When Ramnaresh Sarwan scored an unbeaten 84 on Test debut against a Pakistan attack that included Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq, many experts were moved to suggest that he would be the next big thing in West Indies batting; Ted Dexter predicted a Test average of more than 50. Over a career that lasted over a decade, Sarwan did extremely well for himself, scoring nearly 12,000 international runs with 20 hundreds, but it is impossible to escape the feeling that West Indies didn't get the full value of Sarwan's capabilities. Especially as a Test batsman, where he finished with a career average of 40.01, a good 20% short of where Dexter predicted he would end up.
As a Test batsman Sarwan clearly had his moments: his fourth-innings 105 in Antigua helped chase down a record target of 418; his 291 against England in 2009 remains the seventh-highest Test score by a West Indian, and equals Viv Richards' highest as well; in the same series he also made two other hundreds - 107 in a win in Kingston, and 106 in Antigua - becoming only the fourth West Indies batsman since 1980 to score three hundreds in a Test series.
These, and a few other memorable moments, couldn't hide a tendency to be inconsistent and an inability to string together strong performances. Of the 11 years he played Test cricket, only twice did his average in a calendar year go beyond 50 - in 2004 and 2009 - while seven times it stayed below 40. Of the 31 series in which he played more than one Test, only seven times did he average more than 50, while 12 times he averaged less than 30, and 16 times less than 35. His numbers against specific opposition teams were similarly patchy: he averaged 19.12 from 16 innings in Australia and 17.20 in New Zealand, but 49 in South Africa and 53 in Sri Lanka. (Click here for Sarwan's career summary in Tests.)
For a batsman of such skill, it is surprising that the last time his Test average topped 45 was after his fifth Test, when he averaged 45.66. That was followed the a horror tour of Australia in 2000-01 when he scored 54 runs in six innings, which sent his career average plummeting into the 20s. It improved gradually thereafter, but never touched the heights it was initially expected to. The fact that he played his last Test at the age of 31 - an age when batsmen are usually at their prime - is further evidence of unrealised potential. Among the 15 West Indies batsmen who have scored 4000-plus Test runs, Sarwan's average sits second from bottom, with only fellow Guyanese Carl Hooper - another batsman who massively underachieved in Tests - being the only one with a poorer average. Among the 29 batsmen who scored 5000-plus Test runs between 2000 and 2011 - the period of Sarwan's Test career - his average is the lowest.
In ODIs, though, Sarwan finished with highly impressive numbers, averaging a healthy 42.67 from 181 games, at a strike rate of more than 75. While most top-order batsmen tend to have higher averages in Tests than in ODIs, for Sarwan it has worked the other way. For most of the 2000s, he was a mainstay in the West Indian batting line-up, consistently scoring runs from Nos. 3 or 4: between 2001 and 2011, he was West Indies' third-highest run-getter in ODIs with 5624, an at average of 43.59; only Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul scored more runs. During that period, he was also joint second for West Indies in terms of Man-of-the-Match awards with 12, next only to Gayle's 20.
If Sarwan's Test numbers are slightly underwhelming, his stats in ODIs compare favourably with West Indies' best. Viv Richards is obviously far ahead of anyone else because of the era in which he achieved a strike rate of 90, but among the 15 batsmen with 2500-plus ODI runs Sarwan's career average of 42.67 is third highest, next only to Richards and Gordon Greenidge.
Unlike in Tests, where Sarwan shone in spurts, in ODIs there were long periods when he performed consistently. Between 2002 and 2008 his numbers compared favourably with the best during that period: among the batsmen with 4000-plus runs during this period, his average of 44.85 was sixth, but it was less than two runs shy of Jacques Kallis' top-of-the-table average of 46.60. Ten of his 12 match awards came during this period.
Seventy-nine times in his ODI career Sarwan finished on the winning team, and in those games he averaged 62.06, which is marginally higher than Lara's 61.82 in 139 wins. Among the 84 batsmen who have scored 2500-plus runs in ODI wins, only five - MS Dhoni, Hashim Amla, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Michael Bevan - have averaged more.
Sarwan mostly batted at Nos. 3 and 4 in ODIs, but he achieved far more success at two-down, averaging 54.21 and scoring four of his five ODI hundreds in 55 innings at that slot. He batted 82 times at No. 3 but never scored a century from that position. His numbers at four are terrific. Among the 31 batsmen who have scored 2000-plus runs at that slot, only Bevan (59.60) has a higher average.
At his best Sarwan combined efficient technique with elegant strokeplay all round the wicket, but unfortunately for West Indies cricket, he faded away far too early. A few more years of an in-form Sarwan would have been perfect for a line-up that has struggled to find its feet over the last few years.