June 27, 2011

At home with Marlon Samuels

Marlon Samuels talks about family, cricket, and getting his life back on track

"Sometimes you are just living carefree. It takes something to happen to you to realise how precious life is. I appreciate life more now. You trust in god and animals. You don't trust man. Anything happened to me god wanted it to happen to me. This is my story and this is my book."

Marlon Samuels is sitting under a mango tree. Three dogs that he loves - Samson the labrador, Simba the akita, and Sheba the pit-bull are licking his feet and hands. We are at the lovely backyard of his house in a scenic neighbourhood in Jamaica. The grass is green, trees abound, gentle breeze wafts by, and he almost looks at peace. Inside, in a room, nine puppies lie entwined in a big basket. The man loves his dogs. They adore him. He seems a lot freer in their company and he opens up. The world knows his story: the ban, the self-destructing talent … the path to hell. This is a new chapter of his story and he seems to be eager to fill it up with his accomplishments and leave his past behind.

"My daughter changed the mindset when it comes to ladies. You have more respect for ladies. Every sportsman will tell you that you can get caught up in the lifestyle." He says he is off the party scene now. His daughter Dijona, four years old, and a nine-month-old son, Dimitri, are changing his life. Dijona in particular. Samuels' mind is opening up to a different world, a fascinating universe of a little kid. "She talks a lot. She tells me everything that happened in her day." She even reads him bed-time stories. "She doesn't allow me to read, you know," he laughs. She is at summer school and isn't there now. His girlfriend is away. The house isn't loaded with furniture. The dogs have a lot of free space to run around. Samuels' man-Friday Shaun takes care of the dogs and is the chef. "Samuels is my god. He always look-out for me," says a grateful Shaun. Back in the city, the street kids too offer more praise about Samuels. They call him Tota. They say he gives them money for school fees and that he constantly helps them.

Everything is quiet back at the house. Shaun is at the front, washing the cars. A Toyota Tundra and a Chevrolet are gleaming in the afternoon sun. Samuels is in the garden with his dogs. At times he says he reads a book, sitting under that tree. "Marcus Garvey. Malcolm X. Some people fall by the wayside but remember they are fighting for the positive thing." He read 'Who moved my cheese?' on a successful tour of South Africa. "You know that book? With two little people and two mice. The two mice end up a little bit smarter than the two people. Reading good maan."

Often, through our free-flowing chat, he keeps coming back to his dogs and his mistrust of men. There doesn't seem to be bitterness - at least it doesn't show - but he seems a man forever on guard. It's understandable. Bad things have happened. Much murky water has flown under the bridge. "I reflect on my day and what happened. Dog is a man's best friend. The only thing they can't do is talk…they show me signs…if I come and have a bad day…they rest their heads on my thigh, they lick my hands; these things help me totally forget about the bad day I am having." He hasn't named the puppies yet and just for fun he names them on the go - "That's 'cover-drive', this is 'on-drive', this one is the 'flick' - that shot by the master Tendulkar through midwicket you know, he is sleepy, this one loves to sleep .. this is Mishra - the inside-out over extra-cover!"

He says he is wary about letting new friends come in. "I don't need a hundred friends. New people coming into your life is very dangerous." You could understand his gesture of running all the way to shake the hands of Chris Gayle in the final ODI. He is loyal to his small group of friends, his family and the man he calls his angel, 'Donald', who used to be manager for his club. "He is my angel. He doesn't always agree with me and gives the straight talk. I really respect that. You don't want to be surrounded by people who say yes all the time."

He admits he did drift. He stepped out of house at the age of 15 to live alone. His parents didn't like it but they gave in. He wanted to experience freedom and take responsibility over his life. The personality grew, and negative elements slipped in occasionally. "I have seen a guy step on a guy's shoe and get shot right in front of me….and people pry on you more when you are famous…so I am off the party scene." The conversation drifts to marriage. "I will get married sometime. It's a good tradition."

Something stirs in him when he talks about cricket. That's what gives hope that this young talent is really keen to make it count this time. He talks about a game in India, a shot he played in Pakistan, his match in Australia, his contest in South Africa with a certain amount of buzz. You can sense he is missing it. He is trying to clean up his life.

"I used to be selfish with life. But it's not about me now. I live for my kids. I believe in a supreme being and I give thanks for all the good things in my life. My family has always backed me. I now dedicate each innings to some special person. I am aiming to score as many Test centuries as possible.

As he drives us back in his Tundra, he says, "No man know what life has store for them. That's why you should never give up. Never."

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo