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West Indies' in-form batsman did not have James Anderson to spar with this time, but still found himself in the middle of spicy battle at Edgbaston
Nagraj Gollapudi at Edgbaston
June 9, 2012
Features : Onions savours 'special' comeback
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Features : Samuels' lone defiance
Matches: England v West Indies at Birmingham
Series/Tournaments: West Indies tour of England
There has been a lot of talk about Kevin. Let's talk about Marlon instead. No, not Marlon Brando, but an equally cool namesake - Marlon Samuels. Born in Kingston, Jamaica; returned recently from wilderness, having served a two-year ban for reasons well-known. Now, in the latest phase of his Test career, he is the highest run-maker in this series.
Not only has he let his bat talk, but Samuels has also shut up opposition using clever retorts to hit back at the bowlers. At Trent Bridge he arm-wrestled with England's best bowler, James Anderson, and scored valuable points. This time, with Anderson on the sidelines, he ran his sharp tongue through England's second-line of fast bowling comprising Graham Onions, Steven Finn and Tim Bresnan.
The most enthralling contest of the first day's play (on the third actual day) of this rain-affected Test was undoubtedly Samuels against Onions. West Indies' best batsman against the best county bowler in England. Onions was himself returning to Test cricket after more than two years out. He bowled an honest pace, quickly found his rhythm and troubled the fragile West Indies top-order. Even Samuels could take just two runs in the 18 deliveries he faced from him.
But where Samuels scored was in distracting Onions, who briefly lost his focus getting into a verbal exchange which only inspired the Jamaican to regain his advantage. Just as he had done in the previous three innings in this series, Samuels was playing a lone hand at one end as the rest of the batsman struggled. He had almost sprinted in Rafael Nadal-style into the middle even before Darren Bravo, the man he was replacing, had made the exit. He was keen to resume battle.
Once again he eased into his stride against Graeme Swann. It would not be unfair to say that Samuels, on current form, could play the offspinner even in his sleep: Samuels has faced a total of 191 deliveries from Swann in this series and he has managed 131 runs.
In the second innings at Lord's and then at Trent Bridge he attacked Swann by lunging forward to defend comfortably, pushing into the gaps effortlessly and using his feet with freedom. His message, it seemed, to the best spinner in the world was: "I am as good as you." Today was no different.
Again, though, it was hard finding support from his partners. Assad Fudadin, making his debut, had started encouragingly, but got stuck for 28 deliveries and 34 minutes in moving from 27 to 28. He lost his focus and lost his wicket. Narsingh Deonarine, also playing his first Test of the series, succumbed to a sharp lifer from Onions no long afterwards which included some theatrical celebrations in Samuels' direction. The umpire Kumar Dharmasena had, by now, had a quiet word. It was all motivation to Samuels.
Two overs before the tea break he stepped out and lofted Swann high over long-on and then punched a cover drive for four to get another half-century. Animated celebrations followed, as he waved the bat like a hand fan across Edgbaston and then pointed it specifically in the direction of Onions who was standing in the deep.
After stumps, Samuels suggested Onions had not learned from England's experience at Trent Bridge when the harder the fast bowlers tried to distract with verbals the more focused he became. However he refused to agree that the England attack was second-string in the absence of Anderson and Stuart Broad. "Why would you call it a second-string when you got the so-called best county bowler, which is Onions," he said.
Then asked to give an appraisal of Onions, Samuels lived up to type. "Onions? Well, he has the a few things to say. Give me back Jimmy Anderson. I don't like Onions. I don't use it in my food."
In the recent years of England's dominance at home there have been few batsmen who have flourished against one of the strongest bowling attacks around. Since the 2005 Ashes, if you take batsmen who have scored at least 300 runs, Samuels is second in the averages to only Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who has played four more matches and six additional innings.
Chanderpaul was ruled out here due to a side strain and is in the winter of his career. Samuels has shown he can take over the responsibility by making sure that each time he walks back to the crease he applies himself. A hallmark has been his watchfulness. 'Soft hands approach and playing late' could have been written on his landing card when Samuels arrived in the country. He admitted that he left alone "six to seven buckets" of balls. As the coaches like to say there are always plans in place, what matters is execution. That is the biggest problem with West Indies batsmen. Except for Samuels.
An over before the new ball was taken Samuels was beaten for the first and last time in the day as Tim Bresnan moved the ball sharply into his pads to catch him in front. Samuels, more in hope, opted for a review, but it proved in vain as he was just caught in line with off stump.
He deservingly walked back to a standing ovation. Earlier this week, Darren Sammy said West Indies would like to win the final Test for pride. That might not be possible considering only two days of play remains, but what Samuels has made probable is a draw and avoiding a whitewash. West Indies have lost the Test series, but they will talk about Marlon.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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