting big how? by driving a vehicle of the reasonably successful? - and as the green comes on the motorcyclist revs pointedly before taking off.

Chanderpaul has seen all this and he has absorbed it; he's seen more than what distant observers account for.

Andaiye, the Guyanese activist and educator, briefly helped Chanderpaul with his studies after he left school (at 13). In a newspaper column written in 2000, when West Indies were in free fall, she examined sympathetically the plight of Chanderpaul, about whom, as she put it, "were too many cries of 'I know exakly whuh wrong wid he', 'He get rich too quick', 'He loss interest in cricket', 'Like he wash up at twenty-five.'" She recalls by contrast the celebratory motorcade after Brian Lara's 375, with Chanderpaul - still in his debut series - his partner for a long part of it.

All this would make a nice story book about a young boy rising to fame and fortune like a meteor, but in real life, the young boy must have felt a little dizzy. From Unity to a motorcade through thousands upon thousands of cheering people is a long journey to take in a few months. I remember seeing part of that motorcade on TV, and seeing how they were linking Lara and Chanderpaul together as examples of Afro-Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean everything - THE GENIUS OF OUR PEOPLE, THE UNITY OF OUR RACES, THE UNIQUENESS OF OUR MULTICULTURAL CULTURE, THE SYMBOLS OF OUR FUTURE, THE …whatever ... At one function, Lara, Chanderpaul and the other dignitaries were standing on a kind of balcony looking down at these thousands of people; it evoked memories of kings and other such waving to their adoring followers. Much later I learned that on that day, they suddenly asked Chanderpaul to speak and as he put it, "I couldn't talk. I freeze." He couldn't talk till a lady behind him whispered that he should say "I love all of you" and he said it.

Chanderpaul felled by Lee in Jamaica: a moment whose immediate aftermath told of

Chanderpaul felled by Lee in Jamaica: a moment whose immediate aftermath told of "cricket as an instrument of unity and identity in the region" © AFP

Chanderpaul's symbolic space in the West Indies is very different from his great Indo-Guyanese predecessor, the pioneer Rohan Kanhai. When Kanhai sprang to vivid, stroke-making life six decades ago, Indians, the last entrants into the faraway plantation societies of the Caribbean, were a significantly marginalised community, still identified as cane-cutting "coolies". Kanhai's meaning is powerfully evoked in David Dabydeen's poem "For Rohan Babulal Kanhai". Against history's "White Overseer", against the Afro-Guyanese leader Forbes Burnham, against the violence towards East Indians in the town of Wismar in 1964, Rohan Kanhai is the redeemer.

Is cuff he cuffing back for we,
Driving sorrow to the boundary,
Every block-stroke is paling in a fence
He puttin down to guard we,
And when century come up, is like dawn!

Chanderpaul's career has played out to an entirely different context. When he broke into the Test side, he was the first cricketer of Indian descent to play for West Indies since Faoud Bacchus in 1982 - a West Indian side that Viv Richards had contentiously referred to as "a sporting team of African descent". It was 1994, two years after Cheddi Jagan's People's Progressive Party, propelled by its Indo-Guyanese support base, assumed office in what were heralded as Guyana's first free and fair elections. It has remained in power since, and today it is the Afro-Guyanese citizen who feels shut out. In the West Indies cricket team, East Indian representation grows by the year: with six in the XI at Edgbaston against England in 2012 (Chanderpaul wasn't even one of them) it was, according to Professor Frank Birbalsingh, "the first time in their history West Indies picked a cricket team that included a majority of Indian-Caribbean players".

When Shivnarine Chanderpaul goes running around Unity, he receives no prolonged glances. When he drives, he is just another man behind a wheel

In his new book, Indian-Caribbean Test Cricketers and the Quest for Identity, Birbalsingh marks the instance where Chanderpaul ducks into a Brett Lee bouncer in Jamaica, 2008. Watch it online, the felling is frightening: Shiv goes down limp, swaying; he lays flat on his back, a motionlessness like the end of things, for well over a ten-count… 15… 20… 25… and ticking… Is he unconscious? Alive?

