Marlon Samuels: The inconsistent clutch performer
When Marlon Samuels first started playing Tests, Courtney Walsh and Jimmy Adams were still part of the West Indian side, Sir Donald Bradman was still a living legend, and no spinner had reached the 400-wicket mark in Tests. Also, Mustafizur Rahman was five years old.
West Indies have endured a roller-coaster journey since the turn of the millennium, and Marlon Samuels, along with Chris Gayle has been in the side for the most part of this transformation. Samuels, rated highly in the domestic ranks before his debut, was compared to Vivian Richards very early in his career because of his unflappable composure and sound technique. Against India at Kolkata in 2002, he hit his maiden Test ton, and followed it up with an ODI series-clinching knock of 103 off just 75 balls against the same opponents at Vijayawada.
Despite playing international cricket since 2000, Samuels, at 35, still remains controversy’s favourite child. Match-fixing, illegal action, disciplinary problems: Samuels has lived through everything. Named one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 2013, Samuels experienced a second lease of life in his career after making a comeback to the side following a ban of two years in 2008. The suspension was put in place by the ICC after he allegedly gave information to a bookie during an India-West Indies ODI in 2007. With West Indies requiring experience, Samuels was recalled and responded with a 57 against Pakistan in his comeback Test.
Since his comeback, he has scored seven ODI centuries, as compared to the two he scored in his first eight years of international cricket. And, seven of his nine ODI hundreds have been unbeaten knocks.
He turned a new leaf in 2012 when he compiled 386 runs against a world-class English pace attack that comprised of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann. With a century and three fifties, he made more runs than anyone from either team and was the lone shining light in a 2-0 drubbing in the three-Test series. Even in the testing English conditions, his solid technique and temperament were on display.
In a line-up made of flashy and aggressive batsmen, is Samuels a pleasant anomaly and a crucial clutch player?
He lends balance to the West Indian T20 side which has grown from strength to strength. And he has been instrumental in giving them two of their biggest trophies in recent times, the World T20 titles in 2012 and 2016.
In the 2012 World T20 final against Sri Lanka, the West Indies started on the back-foot, having lost two wickets inside the first six overs and having managed only 14 runs. He started off cautiously and had crept to 26 off 37 balls by the 12-over mark when Malinga came back for his second over, prompting Samuels to switch gears. He smashed 19 runs off Malinga’s over including three sixes and plundered a further 18 runs off the seventeenth. He finished with 78 off 55, more than half of the final total of 137. He returned to bowl a tight spell, giving away only 15 runs from his quota and picking up a wicket as well. Sri Lanka was bundled out for 101, and West Indies clinched their first title since 1979.
Things looked worse in this year’s World T20 final, with the West Indian team reeling at 3-11 in the face of a chase of 156 against England, when Samuels came in and brought some sanity in the middle. He anchored the chase with a well-compiled 85, taking the team close to the target before Carlos Brathwaite finished off with four consecutive sixes. He invariably comes up with performances in crunch situations that make him an important player to keep in the line-up. With experience under his belt, he becomes all the more vital in an ever-changing West Indian side that suffers from constant disputes with the board.
However, his inconsistency, along with his confidence that borders on arrogance, makes him a difficult player to handle. It doesn’t help that he keeps getting into trouble, examples being his history of face-offs with Shane Warne that started with a Big-Bash incident in 2012-13, and the recent confrontation with Ben Stokes during the World T20 final. More recently, he was part of a sledging incident with Matthew Wade during the tri-series match between West Indies and Australia.
When on song, Samuels brings the required serenity in the middle, and manages to mix it with captivating strokes in the final overs. Yet, in a career that started at the turn of the millennium, Samuels has less than 5000 runs in ODIs and 4000 in Tests. If only he were consistent. But then, West Indies has never followed convention. And Samuels remains erratic, wronged and the nearly-man.