Samuels comfortable with senior status
Marlon Samuels is still waiting for his copy of the Wisden Almanack. One of the five Cricketers of the Year, Samuels was chosen for the honour after his commanding performance during the three-Test series last May in England, where he was the top run scorer in the Wisden Trophy with one century and three fifties.
It was the one of the first times Samuels had handled the responsibility of being a senior batsman. It carried much meaning for him personally because finally he made the headlines for cricketing reasons, his two-year ICC ban forgotten. Even though West Indies lost the series 2-0, Samuels dominated the formidable England bowling attack with a combination of calmness and anger.
Twelve months down the line Samuels is back in England, his reputation enhanced after his heroics in the final of the World Twenty20 formed the backbone for West Indies' first world title in nearly two decades.
Yet Samuels curiously remains unconvincing in ODIs. Somehow, despite being one of the few Caribbean batsmen to possess the right combination of flair, patience and bravado, he seems to have betrayed his talent.
On the handful of occasions he has succeeded, it has coincided with West Indies victories: Samuels averages 49.54 in matches West Indies have won, with all his four centuries coming in team victories. In 2012 he scored 482 runs at 32.12 from 16 ODI innings, including two centuries; his overall career average is 30.84. But in the Champions Trophy, Samuels has failed - he has scored only 71 runs from eight innings. His performance in England in ODIs is also mediocre - an aggregate of 159 runs from six innings.
In West Indies' thrilling low-scoring victory against Pakistan, Samuels made his presence felt with a valuable third-wicket partnership with Chris Gayle, scoring 30. As crucial as his innings was, Samuels failed to bolt the door shut on Pakistan and exposed the middle and lower order to some anxious moments. In terms of matches, Samuels (143 ODIs) is the third-most experienced player in the team, behind Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, but has mostly failed to perform the role of the senior statesman.
Be that as it may, after his comeback from the ban, Samuels has said he now enters every ground purposefully. He even said he channels his anger at being denied international cricket for two years in a positive fashion.
"I am determined to score a bit quicker, rotate the strike as much as possible," Samuels said. "In Test cricket you spend a lot of time out there and wait for the bad balls. It is not so much of a difference batting between both formats." According to him, conditions in England have posed the biggest hurdle. "The ball moves around. The hardest part is to get a start in England. Once you get a start, things get easy."
Samuels agrees that he is well suited to perform the role of anchor better than anyone else in the team, considering he has done the same in the past. "I'm batting at four, so I've been carrying a lot of load for the team," he said. "I'll definitely continue to play that role and take a lot of responsibility. I have to bat through the innings. Depending on the situation I have to speed it up or slow it down. A lot of it is a thinking process. At the moment mine is the anchor role, so I have to bat through, but I can make up for it at the end because there are still a lot of shots that I can play at the end."
It is not just experience he is relying on. Technically he has been trying to work hard on encountering the seaming conditions prevalent in England. Like he had done before the England tour last year, Samuels revealed that he had worked extensively, playing against the taped ball.
"It is a rubber ball with tape on one side," he said. "It swings a lot. I practise with it a lot especially before I come to England. It works well for me.
"You can't just come here and bat. Last year was a big moment for me where I had to come here and score some runs. I make plans and work towards it."
Observed from a distance Samuels can come across as isolated from the pack. At The Oval, on a cold Sunday morning, Samuels sat by the picket fence below the dressing room for about half an hour, padded up, gloves in hand, exchanging banter with a team official. His non-branded bat rested like an oar by his side, even as other batsmen, including Gayle, enjoyed blasting the ball out of the ground in the distance. As Darren Bravo, taking throwdowns from Ravi Rampaul nearby, hit the ball towards him, Samuels remained unmoved, forcing Rampaul to retrieve the ball himself.
It is the same stillness you see in Samuels' stance. He can exude confidence and provide reassurance even in the deepest misery. Take the World Twenty20 final, when West Indies were 32 for 2 after ten overs. Samuels single-handedly swung the momentum with a ferocious half-century as West Indies picked 105 runs off the final ten overs. It was an assault that silenced Sri Lanka.
Samuels has reiterated at every opportunity that the biggest lesson he learned from the ban was to be more responsible. And that will always stand him in good stead. "To be honest, for the last two years, being out and coming back and playing have created a lot of responsibility around me outside of cricket," he said. "So going out there and playing the role that I'm playing right now, I find it much easier because off the field I have greater responsibility."
That includes looking after his kids and taking care of his numerous dogs. "They can't feed themselves. I'm taking care of my entire family. I can't afford to fail because I'm the breadwinner. For me to come out here and play the anchor role for the team, the entire Caribbean - I really enjoy it."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo