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Marlon Samuels: West Indies’ dazzler who makes batting look easy

Samules
Since his Test debut in Australia in 2000, Marlon Samuels (right) has been known for his flair and panache © Getty Images

Marlon Samuels, born on January 5, 1981, is a West Indian batsman with the typical Caribbean flair. Since he burst on to the scene in 2000, he was earmarked for great things, but controversies and other issues marred his career. It is only during his second coming that he has shown semblance of consistency and is ready to take his game to a new level. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes about Samuels.

 

Some players have this god-given gift. When they stride to the middle, there is always this inkling that they could steal the game away. It is all about their natural flair and the ability to make a good delivery look bad. However, there have been many phenomenally talented players who haven’t quite gone on to fulfill their promise. For many years, people felt Marlon Samuels was walking down the same alley until a remarkable run in 2012-13 established him as one of the most dangerous batsmen in the world.

Born on January 5, 1981, Samuels was destined to charm crowds with his typical Caribbean flair. The slight movement across the crease and the free swing of the bat is a sight to behold. All along, the ball merely goes off the bat and travels at some speed. He combines power with an element of timing and grace. His elder brother, Robert, played six Tests and eight One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for the West Indies. It could only have been cricket and nothing else for junior Samuels as well.

Samuels’s talent was recognized very early, as he made his First-Class debut for Jamaica in 1997 as a 16-year-old. In his maiden outing, he scored only three runs in the game and had to wait for his chances with the senior side. Meanwhile, he continued to play in the age groups. He represented the West Indies U-19s at the 1998 U-19 World Cup in South Africa along with Chris Gayle, Daren Ganga, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Sylvester Joseph. In 2000, he featured in another under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka.

With only a few games behind him, Samuels was drafted into the West Indies side in 2000. Having shown promise in a few representative games, he was included in the ODI side and made his ODI debut against Sri Lanka in an ICC Knockout game at Nairobi. Later that year, he was summoned to Australia for the Test side. In a disastrous Test series, Samuels was one of the few positives to emerge for the West Indies team. His innings of 60 not out in the Boxing Day Test and a few other knocks affirmed his promise so much so that Steve Waugh, the Australian captain gifted him the trademark red handkerchief. In the following ODI series, he continued to show promise with a few fifties.

However, he struggled in 2001, averaging a mere 21.72 in Tests and 28.86 in ODIs. As a result, he was dropped from the side and only returned during the tour to India in late 2002. It was a tour that saw him blossom even further as he converted his starts into good scores. In the third Test at Kolkata, he scored 104, his maiden ton, as the West Indies were trying to eke out a consolation victory.

It only got better with the passage of time, as he commenced the seven-match ODI series with two fifties, both coming in victorious causes. And, then with the series level at 3-3 going into the final ODI at Vijaywada, he produced a gem of a ton. His 108 came off only 75 balls and helped West Indies seal a series victory. That consistency spilled into the tour to Bangladesh that followed and he was also a part of the 2003 World Cup squad. But, by the end of 2003, his form dropped again and was out of the side for nearly two years. He returned during the tour to Australia in 2005.

Despite a string of poor scores, West Indies persisted with him throughout 2006 and it did pay dividends in the lead-up to the World Cup. In an ODI in Pakistan in 2006, he scored a ton to help West Indies win. Then on the short ODI tour to India in 2007, his 98 helped them secure a victory. Thus, going into the 2007 World Cup at home, he was one of their main batsmen and the responsibilities were pinned on him in the middle-order.

However, controversy was knocking at his doorstep. Nagpur Police found a conversation between him and an alleged bookie on tape. It caused quite a stir as Samuels was heard giving some information about the game. While he continued to play in 2007, featuring in the World Cup and the ICC World T20, the clouds were always lurking. Then in 2008, he was suspended for two years although, he continued to maintain his innocence.

After two years of exile, Samuels returned to play for Jamaica in 2010 in domestic competitions and played until 2011. The West Indies had a poor World Cup campaign in India and had axed the likes of Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul from their ODI squad. In walked Samuels and gave a glimpse of his talent with a few half-centuries against West Indies and India. Samuels continued to be the flashy batsman who dazzled in short bursts, but did not quite find consistency.

In 2012, Samuels touched a new peak as he was West Indies’ best batsman on a terrible tour to England. He smashed 386 runs in the three-match Test series and then aggregated 866 runs at 86.60 in seven matches during the year. Those 386 runs he made in England included a fighting century at Nottingham, where West Indies had lost their entire top-order for next to nothing. That was what one expected of him when he had burst onto the scene in 2000, Down Under. The year also saw him score 260 against Bangladesh, which is his highest score in Test cricket.

However, Samuels’s landmark moment came during the ICC World T20 2012 in Sri Lanka. The Caribbean army were brilliant and entertained the whole world with some breathtaking cricket. It looked like they simply walked their way to the final having fun all along. But, come the final, they had a rude awakening in store. The top-order was rocked by the Sri Lankan team and they were hovering around the three runs an over mark at the half-way stage.

Marlon Samuels
Marlon Samuels was in majestic form against Sri Lanka in ICC World T20 final in 2012 © Getty Images

But, Samuels was a man possessed and decided to take the attack to the opposition. He attacked their trump-card, Lasith Malinga, and dispatched him to all parts of the ground. Some of the sixes he hit were breathtaking. If he bowled on a yorker length, he merely wafted the bat and made it soar over the boundary for a six. If he bowled on his legs, he carted it over square-leg. A little straighter and he hit it down the ground and when he pitched it outside the off, the stands in the cover region were in danger. His 78 rescued the West Indies from dire-straits and gave them a fighting chance, which ultimately helped them win the tournament. Samuels had his great moment on the big stage.

Samuels is a more than a decent fielder and is a useful bowler too. His quickish off-spin can be difficult to get away and he can fire it in the block hole with great consistency. Had it not been for his action, which has continued to be under scrutiny, he could have contributed a lot more for the West Indies in that department.

With the 2014 World T20 and the 2015 World Cup coming up, West Indies would rely on Samuels to give them that punch in the middle. However, this is the time he can assert himself and improve his overall record. An average of 35.51 in Tests and 31.21 in ODIs doesn’t make a good reading for a player of such phenomenal talent. His best may be yet to come.

Samuels’s international record as of January 5, 2013:

M

R

Ave

100s

50s

HS

W

Bowl.Ave

BBI

BBM

Tests

51

2983

35.51

5

20

260

34

52.14

4/13

6/50

ODIs

157

3902

31.21

5

23

126

80

44.13

3/25

3/25

T20Is

25

610

30.50

0

6

85*

14

28.00

3/23

3/23

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)

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