Samuels draws on Waugh spirit
England can blame Steve Waugh, now that West Indies have forced them to turn out on the fifth day at Lord's. Of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, it was natural to imagine he would drop anchor. But to expect the same of Marlon Samuels, was like imagining Lord's basking in sunshine.
Well, what do we know? Though the sun never made an appearance at the end of the penultimate day, West Indies left with pride, hope and sunny smiles. And that was down to Samuels, whose 157-run alliance with Chanderpaul surprised England and put West Indies in control of the Test.
And that is where Waugh could have played a hand. At the completion of his debut Test series, which was in Australia, the then 19-year-old Samuels asked Waugh for his famous red cloth, which the former Australian captain always carried in his pocket. Waugh was generous and obliged and today that piece of cloth was in Samuels' pocket. Samuels has always valued the piece of cloth as one of the most significant treasures of his life. Just like the rag injected Waugh with more grit and determination, Samuels, too, brought that same never-say-die attitude to the ground today.
It was imperative that Chanderpaul had someone at the other end to offer stability. Considering there was only one more specialist batsman left in the ranks, it became more critical that Samuels stay put. It is an irony that a man of his talent does not inspire confidence easily. That is as much a result of his trouble-riddled past including the two-year ban he had to serve after a four-man WICB panel including the current team manager Richie Richardson said he had violated the ICC code of conduct for having links with an Indian bookmaker.
Last year Samuels said how he had got his life back on track and was hungry to prove himself once again. After his return Samuels has scored five half centuries but none could be more talismanic than this today's. England obviously had a plan for Samuels early on as they bowled full and on the fourth stump. Samuels had chased a similar length delivery in the first innings and was caught at backward point as he went for an expansive drive.
But today Samuels left those balls alone. So England deployed an alternate plan: fire in an as many short-pitched deliveries as possible and let him face the music. Samuels did appear a little disoriented as he responded unconvincingly. It was a tough ask considering both Anderson and Broad were gunning for nothing less than Samuels' head. Broad even managed to hit Samuels on the helmet as he ducked under a short ball. Even as he flinched, what Samuels did not forget was to take his eye off the ball.
However, the urge to respond did not go away. Having pulled Broad twice in the same over after he was hit, Samuels tried to hook Anderson, despite Kevin Pietersen patrolling deep square-leg. Sensibly, two balls later, he punched a straight drive to the left of the mid-off to reach is fifty to hearty applause. West Indies now trailed by three runs. He said good morning to Swann with consecutive boundaries, cover drives off the back foot, to put the visitors in the lead.
As his confidence grew, he became more relaxed. He even refused Chanderpaul a single and shooed his senior partner back to his crease with a casual flick of the left wrist when Chanderpaul, having tapped an Anderson delivery towards mid-off, had set off for a non-existent single. There had been too many communication gaffes involving Chanderpaul already, and Samuels decided it was time to stem the rot.
The pair had silently helped West Indies go without losing a wicket in an hour for the first time in the match. In fact, this was one of the rare times England had failed to dent at least one hole in the opposition ranks.
Recently there was an instance of that happening during the second day of the third Test of the away series against Pakistan after England had gone wicketless after lunch until stumps, as Younis Khan and Azhar Ali dug in in Dubai. On the home front, it was the pair of Sachin Tendulkar and Amit Mishra, unbeaten at stumps on the fourth evening of the final Test at the Oval last summer, who denied a wicket in the first session on the final day, to stall England from accomplishing a whitewash.
Samuels would be peeved that having the won the battle against the old ball convincingly, his one moment of distraction came shortly after England took the new ball, an over into the afternoon session, robbing him of getting his name inscribed on the honours board. As he edged Broad, who was more relieved and even forgot his two-pistol send-off, Samuels practised the leave, which should have been his response. Waugh would definitely tell him that the biggest lesson in life is to learn from your mistakes.
But he should not berate himself too much. West Indies needed another man who could play the foil to Chanderpaul; a batsman capable of playing the bad cop and good cop depending on the situation. Samuels showed he has the credentials to apply for that job. But it is now for him to grow more confident and build on this innings.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo