Making sure Devon Smith did enough to push for a place in the starting XI in next week's Test series opener against South Africa was more on Marlon Samuels' mind than his own performance in West Indians' tour match in Benoni. Smith was brought into the squad to replace the injured Chris Gayle and seems set to make a comeback after a three-and-half year absence from the longest format, so Samuels wanted to ensure he is ready.
"I was out there telling him that he is coming back and he should take his time and push towards a milestone, and know that he needs a situation like this to prove his mentality and character," Samuels said. "I was basically trying to make sure that he gets his century and makes a statement that 'I am back and I have strength'."
Smith and Samuels shared in a third-wicket stand of 360 and batted together for 59 overs, during which both enjoyed success. While Samuels retired after making a double-hundred, Smith called time on his innings at 174 but spent the equivalent of more than a day's play at the crease to demonstrate the temperament needed for Test cricket. "I think his mind is much stronger now and he is more relaxed," Samuels said.
Samuels didn't bother with a similar pace himself. His century on the first-day came off 101 balls and his second hundred took only 73 deliveries more as he extended his form following West Indies' abandoned tour of India. Samuels scored two centuries in three ODIs in India.
"I'm back in white clothes now so I tried to pace myself," Samuels said. "And it was a wonderful feeling to get to the double-hundred. I'm feeling confident about my batting. Confident but not confident, because the Test matches are when the real thing starts. When the real thing starts, we'll see how it goes from there but I'm looking forward to us putting up a good fight. Last time I was here, I scored a lot of runs and hope I can repeat that."
Samuels was part of the West Indies team that won a first-ever Test match on South African soil in 2007. He scored 94 in the first innings of the victory in Port Elizabeth, and was the top-scorer in the series overall. He finished the series with two fifties and a century and knows that his team will need a similar performance from him, especially in the absence of Gayle and Darren Bravo, if they hope to challenge the world's top-ranked Test outfit. "I'm looking forward to doing whatever I can to help my team," he said.
His advice to his fellow batsmen is to see the tour as an opportunity to show how they measure up: "It's about backing yourself and believing in your ability and taking your chances. Taking your chances means playing your shots and going out there. But also being patient."
While Samuels has cautioned his batting team-mates to hang back at first, on what are expected to be spicy surfaces, he wants the pace attack to take advantage of the conditions by being both aggressive and astute.
"I think we have the skill in the fast-bowling department to do extremely well here," he said. "As long as our fast bowlers, with their skills, are patient we will give the South African batsmen a challenge and they won't be scoring runs so easily against the wonderful attack that we have at the moment, with youth and experience."
West Indies have one more day in Benoni for their bowlers to have a run before the first Test starts in Centurion on Wednesday.