Marlon Samuels: a tale fit for the big screen
Movies are beautiful works of art. Motifs of drama, action, serendipity and tension lie beneath stories of heroism and strength under trying circumstances. Battles are waged, bravery is shown, mettle is tested and, through it all, characters become legends.
Marlon Nathaniel Samuels' cricketing career has had a truly cinematic quality thus far. Picture it through the lens of a screenwriter: a precocious talent is plucked from obscurity to face the mightiest challenge in the cricket world and he rises to the occasion; the new kid on the block is destined for greatness, but inconsistency and circumstances creep in to stifle his ability; scandal, shame and indignation transform the enigmatic hero into a villain; in exile, self-enhancement is driven by the urge to silence the naysayers; penance is paid, and a return is staged; the results begin to follow and the swagger grows; a grand test on the biggest stage summons a hero! Marlon Samuels, the protagonist, the prodigy, arrives, having come full circle.
Samuels' mannerisms have a tinge of Viv Richards in them - a strut as opposed to a walk, a brashness towards the bowler, a frightening amount of power and a bit of the 'genius' touch. At the same time, though, he has had to face hardship, dealing as much with mental angst as fluctuating form. There's a captivating mix of outward confidence that is tempered by inner restriction.
Any consideration of Samuels must go back to his first appearance in West Indies colours - he was called to the touring side in Australia at the tender age of 19, with virtually no first-class exposure in the midst of a Caribbean collapse. While the side's fortunes were beyond repair, the young man acquitted himself well. He earned the respect of many, including Australian legend Steve Waugh, who famously gave him the red rag that had significant sentimental value. The rag, legend has it, remains with Samuels to this day.
The promise that had been on display slowly became inconsistent. The erratic glimpses of obvious talent kept the fan base interested, but the frustrating failures left many onlookers dissatisfied and the narrative of unfulfilled potential was growing. A sparkling 108 off 75 balls in an ODI against India in Vijayawada was probably the greatest glimpse of his talent but, by and large, the first half of Samuels' career flattered to deceive.
His attitude to cricket also came under scrutiny, with some reports stating his failure to get along with the team management. It did not help his image in the eyes of a West Indian public that is famous for its lack of patience with players. Additionally, the legitimacy of Samuels' bowling action was under investigation and required advanced testing by bio-mechanical experts. An ominous cloud was forming over the gifted player.
The darkest period in his story came in 2007-2008. West Indies' last game of the World Cup 2007 proved to be quite ugly, and Samuels came to the limelight for his involvement in one of the most significant events in the recent West Indies-cricket history: the retirement of Brian Lara. In running out one of the all-time greats in their final match, Samuels turned public exasperation into outright annoyance.
Even worse, it was alleged that Samuels had provided information about the team's tactics during the 2007 tour to India before the World Cup. While details were murky, and he maintained that he was innocent, investigations resulted in a charge for match-fixing in 2008, with a two-year ban from all formats of the game. It was shocking, and gave Samuels the ugliest label possible in the sports world. While details of the episode are still unclear, it is said that Samuels was tricked into discussing some aspects of a match, not realising the repercussions of his actions. Ignorance of the law is no excuse: it was a grim time, and Samuels went into cricketing exile as a man condemned. Many expected him to simply quit the game for good. The movie was heading down a gloomy road.
It seems patience and penitence were just what Samuels needed. Introspection, re-dedication and a refreshed desire to succeed were pleasant byproducts of a wholly unpleasant experience. Fans who had firmly backed Samuels began to wait with bated breath for the ban to be lifted. For Samuels, it was a chance to step out of the spotlight he had been cast into since his teenage years and possibly assess all that surrounded him. He famously became more involved in caring for dogs - likely some of his only true friends when the world was against him. Eventually, after two long years, Samuels returned, but there was a difference this time: he was playing for keeps.
Samuels had to work his way up - an earnest reintroduction to club ranks, followed by Jamaican and, eventually, West Indies colours was fairly swift, though not without some difficulties. He was a star learning to ply his trade all over again. He declined a place in the West Indies team for the World Cup 2011, stating that he was not 'ready'. The focus was on the process of getting back, and nothing was going to spoil the plan. Fans, forever skeptics, were not going to forget his past inconsistencies easily and everyone, including Samuels himself, seemed to be awaiting a verdict on where the future was going.
After that tournament, Samuels returned to the West Indies side and the talent that fans remembered was evident. The batsman was in his element, and he was able to reverse some of the past wrongs with a more mature performance. It was 'Helegance' (a nickname he has been given by some) reborn or, in movie terms, 'Marlon Samuels - The Sequel'.
The Twenty20 World Cup 2012 in Sri Lanka was a defining moment in his comeback trail; many saw his all-round abilities as the key to West Indies' victorious campaign. His 78 off 56 balls in the final against Sri Lanka was a 70-minute tour de force which showed that the vanquished had returned. He wielded his powerful bat, banishing the ball with might and authority, emphatically stating that he would not let his team be second best. It was a triumph in the face of adversity and it established Samuels' reputation as one among the best in the game. That innings came in the midst of a productive period for Samuels - runs came in all formats, catapulting him up West Indies' batting order and solidifying his reputation.
Like any good movie, though, there have been enough sub-plots to keep viewers engaged. In the Big Bash League in Australia, Samuels clashed with Shane Warne in an ugly episode that ended with him throwing his bat in disgust. Samuels was vilified for playing unfairly, but the Jamaican answered with trademark bravado, saying that fans in India (where he plays in the IPL) loved him, the Renegades (his Big Bash team) loved him and West Indians loved him. He was at the top of his game and wasn't afraid or ashamed to stand up for himself.
In the same match, Samuels was struck in the face by a Lasith Malinga bouncer. The injury kept him out of the game for a few months, giving him a chance to introspect once again. That brief pause in his career has now set the stage for his latest scene - a return to cricket with lofty expectations. With at least a few years left at the highest level, his challenges will mostly be internal, but his wealth of experience and wisdom should allow him to flourish. As viewers, having seen the plot ebb and flow, we are now ready to watch the grand finale of a warrior who has risen out of the morass and worked at becoming one of the best.
Don't blink, this might be the best part yet.
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