Sarwan keeps the stattos happy
Posted in England in West Indies 2009
When the fielding side takes the new ball for a third time, they know they are in trouble.
So when James Anderson ran in at the start of the 161st over, armed with a shiny cherry and the scoreboard reading 574 for five, England had long since begun to fear the worst.
That ball actually brought them four wickets - more than they had managed with either of the previous two - but by the time it was cast aside late in the day, West Indies had established a lead of 149.
A first-innings total of 749 for nine declared was the third highest in West Indian history, and they head into the final day of the fourth Test in Barbados harbouring not entirely implausible ambitions of pulling off a remarkable victory.
Though Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook survived two overs before the close, they and their colleagues will go to bed tonight knowing they can expect a rigorous examination of technique and, perhaps more crucially, temperament as they attempt to make the game safe tomorrow.
A quick glance at the pitch, which remains in remarkably good shape, and the scorecard - 1,355 runs and 15 wickets over four days - suggests England’s task should not be too onerous.
But their humbling for 51 in Jamaica is fresh enough in the memory to plant sufficient doubt in the England camp - one worries what effect a couple of early wickets in the morning will have on their psyche - while West Indies can take considerable encouragement from the menace once again shown by Fidel Edwards in the one over he was afforded this evening.
England may be wondering how they find themselves in such a potentially precarious position. They they need look no further than Ramnaresh Sarwan and, to a lesser extent, Denesh Ramdin, for an answer.
The benefit of hindsight - that most precious of commodities for a sports journalist - tells us that the signs were there when England declared on the second evening with a seemingly impregnable 600 runs in the bank.
The serene manner in which Sarwan played in reaching 40 by the close served as a warning that he would not be easily dislodged the following day.
If England required any convincing of the scale of the task facing them, they could look at Sarwan’s contributions thus far in the series: 107, 94 and 106. This was a man in supreme form.
To that sequence he can now add 291, the highest score of his Test career and one of many new entries into the record books on the sort of day which has statisticians drooling.
Four West Indian batsman have scored more in an innings that Sarwan, while West Indies’ mammoth total was the third highest in their history. England have conceded more runs in an innings only once.
Denesh Ramdin also recorded a new Test-best, a brilliant 166 which also represented his maiden century at international level, while Graeme Swann’s five-wicket haul for the second Test in succession went largely unnoticed on another day to make bowlers weep.
Sarwan, however, fully deserves to hog the limelight after spending 695 minutes at the crease. That translates as 11 and a half hours, an incredible feat of endurance however unthreatening the surface. He faced 452 deliveries, struck 30 fours and two sixes, and oversaw the addition of 582 runs.
We were all two days’ younger when Sarwan began his innings, although some of the England bowlers appeared to have aged considerably more than 48 hours by the time they trooped off the field this evening.
His concentration was topped only by his patience, while a water-tight defence allowed him the freedom to express himself via the medium of a series of effortless cover drives and well-placed cuts.
He has contributed significantly to the statistic that a wicket has fallen every 140 deliveries during this match, and, as aesthetically pleasing as Sarwan may be, the overriding feeling as ball after ball thudded into the boundary boards is one of relief that timeless Tests are a thing of the past.
Wacky celebrations, however, appear to be very much en vogue: Sarwan copied Ravi Bopara’s Usain Bolt-inspired celebration when he reached three figures, and Ramdin topped them in the originality stakes by whipping out a piece of paper which read, ‘Thankyou Bish, Ronnie and Willy’ - a tribute to former West Indies bowler Ian Bishop, Sarwan himself and assistant coach David Williams, three of his mentors.
It may have resembled an acceptance speech at the Oscars, but if this match is ever made into a film, we can all be fairly sure that it won’t be a box-office smash.