You can ask Sachin, talk to Kallis and Ponting and pick Lara too.
Simply ask about the most difficult bowlers they faced during their time.
All of them are likely to mention Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Surely, it was never easy to face McGrath either.
But standing up to Akram and Younis required something special.
Like wielding a weapon against an angry lion. Things could get worse if you riled up the creature.
Akram is revered as the “Sultan of Swing.” And Waqar shall always be celebrated as that genuine toe-crusher.
Imagine standing up to a pace battery of sheer terror?
The bouncers. The yorkers.
Those deliveries laced with fear.
The tales are endless. As are stories of batsmen shunned with abomination.
But few as intriguing as that of a man who stood up to face the heat of Wasim and Waqar 20 years go.
Two of the world’s best bowlers back then were at their prime.
Until the point of his debut, this young batsman was only heard of in his native Guyana, but in the events that followed, he became famous having shown great promise immediately upon arrival.
The West Indies in 2000s was about as different to the young, resurgent team we see today as is diet-food to a caramel custard.
There’s a temptation in the dessert but only upon ‘strict advise’ do you go for the healthier option.
Back then, the team didn’t feature the technically gifted stroke-makers like Shai Hope.
The opening slot didn’t exactly cut a promising figure. A mature head that could bat calmly like Kraigg Brathwaite wasn’t around.
There weren’t many power hitters like Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran who can both score quickly and repair an inning.
With the possible exception of Lara and Chanderpaul, the team needed a capable figure that could soldier on in the middle order.
The only real parallel between the West Indies of today and the unit of 2000 was the desperately low ICC Test ranking.
Since when has a bottom-ranked team courted much attention anyways?
The big question seemed to drop down from all angles; what if Lara doesn’t score? What if Chanderpaul departs early?
Who can hold the inning together?
There was a desperate need to hunt for an inning-repairer and also the one who could hold his own against the best, not be daunted by Warne-Murali, McGrath- Donald.
And so arrived Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Akin to a single line answer to a complex, layered query. As if all options to a multiple-choice question pointed to his name.
And immediately upon making his debut, did Ramnaresh Sarwan show he had the makings of a special batsman.
On a fast, bouncy wicket that had a bit for both bowlers and spinners, Ramnaresh Sarwan fired a neutralizer, upholding the case for his West Indies.
But his arrival was fascinating in a series that insofar had been anything but that.
The First Test, at Guyana, had ended in a draw. Only 210 overs had been bowled in all.
Day four and five had been lost to inclement weather.
What was more disinteresting from a fan perspective was that neither team managed to touch 300 in their inning.
The Second Test, at Barbados, ripened the prospect of seeing something exhilarating.
Something had to happen.
Big runs; fiery hundreds, dogged fifties, all were keenly awaited. Akram and Younis, both of whom had a wicket apiece until then, wanted to make amends.
Much to their despise, West Indies had no Brian Lara.
How scary was Shivnarine Chanderpaul in a line-up where the next promising names were those of Adrian Griffith and Sherwin Campbell is anyone’s guess.
Was a debutant going to make all the difference?
We didn’t know.
What everyone did was that thanks to Ambrose and Walsh– who walloped 7 of Pakistan’s first innings wickets, the visitors posted 253.
Not so scary.
But a bigger task lay ahead.
Younis, then was just 29 and Akram, 34.
Moreover, the West Indies didn’t begin strongly. Griffith went for just 11. Chanderpaul and Adams made 9 and 8.
Only Sherwin Campbell made something of a match.
Then, at 4-213, with Wavell Hinds having revived the effort somewhat, in walked a 20-year-old and out went Pakistan’s hopes of crumbling an order that didn’t seem too threatening.
The way of taking the guard- precise and meticulous- the bails marking the guard were as if a tribute was being extended to a solider of West Indies cricket; his compatriot Chanderpaul.
The bandana underneath the maroon helmet suggesting a long period of toil would ensue, one accompanying sweat. The same would be wiped out the way West Indies’ woes were about to.
And in an inning that lasted for 232 balls, that’s precisely what happened.
It was absolutely vital to compile a handy lead. Pakistan had lasted for 86 overs.
In reply, the West Indians batted for 53 more.
But implicit in their 139-over stay, was newcomer Ramnaresh Sarwan’s, which would tantamount to 38.4 overs.
Where had such a dogged batsman been all this while, the team wondered? In holding Waqar and Wasim, Razzak, and Saqlain at bay for 320 minutes, Ramnaresh Sarwan fired a solid 84.
Against Wavell Hinds’ 165, this wasn’t a mighty score.
But in a line-up where even Chanderpaul and Jimmy Adams faltered, this was a mighty effort.
That it came against two world-class bowlers meant something special for the West Indies.
Signifying the fight was still there.
The straight drives from the meat of the bat. The rasp cuts square of the wicket, which would later become a trademark of the Guyanese were a rave feature.
Moreover, the gentle nudges toward the mid-wicket boundary and the ballsy pulls toward square leg suggested this wasn’t some tiny foot soldier.
This was going to be a classy adversary for those who derived usual pleasure from punching a West Indies steadily on the decline.
Sarwan’s maiden fifty contributed to a draw on a wicket that eventually became slow.
But its biggest success was in averting the threat of Akram’s in-swingers and his big crony- Younis.
That Waqar was at least a yard quicker than Ambrose didn’t perturb West Indies’ new find.
Someone who batted with patience and proved as long as one stuck it out, the runs would eventually follow.
In an era where batsmen still regarded self-preservation, caring less for playing flashy strokes, Ramnaresh Sarwan batted with a quiet sense of authority.
Not your ‘in-your-face’ cricketer, yet someone who loved a challenge, Sarwan had strokes all around the wicket.
Always such a beauty when playing straight, and equally admirable when he used the depth of his crease!
He ducked when the pacers tested him. He offered a rebuking reply to anything bowled short or in his region, around middle and leg.
Caribbean cricket in that era was going down.
But Sarwan’s rise delayed climaxes; what often seemed inevitable.
His arrival signaled the end of woes; the deafening silences that accompanied the ‘what-if-Lara-or-Shiv-don’t-score’ question.
Soon, the very newspapers that said, another humiliating defeat for the West Indies made way for new headlines.
“Lara and Sarwan repair the innings” or “Chanderpaul and Sarwan rescue West Indies” would make space for public consumption.
Yet we hardly remember Ramnaresh Sarwan remained unbeaten in both innings at Barbados, the only occasion that series the team breached the 300-plus score, coming within a shade of 400.
The way we perhaps fail to remember his has been a career with 5,000 plus runs in both formats.
Probably since he is a curious case.
How did a man who amassed around 11,000 international runs, stroked 69 half-centuries, and plundered 20 centuries wither away suddenly?