As I watched it, I thought of two things from our conversations. My dad used to say like, 'Hit his head off', and they would go for it. The other was his frustration - anger, actually - at having been labelled an injury-faker, sometimes from within the team set-up. Chanderpaul did not retire hurt, or get on to the stretcher for a break. He is a batsman and he batted, progressing to a century. "Amy [Chanderpaul] was not the only one shedding tears," Tony Cozier wrote of the ovation he received on reaching the landmark. "So were big men, without a hint of embarrassment." For Birbalsingh, the moment was as poignant because the audience, primarily Afro-Jamaican, moved to tears by the valour of an Indo-Guyanese batsman, told of "cricket as an instrument of unity and identity in the region".

The great sportsperson, more so the great West Indian cricketer, is a cultural phenomenon. He imbibes from the essential character of his society and/or his sport, embodies some aspect of it, and breathes new inspiration into it. In his different avatars, Chanderpaul has come to symbolise the hope of precocious talent, of racial harmony, and finally a transcending resilience: all of which hold the promise, this is how far we can go.

"We must play Carl and Shiv/That's how we have to live" © PA Photos

It is not surprising that the iconic Guyanese musician, cultural observer and cricket fan Dave Martins has written two songs starring Chanderpaul. He wrote the first, "Gie Dem Shiv", in 1997, after Chanderpaul's first, long-awaited Test century (in Barbados, setting up a narrow Indian defeat so that, as the lyric puts it, Tendulkar wanted to pack up and go back home). It begins with Indian instrumentation and a chutney inflection, powered by a high-energy refrain that uses the Hindi word beta, or son: Come, beta, come and le' we lick down de bowlin. A few years later, at a time of street disturbances in Guyana, Martins was requested by a government official to write a "heal the rift" kind of song. He declined at first because he did not like to write "head-on" songs but was eventually persuaded. The result was the wonderful "Hooper and Chanderpaul", featuring the finest Afro- and Indo-Guyanese cricketers of the generation.

We must play Carl and Shiv
That's how we have to live
For us to win this game, banna
Guyana must combine
Hooper and Shivnarine
This match is make or break, banna

Chanderpaul loves the songs, and all of Martins' music, which he pulls up on YouTube when he misses home, "to, you know, remind yourself where you come from". Though he tells me, without wishing to be quoted, about his challenges fitting in, he is happy - proud - to be a symbol of reconciliation.

"Shane was murderin' us and Mark Waugh at slip was also givin' it to us. You know, it just got us angry. So we started to play a bit of shots"

It was not always, as Andaiye had suggested, easy for him to carry these expectations. A year before that column, in 1999, Chanderpaul used his licensed firearm to shoot a policeman in the hand on the Georgetown sea wall late at night, mistaking him for a bandit. The incident perhaps says something about Chanderpaul; it certainly does about the anxieties of daily life in Guyana. The girl with Chanderpaul that night was a teenager called Amy, whom he would marry and settle with in Florida with a second son. (Brandon's mother, Annalee, runs a beer garden in Unity village.) Chanderpaul's split with Amy some years ago was terribly bitter. Off the record this was a topic he initiated several times, and spoke about in surprising detail, as he did about his falling-out with his one-time mentor and business partner, the former Guyana player Sheikh Mohammad. He left me with the impression that he registers suspicion, betrayal or perceived betrayal very strongly. Everybody's life is a complicated business. I raise these points in order to gesture at the turmoil below the unrippled surface. How must the champion sportsman organise his mind? To this I found Chanderpaul's answer remarkable.

"When there is turmoil in your domestic life, how do you deal with it in your cricket? Does it affect you?"

"You try to focus on what you have to do at the time, and it actually helps when you have other problems. It helps to keep your mind away from that and just play cricket."

"You use cricket as an escape from that problem?"

"Right. It helps you to keep your mind off that and just go and focus on something different, yeah."

With his wife of the time, Amy, at the Bharat Sevashram Sangha temple in Calcutta, 2002

With his wife of the time, Amy, at the Bharat Sevashram Sangha temple in Calcutta, 2002 © Associated Press

But it was more hard-won than that. There was a turning point, 15 years ago or so by his estimation, when his career - an average around 40, with just two centuries - had not gone quite as prophesied. Chanderpaul came in contact with Swami Vidyanand Maharaj at the Ashram in Cove and John, not far from Unity. "He put me on the path. I seen a big difference from the beginning of my career to after I saw him."

