Samuels' growth a consolation for Windies

Another heavy loss, another dream, so real only a week earlier, shattered.

Yet, even as Dale Steyn's irresistible pace with the second new ball propelled South Africa to their series-clinching victory by an innings and 100 runs nearing the end of the third day of the third Test here yesterday, Marlon Samuels' second Test hundred and the overall fight in a hopeless situation exemplified two of the gains for West Indies from a series in a country that had previously brought only defeat and despondency.

No advance - and there have been a number - has been more individually significant than Samuels'. No aspect has been more noticeable than the general spirit.

For nearly three hours yesterday, Samuels and Dwayne Bravo, two of those on whom the future lies, kept West Indies' flame alive in a fifth wicket partnership of 144.

But, with Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the rock of the batting in the two previous Tests, so ill with a virus infection he was incapable of joining the fray and Steyn firing on all cylinders, South Africa only needed to separate the two to lighten their load. It came with the sixth ball after tea when Steyn removed Bravo lbw for 75 (117 balls, as many as 13 fours). It was a timely return to form after a run of low scores but the method of his dismissal was all too familiar, aiming to work the ball to leg off the stumps.

By then, Samuels was 19 away from his hundred and Denesh Ramdin, with another neat, but brief, cameo, and Darren Sammy remained to see him through to his goal.

Ramdin, in no bother while stroking five fours in 25, surrendered his wicket with a dab at Andre Nel that appeared to be an after-thought but the two Sammys batted through to the new ball, the Jamaican arriving at his hundred four overs before Graeme Smith handed it to Steyn.

Samuels slapped the first ball, short and wide, dismissively to the point boundary for his 18th four. The next was a wicked delivery, fast on a perfect length and straightening enough to breach his defence and trim his off stump. It was the first of Steyn's four wickets from 15 scoreless balls that hastened the end of the innings as Sammy, caught and bowled off the leading edge, and Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards, comprehensively bowled, followed.

Samuels' vigil of four-and-a-quarter hours and 190 balls began 35 minutes into another hot, cloudless day following the summary dismissal of the two openers.

Brenton Parchment was lbw to Steyn, aiming to leg, and Daren Ganga, another in Samuels' last-chance situation, fell cheaply yet again to a weak shot and a slip catch. For 50 minutes, Runako Morton trusted his eye and his power in punching seven fours in a run-a-ball 37. It was ironic, after his shot-a-ball attack, that he should chose not to offer a shot at all to Shaun Pollock's second ball of the day to be plainly lbw.

It was a special dismissal for Pollock as it was to be his last, and 421st, wicket in what he had announced the day before would be his final Test. He will be missed, as all great players are, but it was, he said, time to go.

The Samuels-Bravo association began with a stroke of luck, a straight drive when Bravo was seven that Andre Nel failed to catch, two-handed, on his follow through. There were a few more alarms on the way but the two stuck it out.

During one fiery spell from Steyn after lunch, Bravo took a blow on the shoulder and Samuels, then 41, was missed low down at second slip by Jacques Kallis. Later, with Samuels into his 50s, there was one frenetic over from Nel when he slashed three fours, two in succession through the widely-spread slips.

The introduction of Hamish Amla's club level offspin was a concession from the South Africans as the stand went past 100, the second session yielding 96 off 27 overs and no wicket.

Steyn's immediate intervention after tea with Bravo's wicket and his new-ball burst at the end settled the issue, securing the Sir Vivian Richards Trophy for South Africa for the fifth successive series. It presented Pollock with a fitting farewell to international cricket as he was hoisted shoulder high by his jubilant team-mates as they left the ground.

In contrast, it was a disappointing finale for the West Indies, even given that they were cruelly stricken by misfortune even before a ball was bowled.

With captain Chris Gayle incapacitated and missing and his stand-in Bravo's side strain preventing him from bowling, their fate was sealed once they were six wickets down for 57 an hour-and-a-half into the match. It was a tomb from which there was never any escape against superior opponents, buoyed by their hard-fought triumph in the second Test just a few days before.

Samuels innings, and series form, was more than a grain of consolation. A batsman of such obvious ability that he was thrust into the hottest of cricket war zones, Australia, aged 19 with one first-class match to his name, he arrived in South Africa with 24 spasmodic Tests spread over the intervening seven years, with the dubious credentials of a batting average of 27.3 and a solitary Test hundred.

The word most regularly associated with him was "attitude". He once said he would like to become a model and, collar up, he often moved like one at the crease and in the field. There was a lot of style, too little substance. Like some others, this was surely his last chance. The middle-order position left vacant by the retired Brian Lara needed to be filled and, potentially, he best suited the bill. But even West Indies selectors eventually run out of patience.

Finally, their persistence has had its reward. Samuels yesterday crowned a series against tough opponents that confirmed his development and capacity to produce consistently. His 314 runs at an average of 52.33 occupied just over 17 hours all told. This was the discipline missing for too long.