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February 28, 2009
The current generation of West Indies' batting bedrocks are a different breed, reflective of the situation they have found themselves in - with the exception of Chris Gayle who thrills in patches, but frustrates in equal measure. Ramnaresh Sarwan has tasted precious little Test success in an international career that dates back to 2000, and while Shivnarine Chanderpaul began his career when the side were still a force in the mid-1990s, the decline soon set in. It makes Chanderpaul's single-minded achievements all the more remarkable. In years to come he will surely have something bearing his name (maybe a crab stall?).
So, too, will Sarwan if he can continue this vein of rich form. His third century of the series felt as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning. This is the type of surge that his talent has always suggested could happen since he made his debut, aged 19, against Pakistan and scored an unbeaten 84. But a career average of 41 (which slipped below 40 after a poor recent series against New Zealand) represents someone who hasn't quite been able to rise above the mediocrity by which he has often been surrounded.
However, there is still time for him to covert that respectable record into something memorable, even if he isn't thinking that far ahead. "This is one of my better knocks but I have a lot of cricket to play, I just want to take it step by step," he said. "This is just another stepping stone and hopefully one day when I retire it will fall into its place."
His performances in this series have been exceptional - his lowest score is 94 in the first innings at the ARG when he gave his innings away with a slog against Graeme Swann. England just haven't known how to get him out, although they have certainly shown a willingness to feed his cut shot. During the previous Test Swann even admitted, in his usual jovial manner, that he "didn't have a clue" where to bowl at Sarwan. He won't be any clearer on the issue now.
"We need to get rid of Sarwan, he's been a pain in the backside this series," Swann said. "He's been good enough to get a hundred and get out in the [other] knocks but today he's carried on and proven very hard to get rid of. He must be due a low score at some stage so let's hope it's in the second innings."
Given Sarwan's seniority and talent he hasn't always pulled his weight in recent years. To be fair injuries, such as the nasty shoulder dislocation at Headingley in 2007 when he was captain, haven't helped and before this game he spoke about the relief of being fully fit again.
He is also free of extra responsibility having relinquished the vice-captaincy. Sometimes authority doesn't sit well with people and now Sarwan's only concerns are with his own form. It is a decision that is serving the team well. For the second innings running it was the fourth-wicket stand between him and Chanderpaul that England expended huge amounts of energy to break.
Both hail from Guyana, so it's no surprise they play well together, but the similarities end there. As batsmen they couldn't look much different. Chanderpaul stands almost face-on to the bowler before realigning himself to something nearer the coaching manual by the time he receives the ball. Sarwan is technically very strong and correct, and now appears less prone to being trapped lbw early - although England have missed a trick by bowling too wide.
Chanderpaul has finally found someone to ease the run-scoring burden, but you would still have got long odds on him being outscored three centuries to none. He knows all about big hundreds and made sure Sarwan didn't let the chance of a major innings slip away.
"He just told me to continue to concentrate and start all over again and I thought that was very thoughtful and helpful at that point in time," Sarwan said. "I had to take the situation into consideration, with them having 600 it was important to build a partnership."
West Indies are not out of danger yet, but neither is Sarwan finished with his boot-filling. Every session that he bats and every hundred he scores puts his team closer to a famous series victory. If they succeed in that ultimate goal Sarwan will be one step closer to defining his career. And maybe that stand will follow.
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