The guruji gave Chanderpaul a mantra (I wondered which one it was, but at the Ashram I was told the mantra was customised to the needs of the seeker). He began travelling with beads and an extensive altar - "Lord Shiva's murti, Shiva family pictures. I'd have Hanuman, I'd have Lord Krishna. One with the three of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva. Mother Lakshmi, Mother Parvati, Mother Saraswati. Basically everything. Everywhere I go I will always set it up. Prayers in the morning is to Lord Shiva and my meditation is to him. Morning time before I go out and do anything, before I go out and eat."

"The meditation keeps you grounded, calm?"

"Right, a lot of times things don't go your way. Other times a lot of things happening around is out of my control, maybe because of new management or new people coming or other things happening, and I can't do anything about it. You have a new coach, new manager, new this, new that, and they put a lot of pressure on you for no reason sometimes. Tell you all kinds of things. Sometimes you think about everything and in the evening just try to go back and relax, even though it's hard to relax after these things happening. You block some time in the evening, sometimes a lot of it clears up from sitting and doing your meditation."

He left me with the impression that he registers suspicion, betrayal or perceived betrayal very strongly. Everybody's life is a complicated business

The legendary concentration, part inherent, part acquired, is integral to the cult of Shiv. There is such a thing. A band of admirers from around the world united in deep fondness for the eccentricities, irregularities and colossal achievements of this most singular cricketer. Call us the Chanderphiles.

The Chanderphiles revel in Shivnarine's focus, his faux-warrior glare-patches (introduced to him by Faoud Bacchus in Florida, where the "light real bright"), the evolving splendours of his stance, the routines (the bail hammered into the pitch for guard, the pitch kissed after a century, the fidgeting, the flickering tongue and darting eyes before facing up), in the improbably quick innings and especially the interminable ones, and an inexplicable interest in the numbers which bear out, triumphantly, the entire spectrum of Shiv.

In Georgetown I rang Omar Persaud, who, I was told, had some good information on Chanderpaul. Mr Persaud worked for a local insurance company. He asked where I was putting up and sent over an envelope with a neatly folded photocopy of a letter that one Harry Harnaam had published in Stabroek News. That letter is the cult of Shiv: a long list of beautiful factoids.

1000+ MINUTES: Shiv holds the World record for batting 1000+ minutes between dismissals, he did it 4 times in his career, no batsman in history has done so more than once.

But also:

SIX FROM LAST BALL TO WIN MATCH: Shiv is only cricketer in world to have scored a six from last ball to win match, when anything less than 6 would not have won the match, OK guys I know many times 6 was scored from last ball to win, but a 4 or 5 could have given same result.

OLDEST & YOUNGEST Players Top Scoring in an ODI Series: Shivnarine Chanderpaul is the only player to have top-scored while being the oldest and the youngest player in the series.

To Chanderphiles, whether or not they are statistically minded, there is in the feats of Shiv an immense personal pleasure, something like pride. He is what he is, which is like nobody else, and we like that very much.

The deeds of others animate Chanderpaul more than his own, and on the hammock in Unity village, daughter asleep in his lap, pulling the lullaby string, he gifted me the fun and casual intimacy of a Guyanese gyaff.

I asked him to name the best match he'd been involved in and he did not pick the record fourth-innings chase of 418 against Australia, where his own 104 off 154 was key. He picked an Ambrose match: England 46 all out, Port-of-Spain, 1994, Chanderpaul's second Test. "He was bowlin' fast! I could remember fieldin' in the slip and remembering every minute, every ball bowled, I was just going back, and back, and takin' a couple of step more back, another couple of step back."

Talking about Brian Lara, he recalled a Test match against India in St Kitts, 2006, when Lara was captain.

"That was the game when Harbhajan get three wickets in one over [actually two in one; and four in three] and left me on 97. I can't believe he did that! In that game Harbhajan was bowling a line on the off stump just outside the off stump and I was just leaving the ball, leaving the ball. And some of it was a bit fuller so you can't cut at it and you can't drive at it. When I went inside, Brian say he wanted us to score a bit faster, so he was tellin' me why don't I hit the ball? I said, 'Bri, he's bowling just outside the off stump, and I can't, I can't just hit those balls!' Bri said, 'Get your foot closer to the ball and hit it! Get closer to the ball!' I tell myself, 'All right, let me go out and try what he's saying.' So as Harbhajan bowled the ball outside off stump I just tried to get my foot closer to cut it, and it run away through backward point for four. So I said, this fella here, he knows a lot of things about batting.

"These are things that I've learnt from him, watching him bat. I know Brian, when he bat, he hits the ball behind point, very hard. Sometimes he got spin on the ball, and sometimes he doesn't put spin on the ball. And he does it deliberately.

It depends on where the guy on the point boundary is fielding. If the guy on the boundary is out square, then he puts spin on the ball so it keep running away further behind and the guy can't catch it. And sometimes they put him behind, and Brian hit it with no spin so it go in front for four. He still cuts the ball, but he does not put spin on the ball. He's an amazing batter. Serious."

When I asked him about the best bowler he faced, Wasim Akram, Chanderpaul began to laugh with incredulity.

"Wasim is a genius. Wasim is a man who can do whatever he wants to do with the cricket ball. One time I batting against him in Pakistan, it was '97. Wasim was bowlin' big swingers, swingin' across me, swingin' into me, and I been flickin' at some of the ball and missing 'em and waitin' to hear the sound behind me. And it was missin' everything. Then after looking for swing-swing-swing all of a sudden I saw a ball on my face! Because he has such a whippy arm action, you don't even pick up when he hit the deck. And I remember the thought came into my mind - Clayton Lambert said to me once, he was battin' and all of a sudden his hand is down here, he saw the ball in his face, all he could have done is throw himself on the ground. And that thought flick in my mind the same time I saw the ball in my face, so I just throw myself on my bum and the ball miss me and I got up and dust off myself. Even though the wicket don't look like you could bowl bumper on it, he got it up on my face! I open my eyes and say, 'Let me keep my eyes open because this man is very dangerous.'

Just another jogger on the streets of Unity

Just another jogger on the streets of Unity © Nikhil Ramkarran

"On the same tour, Hooper was battin' on 85 and saw Wasim warmin' up to come and bowl. Saqlain bowlin' at the end he wanted to bowl, so they move Saqlain around. They gonna give us an over there to move him so that Wasim can bowl. So they bowl Azhar Mahmood. Hoops look towards Wasim and tell me, 'Before him come back, I be a hundred.' Hooper hit Azhar over extra cover for six. Hit him over the other corner for another boundary. And then the next over now Saqlain bowl, he took a lick off Saqlain also. Hit him for a boundary, got his hundred. And Wasim came on. Now Wasim bowl a few that went across him. Hooper normally play bat-and-pad, but he left a little gap just enough for the ball to pass through. Wasim had a look at him. Then Wasim had one go back through that little gap and hit them stumps. That is how good this guy is. Wasim is an unbelievable bowler. Wasim Akram."

I asked the gently swaying Shivnarine, his voice still perfectly calibrated for baby-sleep, for other great contests with the great bowlers. He recalled another '90s duel. In this one he scored 71, the fifty from 38 balls, an innings Wisden described as "astonishing". Eventual victory was Shane Warne's, with an even more astonishing feat, a humongous legbreak from the rough. The thing in his answer was his relish of competitive heat.

"Well, Shane, Shane's a guy that would tell people all kinds of things when he bowling. I remember the Test match in Sydney. Hooper and myself were battin' in the mornin' and Shane was murderin' us and Mark Waugh at slip was also givin' it to us. You know, it just got us angry. So we started to play a bit of shots. Hooper got out. And they still keep on chirpin' and still sayin' a lot of things. And that time I tell myself, anytime Shane pitch up the ball, I will be there in front of it gettin' the ball. So the whole mornin' I was like just shot, shot, shot, beatin' them all over the park, and then against all the other bowlers I just playin' shots because, you know, you get into that momentum. Then just before lunch he came back and he pitched the ball in the rough. I was going to leave the ball alone and as I saw the ball coming back I tried to play it, and as my bat coming down it hit my pad and it open up a space and the ball went through and it hit the stumps.

"That was like a challenge, there, you know, he comin' at us, we going and everybody trying to get at us and we goin' back at them too. That's the cricket I know from when I was a little boy comin' up! The older, the bigger guys tellin' you things and you wanna show them that you can do something also. When people come at us, as West Indians we go back at them in our own way."

"Is that what motivated you to go after them at Bourda, the 69-ball hundred?"

"Not really, that was just one of those days! I came off two good hundreds, one against Jamaica and one against Leeward Islands, and they had proper fast bowlers also." He counted off the fast bowlers in each team. "Comin' off two hundreds like that and when I walk out to bat at Bourda - well Bourda is something I been playing most of my life on. I went out to bat and [Andy] Bichel ran in and I just step out and push the ball and it went past him and once the ball pass you at Bourda, that's it, gone. Every time I hit the ball it just went through the gap, went to the boundary. It was not until the guy made the announcement, it woke me up from what zone I was in. And then just shortly after, I got out!" "The crowd must be going crazy for you."

