‘Important for batsmen to deliver in England’- Sarwan
By Avenash Ramzan
Former West Indies captain and frontline batsman, Ramnaresh Sarwan, believes the Caribbean side must bat well in England if they are to challenge the hosts during the upcoming three Test matches, the first of which starts July 8 at the Ageas Bowl.
West Indies are current holders of the prized Wisden Trophy, the symbol of supremacy between the two sides, and Sarwan shares the opinion that ‘batting well’ would be key in England.
“I think it is important they bat, and bat well, especially the first innings or the first opportunity they get to bat,” Sarwan told News Room in an exclusive exchange at the weekend.
“They’ve got to bat long and post a very big total, so it puts them in a situation where they’re not able to lose the Test match. Having said that, I also believe that with the experience that England has with their bowling unit, that in itself is going to present a challenge to our batters.”
West Indies batting has been a concern leading into the series, with Assistant Coach Roddy Estwick admitting that he is slightly troubled by the top-order’s form ahead of the first Test.
In the last competitive innings of the two warm-up games, a top-five of Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope and Roston Chase, all of whom are sure starters for the first Test, subsided to 9-3, then 49-5.
“I would have loved to see the batsmen spend a little bit more time in the middle,” Estwick told the PA news agency. “That would be one of the biggest worries, that none of the batsman in the Test squad got a score in this innings.”
‘Playing with soft hands’
Sarwan opined that while left-handers Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, both of whom opted against touring due to COVID-19 fears, would be missed this series, he is banking on the other players to grab the opportunity and deliver the goods.
“Without a doubt they (Bravo and Hetmyer) would be missed, but you’ve got to also take into consideration that this presents an opportunity for other players, and I’m sure those players are going to be hungry.
“When one door closes another opens so you’re going to hope that whoever gets the opportunity would be able to make use of it and make their name and make their announcement in international cricket,” Sarwan, who averaged 40 in 87 Tests between 2000 and 2011, explained.
“I think spending time at the crease is something important. Obviously, the ball swings a lot in England, it moves around, (so) being able to play the ball late (is key). It’s not like in the Caribbean where you can actually go a little hard at the ball; in England you have to play with more soft hands and try to play the ball under your eyes, so hopefully they would be able to adapt to that.”
Sarwan’s comments were almost identical to that of former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, who believes West Indies batsmen must exhibit a penchant to bat for long periods if they are to really challenge the Englishmen.
Lloyd, West Indies most successful Test captain with 36 wins from 74 Tests, reasoned that West Indies getting “300-odd runs in any innings of those Test matches” would put them in a position to do well.
“Our main thing is concentration; we have to concentrate and concentrate for periods, for long periods because England have got four fast bowlers too and they are pretty good playing at home,” Lloyd reckoned.
Notably, West Indies batsmen have generally struggled in England over the last 25 years.
In 21 Test matches since 1995, West Indies have won just two games.
In 40 innings during that period, West Indies have scored five totals over 400, nine above 300 and a whopping 16 under 200, four of which came in six innings in the last series in 2017.
West Indies last won a series in England in 1988, with their best series result since then being 2-2 draws in 1991 and 1995.
With the task of changing that fortune, Sarwan believes it is important the current group remains optimistic.
“Most of the times when people tend to write off West Indies cricket, that’s when they produce something brilliant,” the right-hander rationalised.
“We’ve also got to understand that there are quite a few young guys on that tour as well, so hopefully they would be able to make a name for themselves and hopefully we have a couple of guys coming out there and being able to go forward with their careers,” Sarwan, whose career-best 291 was made against an England attack boasting James Anderson and Stuart Broad in Barbados in 2009, pointed out.
Those two England stalwarts and the addition of the exciting pair Jofra Archer and Mark Wood make for a testing three weeks for West Indies batsmen, in conditions that are totally different from what obtains in the Caribbean.
“I think what they got to understand is that those guys (Anderson and Broad) are the probably their (England’s) best bowlers. I think they will have to try and see them off.”
“We know what James Anderson is capable of doing, of course he swings the ball both ways and is very dangerous. Broad presents a different challenge with his height and so forth,” Sarwan, who scored two of his 15 Test hundreds in England, asserted.
“Between the two, I found Anderson much more difficult to play, but hopefully those guys would be able to make the necessary adjustments and be able to adapt to the conditions.”
On Archer’s possible impact on the series, Sarwan opined: “The way he’s been bowling, I think he can make a major difference. (However), the younger guys who know him, who have played against him in the Caribbean, will probably just see him as Jofra Archer rather than seeing him as a rising superstar. And most of our young players as well, they’re pretty innocent and sometimes it’s good to have youth on your side, so hopefully this one of the times.”
The mental test, Sarwan said, could be West Indies biggest test during the coming weeks.
“The weather tends to change; you can probably get three to four different weather scenarios during one day, so I think that in itself will produce a challenge. It comes down to how they can adapt to it mentally.”
The last time West Indies were in England in 2017, they managed to pull off a historic run-chase at Headingley, but still lost the series. They toppled the Englishmen in the return series in the Caribbean in 2019 to win the Wisden Trophy, which they now put on the line.
All three Test matches would be held in a bio-secure environment, and crammed into 21 days.