England v West Indies, 2nd Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day May 25, 2012

Samuels shows his new focus

Marlon Samuels has been through a lot in his career, but after his unbeaten hundred against England at Trent Bridge the West Indian batsman is beginning to look the real deal in Test cricket.

Nine runs short of his fifty, Marlon Samuels suddenly checked his off stump even as Tim Bresnan was mid-stride in his run-up. It was the first ball after tea. Samuels wanted to make sure he was not out of his comfort zone, which he had built painstakingly and patiently in the previous session and a half. Next delivery, Bresnan pitched short, wide and outside the off stump. Samuels stood tall to unleash a powerful cut which went crashing into the point boundary. He repeated the same stroke to end the over and bring his second fifty in successive innings.

By the end of the day, Samuels would go on to raise his bat and celebrate his third Test century, something he said he had wanted to achieve here "because England are the No. 1 team." His was indeed the pièce de résistance at Trent Bridge on Friday.

"No need for sweaters. No need to jumpers. No need for jackets," Michael Holding happily described the atmosphere at the ground. Yet, instead of enjoying the day in the sun, the West Indies batsmen seemed to be in a hurry to take refuge in the dressing room with the first six wickets falling even before the ball was 50 overs old.

At least at Lord's, in the second innings, Samuels had Shivnarine Chanderpaul for support. The pair had stifled England's march on the fourth day with a record partnership, but Samuels had missed out on a deserved century in the second innings, as he went chasing a delivery he should have left alone.

Today he started rusty, playing either too early or at times too lazily to survive some close calls. England's plan was to keep Samuels rooted to his crease. But Samuels, too, had a plan: he wanted to make sure all the right things he did at Lord's were continued with and not repeat the mistakes.

Without being harsh it was apt that Chanderpaul was not around to chaperone the Jamaican. In any case, Samuels now believes he is his own man. During his the two-year ban, he said, if there was one thing he learned, it was to trust no man. So he only had to trust himself.

Luckily Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, has shown a lot of faith in Samuels, by giving him a long-enough rope to make his comeback. In the interim the team management has been working hard on Darren Bravo and Kirk Edwards, expecting the pair to strengthen the top order. But Samuels remained unaffected. He returned from the IPL and after scores of 32 and 44 against England Lions he walked into the Test series confidently.

It was fascinating to watch him duel with England's fast bowlers and Graeme Swann through the day. Early on a James Anderson short-pitched delivery missed his face by inches as Samuels ducked away in the nick of time, but in the process lost his footing and rolled over on his back. But before the umpire could start the count, Samuels, like a spirited boxer, bounced back on his feet.

During tea, the crowd was introduced to Lucian Bute and Carl Froch, two men who will contest in the boxing ring on Saturday for the IBF super middleweight crown. Speaking about how he aims to beat the undefeated Bute, Froch, from Nottingham, said he would like to "render him unconscious," although he had immense respect for the Romanian who has held the title for five years.

Samuels now believes he is his own man. During his the two-year ban, he said, if there was one thing he learned, it was to trust no man. So he only had to trust himself

Perhaps Samuels and Darren Sammy had listened to Froch's words, which had even drawn a smile from Viv Richards whose childhood hero was Joe Frazier. The second session had been hard grind for the visitors as they tried to get back into the match, but that changed in the evening. Instead of slowing down the run rate and playing time, Sammy believed in pressing the accelerator.

That served a dual purpose. It conquered whatever nerves there were after Shivnarine Chanderpaul's departure and simultaneously pumped up the scoring rate. At tea West Indies were stuttering at 154 for 6. By stumps, they had added 150 runs in the final session in 33 overs, including 70 in the first hour. Contrast that with the same period after lunch: the first boundary came after 74 deliveries and 70 minutes when Chanderpaul played an unattractive off drive off Broad.

England were on the back foot. Andrew Strauss wore a furrowed brow throughout the last session as his bowlers became more and more frustrated and vented their fury in the form of exchanging words with the batsmen, who quietly enjoyed a smile with a bowed head.

But with Sammy at the other end, Samuels had to be alert. He did well to temper Sammy's exuberance at times. Like when the West Indies captain aimlessly charged Swann an hour after tea, slogged over midwicket and wanted to take a second. Samuels refused to budge. He was well aware of the strong streak of casualness Sammy possesses with the bat and guarded it well.

Sammy did improvise in Swann's next over when he lofted him for the first six of the series. Both men did not speak much only because Samuels, in the Chanderpaul mould, likes to stick to his plan. But Sammy complimented Samuels nicely. As he reached 80, Samuels slowed down as he took 35 deliveries to move from 80 to 90. In that time Sammy had galloped from 29 to 79.

Sammy's hardened attitude to take whatever Anderson and his team-mates threw at him not only motivated Samuels but allowed him to steer West Indies in the right direction. This is the second innings in a row Samuels has now been involved in long and strong partnership that has kept West Indies alive. Twice in a row now, the visitors have not lost a wicket in an entire session. And Samuels has been the architect of that resistance.

He has already spent 631 minutes at the crease in the series and has a strong desire to cross Chanderpaul's 756 minutes. He has also announced to England that he wants the double hundred and if he gets there he will reply in earnest to all the words they gave him.

"James Anderson should know I am batting for the team. A lot of balls that could've been hit for the boundary I left them alone. But when I get a double tomorrow, I would like James Anderson to say something to me," he said afterwards with a big smile, as the England Player of the Year stood in the background.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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