Tuesday, 5 November 2013


A sign of how little I think like a journalist – how much like a ‘writer’ (sometimes, a low-rent philosopher) – came when I interviewed Shivnarine Chanderpaul in early September. First, having one of only ten men to have made 10,000 Test runs here in the East Midlands all summer ought to have alerted me to the possibility of securing an interview and selling a feature. Belatedly, the penny dropped.

I requested the interview without having pitched the idea anywhere; I simply assumed that SPIN, for instance, would be happy to take a feature with such an illustrious cricketer.

So, I prepared some questions. Quite a few questions. I headed over to Derby and met Shiv at the ground at 2pm, the appointed hour. He’d been netting – surprise, surprise – as Derbyshire headed into their last two Championship fixtures, three wins in four games giving them, after 10 without victory, a small chance of staving off relegation.

We started chatting, me thinking we had an hour together. At 2.25pm he received a text asking whether he could pick up his daughter and take her to the doctor. The interview was terminated.

He gave me his phone number and said it was ok to call him over the next few days to finish things off. I called the next day; he was out shopping. I texted him the following day, said I was flexible, and I’d leave it with him. “Call whenever’s convenient”. It never was convenient, which was pretty inconvenient for me. I might have pursued him more relentlessly, but it’s not really my style. I don’t even really like speaking to people over the phone (a slight problem in this field).

So, there was a whole interview down the tubes – a second half that never took place, and that would remain virtual; a first half that would never see the light of day. And the first half was definitely the least interesting – I’d been going softly, softly, warming him up, hopefully having his guard drop, to pierce his legendary defensive technique. Some of the questions that went unasked:

* Is it fair to say that cricket in the West Indies is becoming bit by bit more Indo than Afro [Sarwan, Chanderpaul, Barath, Narine, Rampaul, Ramdin, Deonarine]?
* Fire in Babylon – you will have seen that era as a boy, the great era of fast-bowling dominance. Does an Indo-Guyanese or Indo-Trinidadian feel inspired by that era in the same way? Do they identify as strongly?
* Is there a divide in the region in terms of cricket’s popularity among the two ethnicities / communities?
* West Indies captaincy was thrust upon you when Gayle and others went on strike. Did you enjoy it in any way? I read that you quit because it was affecting your batting (but you made 200 in first game!!). Was it the ‘politics’?
* In the short-term, will T20 help revive the sport in WI? Will T20 dominance feed back into technique – so the next generation of West Indies batters, far from having your powers of concentration, are all going to be power-hitters? Does that matter (someone like David Warner, for example, played T20 for Australia before he played a first-class match, yet may develop into an excellent test player…)?
* From an administrator’s point of view, the WIBC want (a) one-day tours from India, and (b) Test tours from England – the former for TV revenue, the latter for tourism. So it would seem important that Test skills are still learned…
* How do you look back on the whole Allen Stanford thing now?

There were others, about bowlers he rated, career highlights, that sort of thing (stuff that would work as a standalone piece and increase my income).

Oh well, whatever, never mind, as someone once sang.

Then it occurred to me – and this is the other sign I don’t think like a journalist – that there might be something I could salvage. So, belatedly, I listened back over the 20-odd minutes of audio (for the first time!) and typed up the quotes. I sent them to cricinfo (my covering email describing it as “not exactly Frost/Nixon”) and, lo and behold, they wanted it.

The result? A quotes piece on surviving – at the crease, for a career, even for a cricketing culture – knitted together with one or two sentences of my own. Result. 

Shiv the Survivor

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