Later in the innings, there is a swivelling hook, taken from outside off stump and hit on the stagger, which might earn a cheer from Alvin Kallicharran

"Yeah! That's the other thing too. When you walk out battin' in Guyana and battin' in Bourda, you know the people and the fans, the high that it give you, the noise that they would make, is unbelievable."

"And Bourda is one of those grounds the sound just stays in."

"Yeah, it just stay in there. And a lot of noise when you walk out to bat. Yeah, always."

"Does it bother your concentration? You like batting in a bubble, right?"

"No, it helps, it helps when people cheerin' you on. Yeah, sometimes some people might want you to bat a bit fast, especially one-day cricket they'd be little impatient about things."

From memory I knew that the 69-baller began in the first session of the series. Playing it back I found Chanderpaul had walked in at 47 for 4 with Brad Hogg on a hat-trick. That Bichel shot is a stunning work of timing, a punched on-drive to a length ball that could have hardly been bettered by Sachin Tendulkar, whose signature it was. Later in the innings, there is a swivelling hook against Jason Gillespie, taken from outside off stump and hit on the stagger - which might earn a cheer from one of Khemraj's favourites, Alvin Kallicharran. Breeze blowing, shots blazing like fire, runs flowing like rum. Come, beta, come and le' we lick down de bowlin'! But Chanderpaul had not mentioned that he was given out lbw to one that pitched a good five inches outside leg.

Chanderpaul came from Derbyshire into Guyana for a few days (where to my luck and joy, our trips overlapped), before reporting for a West Indies pre-series camp in Barbados. I had assumed these few days would be days of doing nothing - but I don't think Chanderpaul does days off. On a short break home, he is out running in the 9am tropical sun, on country roads, beside glorious Flamboyante trees and rows of palm and Guyanese trenches, past Hindu homes with their jhandis. He does not any more look frail. He looks strong, if just a little worn down. One of the people he credits with his late-period revival is the former West Indies physio Steven Partridge, and not for maintenance work alone. One day, during a deep-tissue massage to Chanderpaul's routinely stiff back, "Steven said, for you to get your average into your 50s you need to be maintainin' every year an average in the mid-60s." They did not discuss it further, but the thought stuck.

With baby Ciara

With baby Ciara © Rahul Bhattacharya

Halfway into the run Brandon begins to cut out a lead. Chanderpaul, adjusting to the Guyanese heat, doesn't try to compete, doesn't get thrown off his game, just ticks on like Father Time. By the end, the youth, taller than Shiv and with an impressive gym-toned physique, has taken a full minute off his old man. "My skin is on fire," Chanderpaul grunts as he comes in through the gate of the house. By the time he takes off his shoes, sitting across his hammock, Brandon has brought him a glass of water.

Soon afterwards we go out to the beach, along with some of Brandon's younger friends from the village, and a bat, stumps and two hard, bright bumper balls made of compressed rubber.

We go to the water's edge. Chanderpaul picks a spot and marks out, by instinct rather than paces, a pitch of maybe 18 yards, thumps the stumps in.

Brandon bats first. These bumper balls are quick! They take off from the hard wet sand, firm enough for steep bounce and prodigious carry but light enough, just about, for swing. Brandon, an international Under-19 star, shows us his chops, coping with the rapid vagaries of ball and breeze, smiling competitively as he faces up to Chanderpaul, who puts his shoulder into it and finishes his action with a graceful follow-through. In Khemraj's view Brandon is a better player than his father at that age, except "towards spin, because me shoulder gone weak and he can't get the amount of practice".

Then Chanderpaul takes guard. That's him on the sand with the stance, not any impostor. He faces more midwicket than square leg (he varies the angle, he tells me, depending on bounce and swing). He holds his bat loose and easy with his low grip (to account for which, he tells me, he uses a super-short handle that doesn't jam up against his forearms). He flicks the bat up over his shoulder a couple of times as though it's a piece of cloth, and then, as the ball is released, rearranges himself, manipulating his own limbs like a champion puppeteer might his puppets. He is Brandon's father.

