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Batsmen become bullies in Barbados

Posted in England in West Indies 2009

Ramnaresh Sarwan

Another delivery finds the middle of Ramnaresh Sarwan's bat in Barbados

For those of you expecting a different theme for today’s blog, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.

The regular readers amongst you (hello Mum and Dad) will notice how my comments over the opening two days have centred around the exploits of run-happy batsmen, with Andrew Strauss and Ravi Bopara taking the acclaim after scoring centuries of the highest class.

So it was with much regret that I am drawn down the same path today, but for that you can point the finger at Richard ‘Prof’ Edwards.

He is the groundsman at the Kensington Oval, and the man largely responsible for producing the road that is currently masquerading as a cricket pitch.

Such has been the ease with which runs have been scored over the first three days of the fourth Test that it has resembled a school playground, with batsmen filling the role of prefect bullies taking dinner money from bowlers powerless to stop them.

Indeed, the seamers could have been forgiven for considering a change of career, and the near-permanent scowl worn by Ryan Sidebottom suggested he may have been working on his CV during the tea break.

It would be hypocritical of me to eulogise over yesterday’s run-spree while in the next breath heaping scorn on a pitch with the potential to break bowlers’ hearts, but a level playing field is one of the basic tenets behind every sporting contest.

There was no shortage of exemplary cricket: Ramnaresh Sarwan, who made a splendid unbeaten 184, is among the world’s most attractive batsmen; Shivnarine Chanderpaul has compiled many uglier innings than the 70 he managed today; and Brendan Nash blazed away merrily for his 33.

Ryan Sidebottom

Ryan Sidebottom cuts an exasperated figure as West Indies close in on the follow-on

Yet the fact that the stand-out peformers were once again clad in pads, gloves and helmet tells its own story.

Maybe I’m too much of a traditionalist (I admit I prefer a surface to test a batsman’s technique rather than merely acting as a canvas upon which he can unfurl his full repertoire of strokes with abandon). Maybe I was spoiled by the thrillingly tense draw in Antigua. Or maybe I was just aggrieved that England could not press home their advantage any further with the ball.

But when West Indies’ fans start booing their own players, as they did when Chanderpaul repeatedly shouldered arms to Graeme Swann as he bowled wide of off stump in the afternoon session, then surely something isn’t quite right.

If the pitch has rendered an even contest impossible - 998 runs and 11 wickets over three days should serve as ample proof - then that should not detract from Sarwan’s sensational display.

He batted throughout the day, adding 144 wonderfully composed runs to his overnight 40 and eliminated the prospect of West Indies following on.

His temperament has not always matched his undoubted talent - look no further than the rash swipe which brought about his downfall on 94 in Antigua - but here he played with a maturity seen only too rarely during a Test career spanning almost nine years.

Sarwan is that rare breed of batsman who makes the game look easy when he is at his best. Indeed, his method was notable for its simplicity today.

If the ball was short, he ducked under it or tucked it off his hips. If it if was full, he punched it down the ground or the covers with an effortless swing of the blade. And if it was wide he slapped it through the covers.

Ramnaresh Sarwan

Sarwan brings up his third century in as many Tests, an innings of immense maturity

He repeated these strokes with unerring frequency throughout a day on which he shared stands of 122 with Chanderpaul and 53 with Nash, having extended his overnight partnership with Devon Smith to 108 in the morning session.

Sarwan was the fulcrum around which the Windies innings was built, compiling runs with an efficiency bordering on the metronomic.

Though never less than eager to punish the loose deliveries, he was content to let Chanderpaul do the bulk of the scoring during their crucial alliance, and even went 27 overs without hitting a boundary as he moved towards three figures.

Not content with a third century in four innings this series - the ‘failure’ was that effort of 94 in the previous Test - he powered on mercilessly thereafter, following up a slog-swept six off Swann earlier in the day with a quite deliberate upper-cut for six at James Anderson’s expense.

The maximum off Swann was Sarwan’s solitary leg-side boundary - he struck 20 in total - a remarkable statistic which further underlines the beauty of his strokeplay, led by a high left elbow.

Sarwan even managed to steer clear of the controversy surrounding the television referral system, hardly surprising given that the ball rarely located the edge of his bat, and he left the field with barely a mark on his pads.

His new-found appetite for occupation of the crease - a trait more readily associated with Chanderpaul - and his continued presence at the close means England face the same problem in finding a way to dislodge him tomorrow.

On a pitch containing all the menace of the Olsen twins, I don’t envy them.

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