By Nishad Pai Vaidya
From the glorious days of the 1970s and the 80s, West Indian cricket’s decline and fall has been a sorry sight for cricket enthusiasts. In this tumultuous phase, they have still produced a number of players with the trademark Caribbean flair, but have failed to strike consistency as a unit. Some of them went on to become big international names such as Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo to name a few. While a few other promising talents fell by the way-side due to a number of issues. Marlon Samuels was invariably categorised as a second tier player whose career never really took off. However, his performances in 2012 have been phenomenal.
Samuels burst on to the scene as a prodigious 19-year old on the tour to Australia in the year 2000. Such was the promise that the West Indian selectors picked him for the Test matches even before he had played a first-class game for Jamaica. The talent and flair was obvious as he recorded scores of 60 not out and 46 in only his second Test. For a teenager to come in at the highest level and perform immediately reflected the kind of talent he had and West Indies cricket expected a lot from him in the years ahead.
It wasn’t a very smooth ride ahead though as he had to wait for nearly two years for his first Test hundred – a fantastic 104 against India at the iconic Eden Gardens. If that wasn’t enough, he stroked a powerful century in the final One-Day International (ODI) of the same tour to help West Indies win the series. Some of the strokeplay was simply unbelievable as he smashed his way to an unbeaten 108 of 75 balls. Those knocks were ample evidence of his unique ability and should have set him up in the West Indian setup. However, over the next few years, he was in and out of the side and didn’t manage to hold on to his spot.
In the lead up to the 2007 World Cup, Samuels seemed to have struck consistency as he had two successful ODI series in Pakistan and India. But, then came the moment that marred the encouraging signs. He was caught in the web of a controversy where it was said that he had passed on some information to an alleged bookie. A year down the line, he was banned from the game for two years and one may have got a feeling that the promising batsman would never deliver his best at the international stage.
In the aftermath of the 2011 World Cup, Samuels made a comeback into the West Indies team, but again the pattern was similar to the early half of his career. There were flashes of brilliance in the midst of some mediocre performances. Nevertheless, the West Indies management kept faith in him and had a vision for him in the middle order. He repaid that faith in England – where he was their batsman in a largely forgettable series.
Since the beginning of 2012, Samuels has been in stupendous form and it augurs well for West Indies particularly when you consider the return of the dangerous Chris Gayle. Samuels missed the Test series against Australia as he was on Indian Premier League (IPL) duty. On the tour to England, Samuels finished the Test series with scores of 31, 86, 117, 76 not out and 76. In the face of a dangerous bowling attack, he showed tremendous resolve and fought hard to battle them and the tricky conditions.
The hundred at Nottingham, in particular, is memorable as at one stage West Indies were 136 for six, when he and Darren Sammy stitched a valiant partnership. In fact, it was the confidence he exuded that caught the eye. Even as the England players tried to unnerve him with a few verbal volleys, he said, “Shut up, I am going to get back to back hundreds.” Unfortunately, the media focused on Denesh Ramdin’s antics rather than this terse reply which was verbal – backed by a powerful performance with the bat.
In the ongoing series against New Zealand, Samuels hit a magnificent hundred in the second Test at his home ground at Jamaica. What is astonishing is that in a score of 209, Samuels alone accounted for 123 – 58.85 percent of the team’s total. Only four West Indian batsmen – Gordon Greenidge, Seymour Nurse, Larry Gomes and Brian Lara - have a greater percentage of the teams score in an innings. As the other batsmen succumbed to the New Zealand attack, Samuels held firm to rally the innings. In the context of the game it was a crucial innings as West Indies bowled the tourists out 154, leaving them with 206 to win the game in the fourth innings. He wasn’t finished there as he followed it up with a gritty 52 in the run-chase that has set the tone for the home side after early losses.
The years of inconsistency seem to be behind Samuels as he looks poised to blossom into a world-class batsman. With such a run of consistency, the teams around the world would take him more seriously and Gayle wouldn’t be the only player they would discuss in their team meetings. Cricket has witnessed a number of late-bloomers. If Samuels can maintain his consistency, he would be an addition to the list.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)