Idiosyncratic, crab-like and with extraordinary powers of concentration, Shivnarine Chanderpaul is in the midst of a quite phenomenal streak of form. He has scored at least 50 in each of his past seven Test innings - equalling the world record - but, more incredibly still, he has top-scored for West Indies in every of those innings.
Chanderpaul's batting seldom invites gushing tributes. He is not, and would never claim to be, any sort of stylist. But, as the unique way in which he marks his guard - with a bail - demonstrates, he has no qualms about not doing things by the coaching book. Almost uniquely amongst batsmen with comparable records, he virtually eschews the V as an area in which to score runs. His trigger movement may look bizarre, but it has helped him establish one of the finest defensive techniques in the world today. As importantly, he is the most phlegmatic of players. As if in a cocoon, he is content to leave balls indefatigably without seeming the slightest bit concerned. But he is invariably ruthless with loose balls outside off stump and with anything on his pads, flicking the ball to the legside boundary with tremendous placement.
How does one ruffle him? His technique occasionally leaves him susceptible to losing his balance early on in his innings. Over his 105-Test career, he has struggled relatively speaking, in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, averaging between 29 and 35 in each country. But, as he demonstrated today in his 253-ball vigil against a powerful pace-bowling attack, Chanderpaul is a better player than ever before now; his improved pull-shot makes him more comfortable dealing with pace bowling. Another weakness, oddly for a man for whom concentration has been so fundamental, has been his ability to convert 50s into centuries. But, much like another resourceful left-hander, Graham Thorpe, as his career has gone on Chanderpaul has learnt the art of conversion. He is now onto 17 Test centuries, though it would have surely been more had he not been handicapped by the perennial brittleness of the West Indian tail. But to his great credit, and unlike other players who place such a premium on their wicket, Chanderpaul is able to play a more expansive game when surrounded by tailenders.
At 33, Chanderpaul is in the form of his life. His sequence of epic innings in England defined the series in a manner almost unheard of for a man on the losing side. He averaged a scarcely believable 12 hours between dismissals. Chanderpaul is a certainty to be one of Wisden's Five Crickters of the Year - and a worthy candidate for Wisden's Leading Cricketer of the Year for 2007. He has indisputably raised his game after the retirement of Brian Lara, and should now have greatness in his sights. And, happily, it seems some of his team-mates are beginning to follow his lead.