Sarwan's finest hour
Don't let anger at the official from Down Under distract from appreciating the batting of the man from Wakenaam Island. It would really be an injustice if the penultimate Test of an unexpectedly competitive series between West Indies and England is remembered more for the controversial interventions by third umpire Daryl Harper than the class, composure and powers of concentration of Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Were the home side in danger of sliding to defeat on the final day today at Kensington Oval, you could rest assured that the Australian's erroneous interpretation of evidence presented to him via television technology that led to the dismissals of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brendan Nash on Saturday afternoon would be the source of much public fury.
Thankfully, there doesn't appear to be any chance of that. No doubt, though, the ICC needs to either reassess the quality of some of their elite officials or do away with the referral system altogether if they want to avoid generating even more bacchanal than there is already when you're dealing with a sporting contest that extends for a full five days and therefore increases the risk of human error - with or without any technical assistance - making a critical difference.
So instead of joining in the rush to cuss Harper, let's celebrate the full flowering of a talent that has infuriated us for so long for its previous inability to stay in bloom consistently. Indeed, it's most appropriate that Sarwan's finest Test innings has come at the same ground where he announced himself to the world with a debut knock of such quality nine years ago that no less a personality than Sir Vivian Richards hailed the arrival of a truly special batsman.
Of course, Kensington Oval is barely recognisable from the wonderful old venue where he stroked his way to an unbeaten 84 against Pakistan in 2000, playing with maturity beyond his 19 years in getting the better of a bowling attack comprising Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq. Even amid the wreckage of the defeat by an innings inside two days to England at Headingley three months later, Sarwan looked a class apart with unbeaten innings of 57 (out of 172) and 17 (out of 61).
Yet for all that bountiful ability he, until 11 months ago, only had nine centuries from 67 Tests and an average below 40. Not only was it a classic case of gross under-achievement, but it never appeared to bother Sarwan too much if he gave it away when well set, whether to a miscued hook, a slash to backward point or some other mode of dismissal that betrayed an unwillingness to temper his repertoire of sumptuous strokes with judiciousness.
There isn't so much that is technically different from his batting over the years. He still leaves you with the suspicion that on a juicier pitch against bowlers prepared to bend their backs and really let him have it - as can be expected in Australia at the end of the year - his tendency to get too square-on will have the slip cordon anticipating an edge at any time.
So what has brought about the transformation, to the extent that his monumental effort at Kensington Oval follows on scores of 106, 94 and 107? Don't forget as well that last year he sealed a domineering two-Test series against Sri Lanka with a match-winning hundred on the last day at Queen's Park Oval and, captaining the side in the absence of Chris Gayle, compiled a patient 128 to help ensure a draw against the Aussies in the first-ever Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Sarwan's five hundreds and five other scores over 50 in his last nine Tests in the Caribbean have produced an average almost twice his overall under-achieving figure of 43.02. It should not be bypassed that he contributed just 20 runs in three innings in New Zealand and therefore needs to show that he is more than a flat-track hometown bully. Still, his consistency, concentration and burgeoning appetite for big runs in this series suggest a significant change in a fundamental aspect of his game.
May I suggest that the key to all this success is maturity. Whether he has matured as a person is for others to assess. But, as a batsman, he clearly values his wicket and now tempers an attacking and often reckless nature with an appreciation of the circumstances in the middle and that facing his team.
Rumours abounded when he gave up the job of deputy to Gayle in New Zealand, but his role in guiding new vice-captain Denesh Ramdin to a maiden Test hundred yesterday reinforces the belief that he acknowledges his duty as a senior player above and beyond personal objectives.
Nine years after bursting onto the international scene, many will say it's about time. But, still short of his 29th birthday, he should have more than enough opportunity to make amends. It's hard to believe that the man who walked off the ground just before tea with 291 runs to his name in one innings (598 at 149.50 in the series so far) was dropped by then captain Brian Lara for the second Test in Pakistan at the end of 2006, ostensibly for selling his wicket too cheaply in the previous match.
Has Ramnaresh Sarwan turned the corner? Like West Indies, we just have to wait and see, even if the signs are very, very encouraging.
Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad