May 2006: Ronnie’s Rhythm

With the Test Series in South Africa finally concluded – mercifully earlier than scheduled due to a pitch with more than a little help for the seamers – attention turned to the Northern Hemisphere. Sri Lanka battled against the cold and the clouds on three-sweater days at Worcester, and India set about extending their irrepressible ODI form on their Caribbean tour.

Barring a surge of uncharacteristically spilled catches at Lord’s, everything went to the English early-season plan. Three hundred runs in two Kevin Pietersen innings – including one reverse sweep for six off Muttiah Muralitharan that has made the work of every youth coach in the country that little bit more difficult. In Jamaica, the first ODI of five beat the elements to go down to the wire, but Mohammad Kaif held his nerve to keep the Indian plan intact… until one man decided otherwise.

It’s six years and 102 matches since his One-Day International debut, hailed as the next great West Indian batting artisan, and a future Caribbean Captain. Yet since then, the Windies have seen more wicketkeepers than Ramnaresh Sarwan has made ODI centuries and each cycle of captaincy has seen the Guyanese batsman passed over – not ready, not mature enough, not complete.

There have been flashes, glimpses to let us know that we haven’t just imagined that spark. His scintillating century sparked the Windies’ epochal run-chase at the ARG three years ago, and a fiery – if ultimately fruitless – innings against Sri Lanka in the World Cup that year showed that he was not short on bravery, either. Stretchered off after being hit over the ear by a Dilhara Fernando bouncer, he returned to haul his side to within 7 runs of unlikely triumph.

Nevertheless, for each firework display, there have been many – too many – more washouts. Unfulfilled starts, unfulfilled promise, and Sarwan was nothing more than an intermittent threat, peripheral to Lara, Gayle and Chanderpaul. There was no need to devise intricate plans to bring about his downfall, because more often than not he’d prime his own traps.

The second ODI between the West Indies and India at Sabina Park began with the tourists, fresh from their 17th consecutive successful run-chase, high on confidence, high on form and red-hot favourites to make it 18. Without Sarwan, they would have done.

Marshalling a struggling Caribbean batting lineup, he coaxed, cajoled and carried the lower order to support him on his way to 98 not out – one run shy of being exactly half of Windies’ eventual tally of 198. By the time that Dwayne Bravo’s sensational slower ball yorker despatched Yuvraj Singh four hours later, it was still one run enough. The Series was levelled.

Catharsis? Come St Kitts’ first ever ODI, it certainly seemed that way. Set 246, it didn’t matter that only two other West Indians passed eleven. It didn’t matter that he came in at 31 for two in the tenth over. It didn’t matter that the required run rate breached seven per over. Whilst Sarwan was at the crease, Basseterre’s baptism was in safe hands.

The series was turned, and the Indians’ spirits were broken. The hosts went on to take the two remaining games and seal the series 4-1, the first time the West Indies had won four consecutive ODIs (excluding matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) since England went down by the same scoreline eight years and 150 matches ago.

The world game needs a strong West Indies; the beat of the Calypso has been silenced for too long. Whether the full symphony will return remains to be seen but for now, at least Ronnie’s got his rhythm.

Cricket Web Player of the Month
May 2006

Ramnaresh Sarwan

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