Redemption in the air for Samuels
Marlon Samuels is almost invisible as a batsman. He is a statue in motion. You don't see his runs build up; he has a way of sneaking up on you. Yet you notice him because of this invisibility.
There is a lightness of touch about him that sets him apart. He doesn't drive hard; he caresses. He doesn't cut; he laces it. He doesn't leave hurriedly; he calmly allows the ball to pass through. He doesn't rush between wickets; he glides. He doesn't have an aggressive back-lift or bat speed; he seems to lift it gently and bring it down even more so. There are no nervous mannerisms; he stands almost still between deliveries. Nor does he walk about, or furiously tap the pitch, his white full-sleeved flannels hardly seem to get crumpled; he just stands there at the crease holding his bat, waiting for the bowler to reach the top of his run-up. He rarely shows much emotion.
And yet, as he revealed later, cricket is at its most emotional phase for him right now. Every time he stepped out after a rain break, he said, he would dedicate the knock to his kids. Before this Test, he was like a boxer who couldn't wait for the fight to start. He was gutted at being dropped from the first Test, was focussed on making this one count, was determined to not be sucked in by the vagaries of weather and the pitch, and wanted to seal his spot.
Before this comeback, he was known for a few things: The ban, the handshake with Chris Gayle and talent that had turned against itself. Today, though, redemption was in the air.
Samuels' moments of struggle reflected his character. His first scoring shot on the off side came off his 35th delivery. The first 13 balls in particular were hellish. Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar were probing him on the line outside off. Some cut in, a few straightened and Samuels was beaten several times. But not once did he chase a ball. The back leg would go across, the bat would come down gently and just about stop inside the line as the ball rushed past the edge.
Survival looked bleak. The pitch felt venomous. His own personal context should have been making him feel claustrophobic. What was he feeling? "I tell myself I have to spend good time out there to get runs," Samuels said. "This is Test cricket. My facing 30 to 40 balls and not scoring is not a problem for me at the moment." It used to be. Not any longer. The itch to dominate and show off his style has receded.
"I am very focussed, you know," Samuels said. "I scored 55 in my last Test and was left out. The fire is burning harder inside me now; as long as there is an opportunity I am going to grab it with both hands."
The Indians kept coming at him. Praveen hustled between deliveries. He rarely walked back to his run-up; he marched across. There wasn't much time to breathe easy for Samuels. Praveen curved the ball from off; Samuels kept leaving. Praveen then got it to swing from the middle; Samuels defended. Praveen tried to start it from middle and leg; Samuels tucked them to the leg side.
Ishant hit the deck and got the ball to either cut in or straighten. Samuels hung on at his crease and moved late. The hands adjusted to the movement and the bat moved in time to cover the line. Ishant then bounced him. Samuels was even hit once on the chest. As ever, there was no emotion. Ishant kept probing outside off; Samuels was beaten a few times but he rarely let it affect his shot selection. In between overs, every now and then, Samuels and Ishant would share a quiet smile. "On and off the field Ishant and I are competing. He bowled pretty well but as I kept telling him, he didn't get me out," Samuels said with a smile.
He looked set for a hundred but his partners let him down. A gritty, unbeaten 78 should have been a satisfying experience but Samuels is thirsting for more. "I have raised my bar. I have set bigger standards. I am not satisfied. I wanted to get 100 today. I have been scoring hundreds and double hundreds since my return. I want the world to see that I can score double centuries and be very consistent."
Something has definitely changed. The younger Samuels used to give the impression he didn't care much. The game seemed to come too easily to him to sweat over anything. "I am very emotional about my cricket now. I have been through a lot. I have faced a lot of obstacles and plan for more. I take life more seriously now. I take cricket more seriously now." Samuels is 30 now and is in a hurry to make up for the lost years.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo