by PVS Sudhakar Rao
So long, Shiv…
Another of the stalwarts and great champions of the Test match era has called — rather was forced — to call time on his great career that spanned over 2 decades.
To true connoisseurs of real, attritional Test match cricket at its best, this is an irreparable loss, the end of a golden era… Shall we see the likes of him ever again? No… They simply don’t make Test match champions of Shiv’s ilk these days! Hearing news of the Tiger’s retirement brought a lump in the throat to this reader, and I’m sure, the same sinking feeling must have enveloped scores of Shiv’s fans half-way across the cricketing world, here in India. The reality of Shiv’s departure from Test cricket is yet to sink in fully… that the champion from Guyana and the greater Caribbean has been denied a proper send-off befitting his immense stature, and that Shiv has walked into the cricketing sunset, never to be seen again wielding the willow on the international stage.
Words don’t come easily on such occasions. Words fail us mere mortals who follow the nuances and intricacies of Test match cricket, at its riveting best when cricketing immortals like Shiv fade away into the oblivion… Only memories remain, of their profound achievements and immense contribution to the game. Are we likely to see another such cricketing great again, who carried immense talent so easily on his slight shoulders, who upheld the highest moral principles of sportsmanship even whilst he played it aggressively, to the core of his cricketing fiber and soul. No. Cricket in this age is no more about ‘real’ Test match players who played the game passionately, for the sheer, unadulterated bliss it brought them and to the cricketing audience at large. It’s become a hugely commercialized, abbreviated and diluted version of its golden past.
What were my lasting memories of Shiv, the lad from Unity village, Guyana? Those etched indelibly — seem so distant in memory, now that his retirement has put Test cricketing timeline in proper perspective — are the infinite battles he fought so valorously, many a time in the company of the sublime genius of the “Prince” of the Caribbean, nay, world cricket, Brian Lara. Or with only the tail-enders, or the late middle-order for company at the other end; while he faced, head-on, the full wrath of the unceasing pace barrage (or spiteful spin from champion spinners that made the ball spit like a cobra at the striker’s end), taking blows to his body, and none-too-rare racist jibes and sledging, with unparalleled resolve and clarity of mind, in circumstances that always seemed insurmountable for a team that was on terminal and rapid decline — and way well past its golden age — for the majority of his career. No one particular innings can be singled out in this unending saga of his immense batting contribution against seemingly impossible odds to his team. All of them were gems in their own right, and together they make a garland of great, ‘in-the-trenches’ Test match innings.
However, his 118 against old foe Australia at Kingston in 2008 stands out like a beacon for the sheer never-say-die spirit of the man, his immense courage to soldier on after being dealt a sickening blow to his head by Brett Lee. And, who can forget his 104 — again versus Australia — at St John’s, Antigua, when he crafted a brilliant, back-to-the-wall 104, and along with Ramnaresh Sarwan, won the day for his team. Or, his 69-ball century at the Bourda Oval, Georgetown — against who else but the Aussies — was a rare, incandescent gem of an innings that was conjured up under very trying circumstances against a champion bowling side. This innings of pure counter-attacking genius was a very rare insight into the cricketing mind of a champion batsman, who was more often seen through his career trying to salvage his team’s precarious batting position. A courageous captain of a ship that was in eternal batting doldrums. And what a champion he was for the West Indian team for over two decades.
It’s very unlikely, nay, impossible, that we shall see the likes of him again on the world cricketing stage, for he was one of a rare breed of cricketers that they don’t make anymore. Here’s wishing Shiv a long and happy life post-retirement. You have given us fans enough cricketing memories to last a lifetime. So long, Shiv.