What's ailing Ramnaresh Sarwan?
It's a bad time to be Ramnaresh Sarwan. The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) doesn't seem too happy with the seniors and Sarwan's batting form could not have let him down at a worse time. He needs runs. His team needs his runs. A large shadow of pressure is tailing him. He wasn't picked for the initial part of the Pakistan series and hasn't been among the runs since he returned. He raised hopes with a finely-constructed 75 in the final ODI against India but has slipped up again. It remains to be seen if the selectors give him one more chance in the final Test or leave him out.
The fluency has been lacking and the pitches haven't helped. India's bowlers have got him with two types of deliveries: the short-of-length ball that straightens outside off and the one that cuts back in from a fuller length. Two such incutters dismissed him in the first innings of the two Tests and two short-of-length deliveries that held their line saw him off in the second.
His dismissals in the second innings reflect the gap between intent and form. Sarwan tried to hit deliveries on the up and edged behind. It didn't look good. In the radio shows, he was castigated for the "poor shot". His seniority was dragged into the equation. Both shots were overly expansive, and the situation didn't demand them. But one can understand Sarwan's state of mind and the circumstances that might have prompted him to play like that. In both instances, West Indies were chasing and Sarwan perhaps wanted to show intent. And lead by example. They were tempting opportunities to display his prowess. Score quick runs, take the team close to the target, and set the tone - that's what many batsmen at No.3 are supposed to do in a chase. That's what an in-form Sarwan would do. He tried, but failed this series.
Sarwan, throughout his career, has had a tendency to get squared up by the short-of-length delivery straightening around off, but in better times he would manage to push his bat inside the line. In this series, though, every such delivery seems to have his name on it.
Yet, there had been some improvement from some of his earlier performances in the ODI series where he, by his own admission, was struggling for fluency. He had reduced his game to two shots - the square drive and the cut. Slowly, as the series progressed, he improved. In the final game, he gradually began to drive straighter. The cuts and square drives continued, of course, but he showed better shot-selection, adapting to the length.
In this Test series, however, the pressure appears to have got to him. The pitches, too, have played their part. They've had some spice and not allowed Sarwan to go through with those big shots. Perhaps, the time has come for Sarwan to return to grafting, fighting it out in the middle and showing a willingness to look ugly. The first-innings dismissals show it won't be an easy thing to do even if he is in the mood. Both were good deliveries, of course, but it looked all too simple: push Sarwan back with short-of-length deliveries and then slip in a full delivery that nips back in. He fell for the trap on both occasions. Looking ahead, he'll need some luck and plenty of support from his team.
Will that support be forthcoming? Darren Sammy, his captain, gave mixed signals. "Sars is a classy player," Sammy said. "We all know what he is capable of. We all know he is going through a [rough] patch right now. He is one of our more experienced batsmen. We have been supporting him." It sounds like support, but there were also hints of something dire. "At the end of the day the selectors have a job to do," Sammy said. "I don't know whether any changes will be done." Will Sarwan get another chance?
Ian Bishop, the former West Indies fast bowler and currently a commentator, is confident Sarwan has a lot more to offer. He believes that at 31, Sarwan should be at the prime of his career. With a bit of luck and a lot of fight, Sarwan has the ability to turn things around. If he is picked for the final Test in Dominica, he'll have another chance. But given the way things are in West Indies cricket at the moment, who knows when the push can turn into a shove.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo