Rob Steen
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Sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

The swap Samuels made

Older, wiser, more sober, Marlon Mark 3 has traded in some of the flash and impetuosity of his younger self to good effect. Might the captaincy be next?

Rob Steen

May 30, 2012

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A

Marlon Samuels played another mature innings, England v West Indies, 2nd Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day, May 25, 2012
Marlon Samuels: serenity and sixes © PA Photos
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So Marlon Samuels is 31. Discovering this a few days ago had a similar impact on me to the one my 19-year-old daughter suffered following my revelation, a year ago last week, that Bob Dylan had just turned 70.

Why, wasn't it only the other day that the lean, lissom Jamaican had proved himself heir apparent to Carl Hooper as cricket's King of Kool, taking guard at 28 for 4 at the MCG in his second Test and digging in for an unbeaten 60, then adding an unbowed 46, twice the next most manful contributor, as Jason Gillespie conducted a second-innings rout? Here was love at first exquisitely caressed glance. How, as my Laura doubtless wondered about Mr Blowin' In The Wind, did he get so old, so quick?

In actual fact, of course, it is now nearly a dozen years since that Melbourne overture, and nearly a decade since Eden Gardens became the most fitting of stages for Samuels' maiden Test hundred (a suitably remorseful essay in discipline after breaking the team curfew) and Vijayawada witnessed a more characteristically imperious, ODI-winning 108 off 75 balls, bejewelled with five sixes. Hell, it's even been nearly four years since his second coming, a century in an innings drubbing in Durban.

All the more reason, then, to rejoice in the advent of Marlon Mk III. The contrast with Mks I and II seems vast. Those sumptuous, effortless sixes off Graeme Swann at Trent Bridge on Monday afternoon, expanding West Indies' lead to three figures, and the final blows of the resistance, marked virtually the only reminder of the lordly young thing of 2000; concentration, commitment and focus were in unimagined abundance. Easily the most conspicuous commonality was the serenity that provoked Jimmy Anderson's latest accomplished impersonation of Glenn McGrath.

Not for the first time, Mike Atherton proffered an astute observation from on high (okay, the Sky commentary box). Since slicing a drive in the second innings at Lord's, Samuels, he warranted, had been waiting for the ball. As in, not chasing it, rather than spending the best part of a fortnight anticipating Stuart Broad's next delivery. As a metaphor for maturity, for crossing the bridge separating knowledge from wisdom, it was supremely apt.

To Shane Warne - whose latest, improbably Mad Men-esque hairdo suggests even he has tired of playing Peter Pan - it was the very essence of simplicity: Samuels is putting a higher price on his wicket. Mortgage, family and dog can do that to you, as Samuels has readily conceded; ditto a ban for consorting with bookies. For us greedy stylies (if you can have foodies, why not stylies?), given that flowing and mercurial and intoxicating have been displaced by measured and sedate and sober, the trade has just about been worth it.

It's a familiar tale, but never one that tires in the telling - because it celebrates the human spirit. For Samuels read Swann read Mike Hussey. Or, to go back a bit further and span a couple of generations of Ashes legends, for David Steele read Clarrie Grimmett. For cricketers as well as other competitive artists, attaining one's quarter century in a young man's trade, let alone leaving the nervous and tremulous 20s behind, need not be the death of hope.

Manvindar Bisla is another inspirational case in point. As a teenager he bowled seam-up in the Under-19 World Cup, then took up glovemanship, but not until Sunday, deep into his 28th year, did he attain wider acclaim (beyond last October's Hong Kong Sixes). First he gobsmacked the punditocracy by being chosen ahead of Brendon McCullum in the Kolkata Knight Riders XI, then he grabbed his moment so gratefully and lustily that his IPL-winning 89, a knock that owed as much to slogging as Dylan did to hip-hop, looked uncommonly like the handiwork of a budding master - and not merely of cartoon cricket.

Samuels, though, is a bit different. After all, he had both a fast start and early recognition. He just kept finding ways to blow it. Running out Brian Lara in his final international, for instance, wasn't terribly bright. Then again, nor was skipping schoolwork, especially on the somewhat cocksure basis that, as a future star, he sure didn't need no education.

These days he resembles Hooper every bit as much as anticipated, albeit Carl the elder statesman rather than Carl the minor genius: Samuels exudes self-restraint, reluctant to engage top gear for fear of the nightmares that would ensue and the old habits that could resume. In many ways, nevertheless, the Samuels saga reminds me most of the Graham Gooch story.

Both looked good from the get-go; both were capped young; both found consistency as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel; both misbehaved and paid the price (whether Gooch's decision to lead a tour of apartheid South Africa was any less despicable than Samuels dipping both feet into the pond of corruption is strictly a matter of taste, but it was certainly forgiven with a great deal more alacrity). Both, moreover, enjoyed a fleeting rebirth before sinking anew: the launch of Gooch Mk III, his appointment to lead England's 1990 Caribbean expedition, was immediately preceded by an Ashes encounter that saw Terry Alderman rob him of his confidence, lock him in his shell and chuck away the key, prompting him to drop himself.

Responsibility, primarily, did it for Gooch. But then so, to a lesser extent, did a regular partner. Once, asked to cite the link between a host of batsmen while guesting on the interminably popular TV quiz show A Question of Sport, he failed to spot that, well, ahem, he'd opened with all of them. The ascent of Atherton at the fag end of that ghastly summer of 1989 certainly helped. "You seem to get more strength from batting with Graham," suggested the Lancastrian. "He doesn't say a lot, but his determination and concentration are incredible." Less than a year later, Gooch struck the highest score for Pomland since 1938; inside two years he was hitting 154 against West Indies on a horror show of a pitch at Headingley, unanimously acclaimed as the best innings by a Pom during the entire reign of Our Liz.

These days he resembles Hooper every bit as much as anticipated, albeit Carl the elder statesman rather than Carl the minor genius: Samuels exudes self-restraint, reluctant to engage top gear for fear of the nightmares that would ensue

Samuels must now strike similar awe into the hearts of Adrian Barath, Kieran Powell, Darren Bravo and Kirk Edwards. In his four innings in this series he has faced 677 balls - 14 more than Bravo has confronted across his last ten visits to a Test crease, and 300 more than Barath has met in his last ten. Indeed, Samuels' balls-per-innings average at Lord's and Nottingham, a smidge shy of 170, is laps clear of even Shivnarine Chanderpaul's 131-and-a-bit. If this should lead to an outbreak of stiff-upper-lippiness among the junior elements, so much the jollier.

Gooch turned the corner, as Frank Keating put it, once he divined the difference between "scoring" a century and "making" one. Samuels seems to have walked up to the same crossroads, sniffed the air, reeled in the years of frustration and non-fruition, and elected to turn right too, into the arms of pragmatism, though mercifully not into the toxic clutches of puritanical, grim-faced orthodoxy. The only folk he needs to impress now are those who depend on his wages.

The next chapter beckons. The admirable Darren Sammy can lay claim to being the most unexpectedly effective captain the game has yet known, right up there with Courtney Walsh (real fast bowlers, after all, simply aren't natural tossers, or so the unsaid saying seems to go). Time and again, no matter what the result, his teams have opened their legs and displayed, not their class (as that inimitable BBC athletics commentator David Coleman so memorably said of the great Cuban hurdler Alberto Juantorena), but their backbone. Class lies on the next rung up. And to make that climb, this Caribbean co-operative needs a leader who can be looked up to on something more than a spiritual level, not as one who has to prove himself all over again every time he flips a coin.

This is not to propose that Sammy's time is up (even as England jogged the final lap to victory on Monday, his refusal to throw on the part-timers served as a pair of Marshall speakers cranked up to No. 11, booming out the intention to fight to the last). Yet longer-term considerations will surely soon prevail. Toppermost of these concerns is Kemar Roach: if he is to fulfil his seemingly boundless promise, he will unquestionably need more support than his captain currently offers with the ball. And while Edwards is Sammy's official deputy, luck, without which no cricketer can prosper, is keeping an extremely indiscreet and disrespectful distance.

Is this Samuels' destiny, then, to lead West Indies into the halls of respect and respectability? There are riskier left turns the selectors could make. As he prepared to bowl the concluding over at Trent Bridge, the Sky cameraman fixed him in his sights. The shot was from the midriff up but the eyes still shone - calm, still, patient, strong. An hour later, he spoke of "this glorious game of uncertainty": this time, the eyes glistened. Calm, still, patient, strong - and optimistic.

Another Marlon sprang to mind. For far too many years, the late Mr Brando's immortal lament in On the Waterfront was made for Samuels: "I coulda bin a contender…" Now, at last, he is. Next stop: Championville. Let's hope he buys a one-way ticket.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

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Posted by   on (June 1, 2012, 12:31 GMT)

i always admired Sarwan and Samuels in the middle batting together.Sarwan technically and tactically strong .Samuels elegant and stylish

Posted by Gavan_Carey on (June 1, 2012, 3:15 GMT)

Great article.....loved it as much as Marlon

Posted by rienzied on (June 1, 2012, 2:18 GMT)

He is a class bat, and like Carl Hooper who matured very much towards the end of his career, he should remain at 5/6. techincially I feel though he tends to play defensively too much off the back foot, and doesnt push forward enough onto the front foot, however with all the English bowlers being above 6'3" I can see why he'd rather play off the back foot witht he bounce, swing (for anderson) and seam movement (giving him more time to watch the late movement(either in the air or off the wicket)

Posted by SouthPaw on (May 31, 2012, 8:51 GMT)

Great article Rob! The Windies need people like Roach, Samuels (C), Sunil Narine, the Bravos, Gayle, Andre Russel, Pollard (yes, he has immense talent), Shillingford, Sarwan, Chanderpaul and the like. Wow, I didn't believe that I could rack up an 11 like this!

Posted by   on (May 31, 2012, 7:50 GMT)

A "scrappy" century is one that is achieved with a lot of heart, energy and tons of good luck, but it lacks good technique and talent. That is what the fans witnessed from Sammy. On the other hand, Samuels century was one played with absolute skill, precise technique AND all of those other things. The latter is much more likely to be repeated with some regularity, which is what the West Indies desperately needs.

Posted by   on (May 31, 2012, 5:59 GMT)

kindly tell me about any bright wicket keeping prospects from the carribean....

Posted by Baddabing on (May 31, 2012, 2:55 GMT)

Never been a big fan of MS, the guy has been playing for 12 years and now just because of 2 good matches his average has crept up to be slightly higher than his age, he seems to have a short burst of form every couple of years and everything in between that is just rubbish, based on his previous form I will predict that MS will have his next good match in mid to late 2014

Posted by rajbal on (May 31, 2012, 2:22 GMT)

what a great talent hw was once... remembering the series in India in which he along with sarwan destroyed the indian bowlers... in 2003 i think that wet indian team along with the indian team was the most promising..

Posted by Meety on (May 30, 2012, 23:31 GMT)

@mrhamilton - my Unified WI Test team; 1. Gayle, 2. Ramdin (can't be any worse than the others atm & I don't like Sarwan opening), 3. Sarwan, 4. Chanders, 5. Bravo, 6. Samuels, 7. Deonarine, 8. Sammy (c), 9. Rampaul/Taylor, 10. Roach, 11. Shillinfgord/Narine/Edwards/Bishoo. I really rate Deonarine as a better alrounder than DJ Bravo. I would say that Deonarine, Gayle & Samuels would be a VERY useful sin attack, bolstered in the right conditions by Narine or Shillingford or Bishoo. If Samuels reverts to his old ways I would have Edwards back, he has got class - just inexperienced atm.

Posted by Chris_P on (May 30, 2012, 22:35 GMT)

Having watched almost all the series the great Australian side of 90's & noughties performed (especially at home), the vivid recollection of Samuels batting against Warne, McGrath, Gillespie, Lee et al still stands out the best performing example against a top class attack. Why or what happened after that remained a mystery to me (still does) as it was almost inconceivable that this sort of talent was averaging 30 in tests? Steve Waugh saw something very special in Samuels, even mentioned it at length in his autobiography, so it is good for him, West Indian cricket and cricket in general that he has finally showed what he is capable of. Good review, Rob.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (May 30, 2012, 22:00 GMT)

Where is Ramnaresh Sarwan anyone? I know he is here in England playing county cricket, but has he retired from tests? For goodness sakes WICB, get him back in the team if he's available! He is similar to Marlon Samuels in my opinion and could really strengthen the WI team. So so so strange...

Posted by Mrallrounder on (May 30, 2012, 21:25 GMT)

Samuels has played well in England this tour, but he will need to play like this for the next 12 months or so before we can class him as an established player. Lots of players have had a good 1 or 2 series but ended up having pretty average test careers. If he can keep up the consistency then maybe he could be captain in the future.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 20:05 GMT)

@Warren Mendes ... how does one make a scrappy century? Someone can make a scrappy fifty, but a scrappy century? please! There were some good strokes played by sammy, he just needs to chose the right balls to hit

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 20:02 GMT)

Good article, but Alberto Juantarena should not be described as a great Cuban hurdler. He was undoubtedly a wonderful athlete, but his claim to fame is the winning of gold medals in both the 400m and 800m flat races at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the only runner to date to have achieved this double. To stay with sportsmen from other disciplines, I find that Samuels reminds me of the golfer Jason Dufner in his impassivity of expression and emotion. Anybody else noticed this amogst those of us who are not exclusively obsessed with cricket ?

Posted by SirDallas on (May 30, 2012, 19:44 GMT)

A beautiful article i must say. this is what good reading is about. I wish Marlon all the very best and hope he doesnt get caught up mentally with the Mr. Gibson and/or the WICB.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 19:06 GMT)

Rally_Windies. You asked to be corrected if you are wrong so I am correcting you. It is the West Indian public who has been calling for Samuals to be dropped even before the series started. Just look back at the comments made on Cricinfo articles if you don't believe me.

Posted by mrhamilton on (May 30, 2012, 16:00 GMT)

I doubt this will be printed but lately cricinfo seems to be beseiged by the anti Sammy/Gibson lobby. Promote Samuels to captain?.based on 2-3 batting performances in england? The man has scored 3 centuries in 12 years at an ave of 31. His past record on selfishness scandal isnt exactly captaincy material. The person who said Sammys century was a fluke surely requires a lobotomy. Sammys record as a batsmen the last 6-7 tests is superior to Samuels and his bowling is second only to Roach & he will get better. These foolish pundits like David lloyd continue to hark on "he bowls 75mph colingwood pace". forgeting their beloved jimmy anderson is only 79-83 mph, and colly does not have sammys seam/cutting & line & length & discipline. There have been many fine bowlers of that pace such as h streak,P kumar & a older botham, etc to name a few. My unified windies team with Gibson manager is. Gayle, Sarwan, Bravo jnr,Samuels, Chanders,Sammy,Baugh,J Taylor,Rampaul,Roach,Edwards or Narine

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 15:55 GMT)

Roach, Taylor, Rampaul and Sunil Narine would be such a good attack with Fidel being the reserve...for that Sammy has to make way. He is a trier and a good man but to take West Indies to next level you need better bowler....hope Jereme taylor comes back to form or Gabriel...i can dream...cannot I....West Indies resurgence is a must for world cricket

Posted by Technical-1 on (May 30, 2012, 15:23 GMT)

It is and indictment upon the personality of Marlon Samuels to say he is nonchalant in his approach to the game of Cricket in the past. I must confess that I am in total disagreement to this imposition on the young mans personality.

Being relax and easy going does not show that you are disinterested in your choice of profession; it has more to do with ones personality, and the place one chose to embrace in a world that is moving at a great speed.

I like the way Marlon operates, mental relaxation and the accepted fortitude of his intent to push his game to a higher level. I see Marlon as a phlegmatic; one who has the ability to be cool at all times, yet has a higher interest than settling for mediocrity! Push one Samuels, Push on Yardie.

Devon L Wilson Author of the Sanctuary The Open Door.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 15:23 GMT)

@richard dasilva, What more do you want of Captain Sammy, seems nothing he does is good enough. There were three centurians in the match, he was one. He took two wickets as well. As a matter of fact, over the two tests, he has 185 runs batting # 8 at an average of 46.25, 5 wickets, 3 catches (pretty good ones). As a matter of fact, thus far he has the 4th highest runs and sixth most wickets so stop hating for hating sake and give the man a break.

Posted by tappee74 on (May 30, 2012, 15:14 GMT)

Wi greatest batsman is gradually revealing his talent.The most talented is now signalling to the Caribbean that he is set to dominate .He is a purposeful player who will be of use to the team rather than trying to be in the records book like his pathetic team mate Chanderpaul.

Posted by cskfangg on (May 30, 2012, 14:21 GMT)


Posted by Principle on (May 30, 2012, 13:28 GMT)

Excellent article Mr.Steen, nothing was left out. For the person who wanted to learn to write like this, my advice is that this skill cannot be taught it is innate.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 12:58 GMT)

I done schooled them all BEFORE THE FIRST TEST that Samuels should be captain. They don't listen. Just like I told them in 2005 Gayle should be captain. Took them 3 years and Sarwan breaking his collar bone to hear me.

Posted by wibblewibble on (May 30, 2012, 12:57 GMT)


Not to be picky, but you've picked 12 players including 7 bowlers there? Looks like a nicely balanced Test team....

Posted by jupiterlaw on (May 30, 2012, 12:45 GMT)

@WARREN MENDES - You left out the most honest and hard-working cricketer of them all, and that is the captain Darren Sammy. Gayle had, for years, led a faild enterprise which saw WI become the world's laughing stock, yet you have included him. Under Sammy, WI have begun to repair their image, so I do not understand why you would leave him out.

Posted by demon_bowler on (May 30, 2012, 12:34 GMT)

I have been very impressed with Samuels's shot selection, technique in defence, and above all, his mental strength. He's out-batted Chanderpaul three times out of four in this series so far, and that says it all.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 12:21 GMT)

A brilliant piece of writing and observation from Mr Steen. This IS a new and transformed Marlon Samuels. I was fortunate enough to witness his comeback innings last year of 250 not out for Jamaica vs Guyana in St Elizabeth. He went on to post a series of first class centuries for Jamaica, having turned down the opportunity to play in the 2011 World Cup in order to focus on first class cricket and on winning his place back in the test match team. How rare is that? The ICC two year ban was, in his own words, a real shock to the system, a make or break moment in his life. His performances this summer point to a talent finally being fulfilled. Great guy this time around too!

Posted by TsoroM on (May 30, 2012, 12:17 GMT)

Brilliant piece, Mr. Steen. And after watching Samuels in the last two tests, this is piece of writing is just fitting! Inflation has just through the roof as far as Samuels' wicket value is concerned. When a batsmen blocks everything out like he's done in these matches, there is no way but up for him. It's like he was saying, "I have no control on happens across this pitch, but I know what me and my bat can achieve and that's just what I'll focus on." His application and patience was something to behold. Cool as ice and just focused on the batting, some of the better batting innings I have in a while from a West Indian batsman.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 11:48 GMT)

I can't believe that Gibson is talking about changing the batting lineup for Trent Bridge, the problem is not the lineup but the selection of players. We have players that can step in and have immediate impact on the top order contribution. Powell and Edwards seems lost out there, let them work on their technique with the "A" team. We can't let West Indies cricket continue to suffer because of grudges and politics. The team should be picked based on merit, we can't expect Chanders and Samuels to carry the burden of run production everytime. With all the heart that Sammy posesses, he is not deserving of the Captaincy of the West Indies cricket team. Ver short on ability.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 11:28 GMT)

i was one that was ready to write off Marlon samuel,even tho he is my favourite batsman...but he surely looks like he has matured as a batsman...if he keeps that up he could be a potential captain....he used to captain the jamaica u19 and i think he was vice capt for the windies u19

Posted by PACERONE on (May 30, 2012, 10:47 GMT)

Samuel had the good sense to refuse when selected for a one day team,preferring to play the longer form of the game.When he was comfortable with his game..and maybe the money offered by IPL...he played one day cricket.He has proved that the time spent playing for Jamaica has been of great benefit. It will not be long before he becomes one of the less WICB favorites.We are lucky to still have Chanderpaul,as they tried to get rid of him. The selection committee has now got to become more efficient and select our best cricketers.No reason to listen to St.Hilaire...he never played the game.

Posted by enigma12345 on (May 30, 2012, 10:47 GMT)

Marlon Samuels is the Best Batsman in Caribbean at present, to me he is Combination of Chanderpaul in defense and Gayle in aggressiveness (i am not joking on his day he can destruct any attack with class example 108*not out,98 against India )i am an Indian but i its not honest if i dint say that innings was simply superb.he is also a useful bowler too.due to bad luck his career interrupted by poor form,injuries,bowling action and 2 years ban. . just now only he is trying to some consistency for that captain post is too much for him, moving him to one down is best move.leadership is different from talent Lara,Sachin,Dravid are talented players but not good captains as per record but ganguly,dhoni,ranathung,strauss,waugh are born leaders,+best players + their boards spending more money to develop their players skills and domestic level cricket .giving only 4 test class players its not right to blame. sammy he is giving everything.its not his fault gayle,bravosr,narine playing in IPL

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 8:38 GMT)

Great idea! Samuels for captain.And the rest of the team should be: CHRIS GAYLE, SHIV CHANDERPAUL, DWAYNE BRAVO, DARREN BRAVO, SUNIL NARINE, ROACH, RAVI RAMPAUL, ANDRE RUSSELL, KIERON POLLARD, DWAYNE SMITH, BISHOO. This is a winning team. Plenty of fire power with the bat from this group, and excellent bowling unit, and several all rounders in Pollard, Russell, Samuels and Bravo. We are just missing a really good wicketkeeper. Darren Bravo should be drafted for that job. I left out Sammy. Sorry! We all know that his scrappy century was a lucky fluke. The technique was awful. He has a lot of heart and he's a good guy, but he doesn't come with the skills, so he will never inspire the kind of awe and respect this is needed to drag the West Indies back to their rightful place at the head of the cricket table. THE WHOLE WORLD IS ROOTING FOR US! Let's not blow it by fielding sub-par players.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2012, 6:12 GMT)

I want to attend the school (if there is any and if this can be taught)l where WRITING like this is taught...Just a fantastic piece of writing doing more than 100% justice to the sportsmen...!!!

Posted by NAZMO-CRICKFANN on (May 30, 2012, 4:10 GMT)


Posted by Meety on (May 30, 2012, 3:51 GMT)

"...his teams have opened their legs and displayed, not their class..." - gee whiz, I had to re-read that line a couple of times whilst checking what internet site I was on!!!! LOL!!!!! == == == Hope it is the re-birth of Samuels, I bagged him out prior to this series, I reckoned his best value was in ODIs as a spin-bowling allrounder @#7. Happy to be CURRENTLY wrong about him!!!!

Posted by Rally_Windies on (May 30, 2012, 3:49 GMT)

this is what an investment in youth is .... Mr. Gibson please take notes....

oh btw, now that Samules is flourishing and will possibly carry his batting average of 30, closer to the 40's just as Gayle did when he turned 30.....

but if WICB has anything to say about it, now is the right time to drop him in search of youth ....

So far that has been the WICB's policy on performing players ....... has it not ? correct me if I am wrong? but this means he will soon be dropped ?

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Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination". His latest book, Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, will be published in the summer of 2014

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