A tour to Australia once was something to behold for a West Indian. It was here that Clive Lloyd suffered the humiliation at the hands of Lillee and Thomson which spurred him to world domination, where
Mike Holding and Viv Richards ruled World Series Cricket. It was where Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh rocked on spicy pitches and where Brian Lara didn’t so much signpost his greatness but unveil a fifty foot placard stating: “I rule” as he smashed Australia’s bowling attack to all parts.
Their latest incursion, an One Day International series shoehorned into the back-end of the winter is an inglorious continuation of this tradition, a filthy image of a glorious history. And, it’s been a miserable tour to boot.
The defining image of this tour has been the sight of Ramnaresh Sarwan groping around for semblance of form – two ducks, a hell experienced at the hands of Mitchell Starc – a redemptive tour of duty this most definitely has not been. Watching him play now is akin to what people must have felt watching Colin Cowdrey or Brian Close were recalled from nowhere to return to international cricket. The difference was that while those two were in retirement, Sarwan is just 32 and still conceivably, capable of a return.
Sarwan remains a curiosity, a strange curiosity. Here is a man who four years ago was in the form of his life. If England’s tour of the West Indies was famous for Sabina Park and Jerome Taylor, the other noteworthy point of the tour was Sarwan. His 291, the second highest score scored against England in the past 5 years, was his definitive peak. He was untouchable, in the zone at a highpoint which few batsmen can reach.
Yet nine Tests later, Sarwan’s international career seems over. His last Test was in 2011, he has been ostracized by Ottis Gibson and the West Indian management resulting in a successful legal challenge in the mean time. He is only 32, the same age as Kevin Pietersen, and yet his form has disappeared. If his recent form is a barometer of where is game is then he should be concerned, his recent form for Guyana is inconsistent, he has two ducks in two matches when he should have been pressing his case for recall.
It will be a curious end if indeed it is the end. Sarwan emerged as a prodigy, stuck around for ten years as an indicative boom-bust batsmen in a boom-bust team, not as gritty as Chanderpaul but easier on the eye, yet not as stylish or consistent as Lara. He was a mix of the two, a gritty batsmen who when on form could score big runs stylishly. He was the youngest West Indian to 5,000 runs, has more Test centuries than Chris Gayle, George Headley or Frank Worrell and an average of 40.
In a West Indian team which is still very much in a developmental phase, and with Shiv Chanderpaul aging, on record alone he would surely be a certain pick in a side lacking genuine experience but for his own battles to rediscover the game which made him such a capable batsman in the first place.
In a strange way, his career’s rapid decline has parallels with that of another West Indian right hander of repute, Lawrence Rowe. Rowe’s decline was exacerbated by an eye condition, Sarwan’s are less obvious. Perhaps it is just a decline in form, in fitness or perhaps a mental realisation that maybe at 32 he is no longer that batsman striking with a touch of grace, a flourish and plenty of poise. That is how he would prefer to be remembered, as the boy from Guyana who at times batted like a king. If his final moments in a West Indies team are dark one’s, thankfully they will not be defining one’s.