Marlon Samuels: Cricket's smooth operator

Marlon Samuels: Cricket's smooth operator

Garfield Robinson

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

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West Indies batsman Marlon Samuels was in the headlines recently for two reasons. First, the Jamaican announced his retirement from international cricket. Second, and more sensationally, he had yet another spat with England all-rounder Ben Stokes.

Samuels took umbrage to Stokes reporting that the 14-day isolation imposed due to the pandemic was such a drag that he wouldn't wish it on anyone, not even on one of his least favourite people, Marlon Samuels. Samuels response to what Stokes obviously meant as a joke will not be recalled here. Suffice it to say that it was pungent and profane, and one he ought to regret.

But that kind of retort is not out of character for the Jamaican batsman. Never reluctant to respond to a slight, real or imagined, Samuels is as combative as they come. As a relatively unknown 19-year-old making his international debut on tour to Australia he gave as good as he got from the likes of Shane Warne and Glen McGrath, two of the biggest names in the game at the time.

It was that kind of combativeness that enabled him to play match-winning innings in the 2012 and 2016 T20 World Cup finals. He and his team were under severe pressure in both games and it was Samuels, as cool, as calm, and as confrontational as ever – he had words with the same Ben Stokes during the 2016 game – who rescued the West Indies from the precarious position they found themselves in.

The teenaged Samuels impressed on his aforementioned debut tour. Not only did he show he was capable of making runs against high-quality bowling, he displayed a degree of poise and class that belied his tender years and limited experience.

Those first outings at the international level, seemed to foretell a highly successful career at the crease. The fact that it didn't quite turn out that way must have been disappointing for the West Indies cricket authorities, the many fans who expected great things from the right-hander, and the batsman himself.

He played a number of match-winning innings, enchanted many a gathering with the fluidity of his strokeplay, yet most would agree that his production levels never remained consistently high enough for him to be numbered amongst the legends of West Indies cricket.

He remained one of the top batsmen in the West Indies for much of his tenure due to one simple reason — the dearth of accomplished batsmen in the region. Even as his place came under threat, and even the times he lost it, you knew that he'd always be in contention due to a lack of credible options. And just when you were about to write his obituary as an international batsman, he'd come up with the stunning display that would silence the sceptics for a season.

Samuels' demeanour at the crease remained the same whether he was two or 200, whether his side was 30/5 or 300/2. No matter the circumstance, he gave the impression of total tranquillity, that he was in complete control of proceedings and there was little to fear.

But then he'd get out too easily and too often. He did manage a fair degree of consistency on occasion. When the West Indies visited England in 2012, for instance, Samuels was excellent throughout, averaging a staggering 97.6 for the series. His 2007-2008 tour of South Africa was also a high water mark when he successfully combated the home team's highly regarded pace-bowling attack.

Other career highlights included stunning Test and One-Day International (ODI) hundreds in India on the 2002-2003, a tour which saw him almost sent home for disciplinary reasons. There were also Test centuries in the West Indies against New Zealand and England and a double century in Bangladesh on the 2012-2013 visit. On the ill-fated 2013-2014 tour of India he made two ODI hundreds before the tour was abandoned; and during the 2014-2015 World Cup he scored 133 not out in a 371-run partnership with Chris Gayle against Zimbabwe.

Still, considering where he ended up, those performances were the peaks in a career of too many troughs. Samuels was never the most reliable performer as Test and ODI averages in the thirties will attest. And even his most devoted fans would agree, that given his obvious ability, he ought to have achieved more.

Interactions with a bookmaker on tour of India led to a two-year ban from the sport in May 2008. Samuels maintains there was nothing nefarious about his actions. Being barred from playing the game he dedicated his life to and earned a living from during what might have been his peak years, must have been traumatic. It was likely the lowest point of his career and it is a testament to his strong character that he had some of his best years after returning from his ban.

Samuels' last international game was an ODI against Bangladesh in Sylhet in December 2018. Knowing his taste for the big occasion he probably should have been included in the squad for the 50-over World Cup in England in 2019 if he were fit and in form, but the selectors, much to his chagrin thought otherwise. Since then the batting stylist has not really featured in the conversation on team selection.

Music, it appears, is now one of his main concerns, and he has recorded a number of dancehall tracks. Earlier this year Samuels officially entered the fragrance business, launching his Sextillionaire brand of cologne, which, he assures, has nothing to do with sex.

Regarding his cricket, however, it should be said that while Samuels did not reach the heights he should have given his ability, his achievements cannot be scoffed at. He was, at his best, as good as any batsman in the game. And, despite his shortcomings, he was always a pleasure to watch.

Garfield Robinson is a Jamaican living in the US who write on cricket for a few Indian and English publications. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or garfield.v.robinson@gmail.com.


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