Pakistan v West Indies, 2nd Test, Multan November 19, 2006

Sarwan: ODI champion, Test maverick

In the absence of West Indian journalists, it was left to the local breed to express surprise at the dropping of Ramnaresh Sarwan. No injuries, it was pointedly announced, so it must have been form



West Indies' decision to drop Ramnaresh Sarwan for the second Test against Pakistan caused a lot of surprise © AFP

In the absence of West Indian journalists, it was left to the local breed, including this writer admittedly, to express surprise at the dropping of Ramnaresh Sarwan. Whether or not their Caribbean brethren would feel likewise is not yet known. No injuries, it was pointedly announced, so it must have been form.

A swift, cursory inspection didn't reveal much: four fifties and a hundred in his last seven Tests and a glut of solid ODI performances to boot. So did he deserve the chop? It's Sarwan after all: a big name, vice-captain, an experienced player, part of a solid West Indian top order and still young enough to be spoken of as the future.

Brian Lara, in pre-match comments, said: "It's a chance for Sarwan to reflect. Hopefully he can come back more energetic and more purposeful." It can be assumed that doing as Lara says is generally good advice but reflecting on Sarwan's six-and-a-half year career is perplexing business. It makes for a strange, schizophrenic reading. Enigmatic has been a tag attached to him and, though obvious, a more apt description is difficult to find.

He can bat, no doubt, as a sparkling ODI pedigree, built on an astute batting motor, an impressive range of strokes and a cool hand at the death, reveals. That was also apparent from his debut Test innings, an 84 made from what appeared an older, wiser head than his 19-year-old one. But it is the memory of that debut - and his subsequent ODI success - through which the dichotomy of his Test career appears starkest.

Sample these strange snippets if you will: he averages less than 40 from 64 Tests (he's only missed 13 Tests since his debut). It took him 28 Tests to score his first hundred and even then, it was against Bangladesh. Granted he'd made 14 fifties by then, but that only meant conversion clearly was an issue. He's only made eight more centuries after that, though six have come away from home.

It has been whispered that he doesn't like the going unless it's straightforward. But all his centuries, save two, have come against major opposition. And also recall any number of tight limited-over heists he has masterminded, suggesting that well, actually he is rather accustomed to, maybe even thrives on heat. And forgetting a Test hundred against Australia, part of the highest-successful Test chase in history, dead-rubber or not, is not easy. But he's been vice-captain for some time, permanently well-placed to take over, yet each time West Indies fall into a captaincy tangle, he doesn't come out captain.

You can glean very little clarity out of all this, but that in itself says something about a man who has played as many Tests as he has. But certainly, after the debut and for brief stretches littered unevenly during his career, not many thought his story would amount to such indeterminate reading after so long. One could probably conclude that he is unique, over such an extensive career in both forms, of being an ODI champion and a Test maverick.

First impressions tend to last and if so, then, to be briefly crude, this may be the kick up the backside often prescribed for prodigiously gifted, under-performing players. Lara's comments say as much, albeit in politer tones. And as for us locals, the surprise itself is not so surprising. Dropping big names to kick-start their careers doesn't happen so readily in this part of the world. Exclusions are goodbyes, temporary ones at best, accompanied in any case by conspiracies of dressing-room skirmishes, factionalism, and professional jealousies. Sarwan may be of subcontinent descent - Indian to be accurate - but the sincere hope is that this particular affliction has not made the migration.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo