Ramnaresh Sarwan: An atypical Caribbean batsman whose faith is in utility than flamboyance
Born to Kishan and Kumari Sarwan on the 17-square-mile island of Wakenaam, Guyana, Ramnaresh Sarwanwould use a beater (a wooden instrument used for washing clothes) to hit balls and chase them around, eventually ending up in a trench. His real cricket started at age 11 when he hit a hundred for his primary school’s Under-12 team in his very first game.
He was soon to join the Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC), where former West Indies captain Carl Hooper was so impressed with him that he said, “You will be playing Test cricket one day.” When Sarwan was 15, he represented Guyana against Barbados, becoming the youngest player to represent a Caribbean country. It was here that he earned comparisons with Guyanese batting legend Rohan Kanhai, which provided further encouragement.
Sarwan is your typical utility player. He isn't a flamboyant hitter who sends balls out of stadiums; neither he is one who thrills purists of the game with immaculate defence and textbook strokes. Sarwan is West Indies' Do-It-Yourself kit; he will come to the fore when they need him the most and chip in with a practical innings. However, that hasn't stopped him from scoring over 5,800 runs in Test matches as well as One-Day Internationals (ODIs) averaging 40-plus in both forms of the game.
If Sarwan has failed anyone in his 13-year career so far, it is the great Ted Dexter, who after watching the former's debut innings of 84 not out against Pakistan said that he will average over fifty at the end of his career. It was a gritty knock under pressure, forged in the absence of the talismanic Brian Lara in May, 2000, at Bridgetown. Coming in to bat at No 6, Sarwan shepherded the innings with the tail and took West Indies to a considerable total of 398 after Pakistan had been bowled out for 253. However, an improved batting performance from the visitors ensured that the visitors eked out a draw.
Sarwan scored another half-century during the tour of England later that year, before being found out in the Australian summer. He could manage scores of only 0, 0, 2, 1, 0 in five innings before eventually scoring a half-century at Sydney, but could not prevent a 5-0 whitewash of his team. For the first couple of years of his career, Sarwan just could not cross into three figures. He would chip in with vital sixties and seventies, even eighties and nineties, but the third column in his scorecard was to remain ink-free for a while. The height of the nearly-there hundreds came at Ahmedabad in an ODI in November, 2002, when Sarwan remained unbeaten on 99 as the West Indies' innings finished. His scores for the rest of the games of the seven-match series read: 83 not out, 39 not out, 84, 34, 14 and 83.
Finally, in the December of 2002, some good karma came Sarwan's way. In a double delight, he scored his maiden ODI and Test tons against Bangladesh at Dhaka. It may have come against minnows, but Sarwan would have taken it given the time it took for him to get there: 28 matches and 49 innings. And when Sarwan hit his second Test hundred a few months later, he was to be catapulted to the status of a legend.
West Indies vs Australia, Antigua, 2003, is a match that will forever be etched in the minds of cricket-loving public around the world, until someone usurps the feat that was achieved on a hot day in May at St John's. The West Indies, set an improbable 418 to win by the mighty Australians, had survived probing spells from Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie, and a barrage of sledges to eventually get there and create history with the highest successful run-chase in the fourth innings. Top-scoring for the Windies was Sarwan, who put on 105 off 139 balls, including 17 boundaries. It was a typical Sarwan innings: full of back-foot cuts, drives and pulls standing back in his crease to the Australian pace trio. It is unfortunate that Sarwan's innings was somewhat overshadowed by the epic nature of the win and his foul-mouthed exchanges with McGrath.
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