On the face of it, Ramnaresh Sarwan enjoyed a solid test career.
The right-hander made 5,842 runs at an average of 40.01 and only Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Brian Lara and Chris Gayle made more Test runs for the West Indies over the timespan his test career lasted. But, unlike some of the name’s he shared the field with, Sarwan’s playing career is one of unfulfilled potential and controversy which has followed him into his post-playing days.
In the 114 Tests they played in the years spanning Sarwan’s test career, the West Indies managed just 17 wins and fell to 63 losses – a far cry from the all-time great West Indian sides of the past. So why, just two years after being a career-high 11th-best Test batter in the world, was 31-year-old Sarwan dropped from the West Indies side?
Of the multitude of characters in sport who seem to attract controversies, Sarwan can count himself one of them. Whether it was engaging in a shouting match with Glenn McGrath, partying in the stands after the West Indies were bowled out for 47, or successfully suing his own cricket board – Sarwan was often swept up in a whirlwind of controversy.
In 2003, Australia travelled to the West Indies for a four match Test series. On the fourth day of the final match in Antigua, McGrath and Sarwan got into a heated altercation on the field, with the umpires needing to intervene as the conflict escalated. Reports suggested McGrath was the instigator of the incident but that Sarwan had done little to calm the situation, making comments about McGrath’s wife who was undergoing treatment for cancer at the time.
While the two later apologised to each other, McGrath admitted after the game: “It’s not something that just happens and then that’s finished. It’s something that I do go on thinking about. I have worried about it quite a bit over the last few days.”
The incident clouded an otherwise remarkable game. The West Indies achieved a world record chase of 418 in the fourth innings, of which Sarwan scored 105.
A year later with England in town, the West Indies were humiliated by Steve Harmison, bowled out in Jamaica for just 47. To compound a disastrous Test match for the team, four of their players were then spotted partying away at a disco in Sabina Park. Vice-captain Sarwan was one of these players, much to the consternation of fans and team management who issued an apology to their fans for the players’ behaviour.
In 2005, Sarwan was one of several players who were dropped by the West Indies cricket board for a contract dispute. The dispute was between the team sponsor, Digicel, and Cable and Wireless, his individual sponsor. Emanating from both companies being mobile phone businesses, it was acceptable to neither for Sarwan to represent the other. The conflict was eventually resolved when he cancelled his sponsorship with Cable and Wireless.
Two years on from his previous controversy, Sarwan made the headlines again when he labelled the former West Indies coach, Bennett King as “one of the worst coaches” and claimed he had been verbally and physically abusive towards players under his tenure. Following that incident, the West Indies Players Association was also forced to deny the allegations Sarwan had been involved in a match-fixing investigation in 2011.
But the primary reason behind his eventual dropping from the West Indies Test side centred around fitness concerns. It was the reason given by Ottis Gibson, then West Indies coach, when he was denied a central contract in 2011. Sarwan complained about “unfairly questioning in public his fitness and attitude” and won $161,000 in damages from the West Indies Cricket Board.
Among the multitude of disputes and drama that dogged Sarwan’s career, there was a fantastic player. Ted Dexter, upon seeing him bat for the first time, predicted he would average 50 in Test cricket. He finished short of that feat, but scored 15 Test centuries, one of which was a colossal 291 when he took down an England attack containing Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom and Graeme Swann at Bridgetown in 2009.
He returned to the test arena in 2011 when Pakistan and then India toured the Caribbean. His top score was just 23 across eight innings and he scored two ducks in the same time frame. While it was the last he was seen in Test cricket, he played domestic and franchise leagues until 2016. His last professional game was for the Trinbago Knight Riders in the Caribbean Premier League.
If he felt he had escaped the limelight by retiring, then his former teammate and friend Chris Gayle thrust him back into it when he launched a rant following his release from the Jamaica Tallawahs in 2020, blaming Sarwan for the decision. He said: “Sarwan, you are worse than the Coronavirus right now.
“Sarwan, you are a snake. You are so vindictive. You are so immature. You still stabbing people in the back. You’re still carrying news. When are you planning to change?”
Sarwan himself denied the allegation and has recently been appointed as chair of the Guyana Cricket Board’s Selection Committee.
Summarising Sarwan’s career is a tricky task. On the one-hand he was a world beating international batter who could tear down attacks on his day, but on the other, his talent never reached its full potential as off-field matters bled into his narrative. Like much of recent West Indies cricket, his story is one of what ifs.
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