Mr Sarwan’s sad story
We are loath to insert the adjective ‘former’, when describing Ramnaresh Sarwan as a West Indies batsman, but we have to wonder whether this wonderful but unfulfilled talent will ever return to the West Indies Test team.
Mr Sarwan, who lost his West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) contract in 2010 for what the WICB claimed was his “extremely indifferent attitude and sporadic approach towards fitness,” has not played for the West Indies since the home series against India in July, 2010. Admittedly, he would seem to have underperformed over the course of his career, though he still has a respectable, if less than stellar record of 5,842 runs in 87 Tests, with 15 centuries and an average of 40.01. But he will only turn 32 next month and, on recent form in English county cricket, he still appears to have lots of runs in him.
Mr Sarwan’s recent interview with BBC Sport, however, paints a pitiful picture of mental disintegration that one finds difficult to reconcile with some of his heroic exploits on the cricket field.
Recall his being felled by a Dilhara Fernando bouncer in the World Cup match against Sri Lanka at Cape Town, in February 2003, only to return to the crease from the local hospital’s X-ray room, having defiantly swapped his helmet for his maroon cap, in a valiant but vain attempt to win the game for the West Indies.
Remember his superb 105, just ten weeks later, as he stood up to the snarling, spitting, swearing Glenn McGrath and Steve Waugh’s sledging Australians, when he helped set up the West Indies’ epic, world record run chase, at the Antigua Recreation Ground.
Sadly, the WICB and coach Ottis Gibson appear to have achieved what the toughest of opponents could not do – they broke the spirit of one of the game’s bravest and classiest batsmen.
According to Mr Sarwan, “The coach said some negative stuff that hurt me mentally and emotionally. Mentally I was broken down, not from the stress of playing, it’s just certain individuals have drained me mentally. It took a toll on my confidence and the way I play. Everything went away.” Additionally, he has been hurt by his treatment by his “own people,” who presumably include the controversial, crisis-ridden Guyana Cricket Board. Indeed, a satisfactory explanation is yet to be proffered for Mr Sarwan’s non-selection for this year’s regional four-day tournament.
Now, some might consider Mr Sarwan soft for such a baring of the soul and less than the hardened professional he should be after so many years of top-flight cricket. There has also been occasion, over the years, to question Mr Sarwan’s discipline and commitment. And, of course, there are at least two sides to every story; in this respect, we have not yet heard from Mr Gibson or the WICB’s garrulous spin doctor-in-chief, CEO Ernest Hilaire. But to condemn Mr Sarwan for this revelation would be to underestimate the insidious tactics of a Board and coach seemingly intent on dispensing with senior players and remoulding the West Indies cricket team into a bunch of committed and gallant losers.
The Ramnaresh Sarwan story is illustrative of the basic problem afflicting West Indies cricket. It is a management problem, as this newspaper has consistently maintained, and here we have a specific example of the inability of the Board to manage change and the glaring deficiencies of the coach when it comes to man-management. As Michael Holding, the legendary West Indies fast bowler, now a highly respected commentator, said in a recent interview with the Daily Mail, “Ottis Gibson needs to understand that the West Indies cricket team is not a boot camp. He needs to learn how to man-manage. I have no issue with Ottis trying to get discipline back into the team. But it is the way he has done it. As soon as someone says anything he doesn’t particularly like, he doesn’t want them around.”
Whether in sport, the corporate world or in government, that is no way to manage change or people. It is the way to entrenched mediocrity and persistent failure. The WICB needs to take a long, hard look at itself and its practices. The coach and captain need to stop being “pleased” about fighting losing causes, especially when they handicap themselves in their dubious approach to team selection. And Mr Sarwan needs to continue with his mental rehabilitation and let his bat do the talking from now on.