On the basis of recent form which is normally the modus operandi of selection panels as they pick teams, Guyana all-rounder Chris Barnwell would have thought himself hard-done by not to have been selected for the West Indies team as a replacement for injured batsman Marlon Samuels for their brief five ODI/two T20 tour of Australia beginning this week. Conversely, out of sorts fellow countryman and West Indies batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan must consider himself lucky to have secured a call back to the Windies squad for the tour after a contentious 18-month absence from the regional team, given his dreadful showing in the just-concluded 2013 Caribbean T20 tournament.
Fortunately for Sarwan the selectors named the team for Australia in the early stages of the Caribbean T20 in Trinidad and Tobago before Barnwell’s magnificent all-round performance slamming 88 from 49 balls with seven fours and four sixes after turning in a tidy one for 19 off four overs with good probing medium paced stuff in Guyana’s out of body successful chase of Jamaica’s 183 for 6 in 20 overs, with 187 for 4 with six balls to spare in their memorable CT20 semi-final at the picturesque Beausejour stadium in St. Lucia last Saturday night.
And one wonders whether the selectors have had second thoughts about the Sarwan pick since his wretched form continued throughout the tournament culminating with a dismal tally of 61 runs from eight innings during which his thinking, timing, and his technique appeared to be awry. And his body language in the field at times left much to be desired in the recent matches as well with misfields and one notable dropped sitter at midwicket against Jamaica.
Based on his solid ODI record, the Guyanese right-hander, who was considered one of the most talented batsmen around since making his test debut as a teenager against Pakistan in 2000, might have felt some sense of justification in getting the nod. After all the 33-year-old veteran has scored 5644 runs in 173 ODI’s at an average of 43.41 with four centuries. Sarwan has, however, only scored two half centuries Down Under against Australia in test matches early in his career and does not have any in the limited overs format there.
The prolific right-hander who most recently has represented Leicestershire in English county cricket would certainly like to seize this opportunity to improve his record against the Aussies in their backyard and justify his recall. But this would not be easy against a typically hard-nosed opposition that has a reputation for its laser-like focus on a player’s weaknesses as they seek an edge. Sarwan’s well documented vulnerability to the hook shot and his favorite cut shot will be tested by Aussie quicks like Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, and Shane Watson.
Even after the departure of icons such as Shane Warne, Glen McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, and recently Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, Australia remains one of the most demanding teams on the International Cricket Council’s circuit and are particularly difficult at home. Players must be mentally tough, focused, and fully fit to succeed in those challenging conditions half a world away.
To vindicate the selectors’ faith, Sarwan must lift his game considerably in short order. He must feel at home with a team and its management that seem ready to embrace him on his return much like they did Chris Gayle. And most importantly Sarwan must somehow repair and retool his fragile psyche and recapture his confidence which by his own admission were destroyed a year and a half ago, by according to him, negativity emanating from West Indies team coach. To script a storybook comeback and not a surly setback, the Cinderella county’s most celebrated cricketer requires the synergy of mind, body, and soul in the land Down Under.