CWC 2019: Why Marlon Samuels should have been included in the Windies squad
West Indies finally announced their World Cup squad late on Wednesday after making their fans wait for days. Their squad was announced a day post ICC's deadline to announce a preliminary squad for the World Cup. While the selectors have indeed made some very good selections, the exclusion of big tickets like Keiron Pollard, Sunil Narine and Devendra Bishoo was the talk of the town.
Besides experienced stalwarts like Chris Gayle, Jason Holder, Darren Bravo, Kemar Roach and Andre Russell, the team boasts of a lot of flair with budding players like Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran, Oshane Thomas, Sheldon Cottrell and Shai Hope. With the likes of promising players like Shannon Gabriel, Ashley Nurse, Fabian Allen, Carlos Brathwaite and Evin Lewis, their squad looks well set.
But another big player missing from the squad is Marlon Samuels. The experienced right hander, who has played in three World Cups (2003, 2007 and 2015) had a major role to play in the Windies qualifying for the World Cup. If you remember, two-time World Cup champions qualified for the World Cup by a narrow margin of three runs, winning by DLS method.
Samuels, who was also the reason West Indies won two nearly-impossible World T20 finals (2012 and 2016) scored 304 runs in the qualifying tournament after West Indies failed to qualify automatically. While he played many an innings of substance, his match-winning 86 in a stiff chase, in a do-or-die match against Zimbabwe, was one of the turning points of that tournament.
West Indies were helped by a controversial LBW decision in their last match against Scotland, just before rain arrived. Had the batsman remained not out, Scotland would have qualified, having won the match by a margin of six runs. But even in that match, Samuel's 51 runs amid a sinking West Indies top order were crucial in providing their bowlers something to fight for.
Besides their two 60-over World Cup victories back in the seventies, the Windies have won three more ICC titles after the turn of the century - 2004 Champions Trophy, 2012 World T20 and 2016 World T20. Even this time around, the West Indies team looks promising enough to go all the way. But if you look at the big matches in those tournaments, their star-studded batting lineup always failed when it mattered the most.
Samuels, whose averages over a long career might not be as impressive as many of his counterparts, saved his best for two of those big matches. His 78 off 56 balls in the final of the 2012 World T20 after his team was struggling at 32 for 2 at the end of 10 overs, involved hitting five sixes of the best opposition bowler, Lasith Malinga, to take his team to a respectable score. He also took a wicket to seal a world title for his team after 33 years.
In the 2016 World T20 final, while the rest of the batting order was collapsing, his well paced 85 not out sealed yet another world title for the Windies within four years' time. Both these innings are considered among the best innings in all ICC tournament finals. His partnership of 372 with Chris Gayle against Zimbabwe during the last World Cup is indeed the highest partnership in all ODI cricket.
The veteran, with 10 ODI centuries and 89 wickets, always relished a challenge - and usually performed when the chips were down. He did not appear in the best of touches after the qualifying tournament last year, but was more or less certain to make the cut due to his experience of over 18 years. An injury in the recent months might have also contributed to his exclusion.
Another major reason for his exclusion could be a slump in form during the subcontinent tour towards the end of 2018. In ODI 5 innings in India, he managed only 64 runs, while his three innings in Bangladesh yielded only 70 runs. In fact, the World Cup Qualifier tournament was like an oasis in the middle of a desert.
Samuels was in excellent form in 2016, which included consistent knocks at the World T20, the home tri-nation series against Australia and South Africa, and the limited-overs run in the UAE. His batting saw another low during the limited overs tour of England in 2017, where he managed only 61 runs from four innings. Had the Windies won four matches in the series, they would have automatically qualified for the World Cup.
The emergence of reliable options such as Shai Hope and Hetmyer, and the resurrection of Darren Bravo - especially during their impressive home series against England this season has also contributed to the edging out of Samuels. They selectors are backing the youngsters to fill in perfectly for the likes of Marlon.
While the team looks to have covered most of their bases, their current middle order has not played enough to have encountered tough match situations on the big stage. Stability during such situations is what he should have been picked for. We can just hope for the emergence of a reliable batsman of the likes of Samuels or Shai Hope, rather than dashers - which the Windies team will never find themselves short of.