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When T20's biggest stars failed on its biggest occasion, a fallen star shone the brightest
March 11, 2013
Best Twenty20 batting performanceMarlon Samuels
The glass panel of the press box at the R Premadasa Stadium is so thick it can nearly shut out the roar of a full house. But even those in that fortified enclosure couldn't escape the impact of Marlon Samuels' first six in the 2012 World Twenty20 final. It was like a shock wave had reverberated through the pane and shaken every one out of some dream - one in which Chris Gayle had defended his way to 3 off 16 deliveries and West Indies had made 38 in 11 overs. The figures were unimaginable in a T20, let alone coming from Gayle and West Indies.
It was Samuels' wake-up call to everyone, telling them the real show was about to begin.
Have a look at the replays of that six. Watch Samuels prepare himself to go after Lasith Malinga, the man who, along with Gayle, is one of the faces of the shortest format.
Samuels seems to have decided that delivery has to go. He shuffles across and stands with feet wide apart. Malinga tries to hurl it in full, a yorker possibly, like the one he bowled to Dwayne Bravo the previous delivery. He had been doing it his entire career.
This one, though, is not quite in the blockhole. It is heading for Samuels' left leg. His right one is on off stump, the left one far outside leg. Surely he's in no position to do anything with this one. Before you can pick it up clearly, even on the replay, his right foot shifts towards the line of the ball, and a casual, almost insouciant, flick sends it into the crowd over deep midwicket.
Listen to the reaction of the crowd, 35,000 people who have seen their national team go down in three successive world tournament finals against three different sides in three different countries. Thirty-five thousand people who have sung their long, moving national anthem in stirring unison less than an hour ago. This is their home ground. This has to be fourth time lucky. This will be their night. This is already their night - no way West Indies can recover from such a non-starter of a start. The bands are playing. The people are dancing and revelling in their team's dominance.
When Samuels' strike takes flight, the stadium doesn't fall dead silent, like it usually does in the subcontinent when an opposition batsman hits boundaries. Instead, the din of the crowd turns into a loud exclamation, a collective gasp at what they have just witnessed, and also probably, a premonition of what is about to come.
Samuels was on 26 off 37 before he hit that six. After it, he hit Malinga for two more in the same over. After Ajantha Mendis responded with the wickets of Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell in four balls, Samuels blasted Malinga for two more sixes. He took 52 off the last 19 balls he faced. Taken by themselves, these figures tell you it was quite a turnaround. Given the state of the West Indies innings, it was a thunderous, scarcely believable riposte. Given what was at stake that night, it won't be unreasonable to call it the best knock played in a T20 international.
The jury says
All the ingredients that make an innings great were present. Occasion: the final of a world tournament. Quality of opposition: finalists in world events in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012 playing in front of a packed stadium at home. Quality of attack: two of the most dangerous T20 bowlers ever - Malinga and Mendis. State of match: the fifth-worst score halfway into a T20 innings, following the fourth-worst Powerplay score ever in T20s.
If Test matches demand survival against sustained examination, T20 demands that the runs come no matter what. Somehow. Anyhow. The pressure to make runs is all-consuming, even more so in such a big game. Even the mighty Gayle, who had destroyed Australia in the semi-final two nights before, bottled up under the pressure of the final.
Runs are oxygen in T20. Without them, the heart of an innings stops beating. It had almost stopped in West Indies' case that night in Colombo, until Samuels jolted it back to life with those electric shock-like sixes. It was such a decisive shift of momentum that Sri Lanka fell short of their target of 138 by 37 runs.
With Samuels, there is the back story - the largely unfulfilled talent, the ban, the comeback, the year of his atonement. No wonder he walked into the post-match press conference with the solemn air of a man who had suffered and had come back to script an achievement so rare and so stunning that a jaunty expression might belittle his accomplishment.
"As my mentor always said to me, everything that happened to me in life is because I'm important," said a dead-serious Samuels, his gaze a mix of finality and redemption. "I'm not someone that will ever give up. I never say die."
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