The cool head behind the heir apparent

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The Independent Online

The most common conjecture in world cricket, apart possibly from when and where on earth the England and Wales Cricket Board might find somebody mug enough to take over as chief executive (answer: only heaven knows), is that Ramnaresh Sarwan will one day be captain of West Indies.

Indeed, Sarwan is almost matter-of-fact in treating it as a when-not-if question. His response last week bore an uncanny resemblance to his reply to the two, three and probably 103 times the query had been posed before.

"It would be a dream come true for me to be captain and I guess when the time is right I will be appointed," he said. "I'm sure that it's not going to be any time soon, but when the time is right."

Sarwan probably recognises that this is the politically correct answer but is otherwise tosh. He could easily have been captain by now had, one, Brian Lara carried out his threat to quit; or, two, the selectors decided - as they might well have done - that it is time for a change. Before the England tour, sound judges said Sarwan should have the job, and it is unfeasible that it can go on much longer like this. West Indies are 2-0 down to England, facing a whitewash, and have to go to Australia in the winter.

The heir apparent, however, seems sincere when he extends his backing to Lara's maligned leadership. The dreaded vote of confidence was issued at around the same time by the team manager, Tony Howard. "I like batting with Brian," Sarwan says. "He's the centre of attention at the crease, which tends to give me the advantage. We get along pretty well, we have a decent relationship."

They have shared 11 century partnerships, the most recent two above 200, including the rumbustious 209 at Edgbaston last week when Sarwan scored a delightful 139.

But the fact that West Indies are in a mess can have escaped nobody. Sarwan has been there watching it unfold since he made his debut at 20 (he first played for Guyana at 15, a boy from the South American rainforest). Not only does he appear unfazed, he also claims to be convinced that renaissance is at hand.

"We've been playing pretty much up-and-down cricket, but there is nothing much that can be done at the moment. Obviously we've got to get ourselves out of this hole, but we haven't been able to adjust to different situations so far.

"It's frustrating that we're not playing the cricket we want to and are capable of. We need a couple more years to get ourselves sorted out. We need better facilities in the Caribbean and also to get the players mature mentally."

One glimmer of hope for West Indies is that the majority of the team are under 25. Whatever happens now, Sarwan wants the squad to stick together so that they can mature together. He categorically denies that there are divisions in the team, or rows in the dressing room, and insists that they are "giving their hearts to West Indies cricket", although on occasion this summer it has looked as if some of them have left their hearts in San Francisco.

That they have given a convincing impression of negligence and lacking lustre in the field he excuses by reasoning: "Because of the situation we are playing catch-up cricket. It's hard to restrain yourself and not be disappointed when a team are scoring 400 runs a day. It is very difficult but I don't think anybody in the team thinks about losing."

Sarwan concedes that the team's attitude might have been wrong in the recent past. He himself was accused of partying in the wake of their large defeat (all out for 47) against England in Jamaica earlier this year.

"For the past couple of months we've worked hard enough. We've come a long way in terms of working and dedicating ourselves. There was a concern and I think we were a bit strange and strayed away from the gym, but in recent times we've made sure we've used the facilities we've been given. Maybe a couple of years ago we didn't have the right attitude. I think I've matured a lot."

All recent West Indies captains have fallen - Richie Richardson, Jimmy Adams, Carl Hooper, Lara himself before returning - and whoever takes over next is destined for a rocky journey. Yet Sarwan is relaxed about the raw talent around.

Take Sarwan himself. His strokeplay is enchantingly fluid, his average is now past 40 (and in a dud team, do not forget) and he is feisty when the going gets rough. Last year he scored 105 in West Indies' epic run-chase of 418 against Australia and was involved in a spat with Glenn McGrath. The images of the truculent pair went round the world, McGrath towering above the smaller man. It seems that McGrath started it and Sarwan might have overstepped the mark in his barbed reply. The point is that he refused to be cowed by Aussie bullying. But he may need to adjust a mercurial temperament.

"I would love this team to be remembered as the one that got West Indies back to the top," he says. "I don't think there's a shortage of talent, but we have to get the players to understand how important West Indies cricket is, and that it's not going to be easy."

He said that regional rivalry, a traditional cause of unrest in Caribbean cricket, did not exist within the squad. "I'm Guyanese, but when I'm in the West Indies I'm representing six million people." Six million people whose hopes and expectations he will one day be carrying on his shoulders.