Shivnarine Chanderpaul probably was surprised to see the reaction to his first Test hundred; the pitch invasion was reminiscent of something more than the first hundred by a talented batsman who has been the one steady bone in a rather shaky West Indian body for some time. But this is the West Indies and people do not try to hide their emotions. They are free, quick to cheer and have taken this slim lad from Guyana to their hearts.
This was Chanderpaul's 19th Test and he must have been wondering when the day would come. Thirteen half-centuries have been made since his debut and he must have had visions of breaking the drought when he got as far as 79 in company with Stuart Williams in the second Test. But then he fell and, as usual, thoroughly annoyed with himself, walked back muttering furiously under his breath.
The other times when he has been close were against New Zealand in 1995 and against Australia in 1996 when he got to 82 both times. But then that first ton does not come easy, even if it does come in one's first Test. The great Sobers got to his first hundred only after three years and 16 Tests -- and it proved to be a record which stood for 37 years! With Chanderpaul, it must have been a hurdle to be crossed more mentally than anything else but it had obviously begun to prey on his mind. People had begun to talk about it.
Chanderpaul is a not the typical West Indian player. He is more in the mould of Larry Gomes who served West Indies cricket well during the glory years under Clive Lloyd. Gomes was overshadowed by the numerous brilliant stroke-makers in the team but he pulled his weight and got the team out of trouble on numerous occasions. He was often content to play second fiddle and let the other man score. But he was no slouch as is evidenced by the fact that he got nine hundreds and 12 fifties in his 60 Tests.
Chanderpaul has shown himself to be mature beyond his years. It was he who provided Lara with the support needed to surpass a milestone which had stood since 1957. He has batted at numerous positions -- opening, number four, number three -- but wherever he has been, his attitude has been the same. He is aware that he has a great tradition to follow; a number of illustrious batsmen have preceded him from the island, not least of them being the great Rohan Kanhai. He has one quality which does not come easy to today's cricketer -- he is a humble man in an era when every two-bit cricketer has a swollen head.
The West Indies crowds were waiting. They knew that it would be a question of when, not if. They love their cricket in those islands and they know the men who have given them something to talk about and the ones who continue to do them proud. Chanderpaul's first hundred thus was not just a personal achievement; everybody at the ground felt for him and the spontaneous reaction was to go out and just reach out and touch this fella who was keeping the maroon flag flying high.
This will not be the last time this lad gets to the three-figure mark. The hope among his fans is that now, with the mental block gone, the frequency will increase. He has the ability, the tenacity and the talent to leave his mark on West Indies cricket in the way that many others have done before him.