Where the odd delivery rapped Brandon on his groin or thigh or chest, or whizzed past his edge, with Shivnarine it's as though the pitch has doubled in length. We are trying. Brandon, a strong boy, is flinging hard, grunting as he does, and the bumper ball is flying about. Chanderpaul is daddying us: not with strokes, no, there is no real need for that. It is simply that he knows. When a ball is marginally outside off stump, he calmly pulls his hands inside the line as though signalling it a safe and happy passage, bye bye silly ball, see you later. Defensive shots come from the dead centre of his bat. Full deliveries he picks up years ahead and walking across, flicks to on - as the world has watched him do for two decades. Short deliveries he ducks beneath or, insultingly, leans away even before the ball has landed. On some occasions he is just there waiting for the pull, which he executes softly out of generosity. The one ball that comes close to troubling him, swerving and rearing up at his shoulder, he plays down square on the off - exactly where no catcher would stand. The Guyanese have a saying: "One one dutty build dam." Dutty, a bit of earth; dam, a mud bank: every bit adds up. That is a Chanderpaul innings.

Richard Jodah: 'He was battin' out of this world. Everyone thought it's a hundred on debut'

Richard Jodah: 'He was battin' out of this world. Everyone thought it's a hundred on debut' © Rahul Bhattacharya

The 15 minutes bowling at the master on the Atlantic foreshore is the single most exhilarating and educative experience of my cricketing life, such as it is. It is the only first-hand taste I have had of cricketing genius. The past few days have given me a chance to clarify why, or what, that genius is. I'm thinking of the shot Richard Jodah described to me - the half-sweep, half-pull. Akin to Kanhai's sweep-hook, except Kanhai ended up flat on the ground: the "triumphant fall" as Neville Cardus put it, "backsideboundary hook" as the poet Sasenarine Persaud did, and which Khemraj, capturing the flip perfectly, calls the roti shot: "first time I see a man sit on his butt and hit a ball to the boundary!" Kanhai learnt his cricket on the canefield wastelands of Berbice, batting with palm fronds against cork balls covered in rags and tied with twine, and of all the many permutations of personality, physicality and environment and untold mysteries that go into the creation of the brilliant sportsperson, might the palm-frond abandon have been one?

Shivnarine moulded himself in Unity. In the closed hall of the community centre, Khemraj would throw down cork balls ("concrete ball", as Shiv called it) on a short, slickened cement pitch, testing the boy's reflexes and making him find solutions; and right here on the water's edge against the flying bumper ball hurled ceaselessly as the tide by gangs of villagers - from here came his genius of not only concentration but something more pinpoint: perhaps anticipation is the word. Like Kanhai's, a genius developed from scarcity.

At the end of the session I ask Chanderpaul about anticipation. I ask him if he could read intentions. He explains it like this. "I'm watching the hand. If it's up so," he stretches his arm to full bowling height, "I know it's going to be full. If it's here so," the arm slightly lower, "I know it's going to be on a length. Down so," further lower, "it's going to pitch short. So I already know when you release the ball." Straightforward? The arm positions vary by mere inches. He is supposed to be at - well, past - the age where an elite batsman's eyes have dimmed and reflexes have slowed. He averages 72 over the last seven years, 80 against Australia, 70 against England, 78 against South Africa. He thinks he can go two more years, at least.

"This beach used to be much, much wider," Shiv is now saying. "Then the mud started coming in. We used to play 20-over tournaments here on weekends, underarm flinging, the competition stretch out over a few weekends. A whole set of teams, fisherman team, backdam team and so. Play the whole day, no matter how much rain - the sand only get tighter, ball bounce more." He is talking over the ocean breeze, and there is joy in his voice.

The family is out on the beach, his parents Khemraj and Uma, his partner Lianna and their daughter Ciara. Above us is the blue dome of the Guyanese sky, white cloud, a flock of scarlet ibis; before us gnarled trees growing out of low water, fishing boats undulating gently on mud-browned waves - the ocean that Khemraj Chanderpaul knows so well, the ocean by which his forefathers arrived to begin unknown lives on unknown shores.

Did he ever think Shivnarine would go so far? I asked him.

"No, well, they say you get dream and sarta t'ing."

"He must've gone past any dream you had."

"Well, I dream that I go up and see him play at Bourda in the big t'ing."

"Everything else is extra?"

"Is extra."

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan and the novel The Sly Company of People Who Care