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Samuels counts down to lifting of his ban

Marlon Samuels is adamant he is the man to revive West Indies' embattled batting line-up when he returns from a two-year suspension for links to an Indian gambler

Alex Brown
Alex Brown
Marlon Samuels is confident he still has plenty to offer the West Indies team  •  AFP

Marlon Samuels is confident he still has plenty to offer the West Indies team  •  AFP

Marlon Samuels is adamant he is the man to revive West Indies' embattled batting line-up when he returns from a two-year suspension for links to an Indian gambler. Samuels, who was banned by a West Indies Cricket Board disciplinary committee for discussing team information with Mukesh Kochar and later approaching him to pay a hotel bill, will be eligible to return to cricket on May 9 next year and is confident of being promptly reinstated to the regional team.
Samuels has consistently maintained his innocence over the charges, and his belief that the WICB disciplinary committee were pressured into delivering a guilty verdict by both the board and the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit. He told the hearing last year that phone taps in which he was recorded discussing bowling and personnel changes were never intended to assist in gambling, and that the $1,238 paid by Kochar for a hotel room in Mumbai was intended as a loan after his own credit card was declined.
A four-man panel consisting of Richie Richardson, Justice Adrian Saunders, Lloyd Barnett and Aubrey Bishop voted 3-1 that Samuels had violated the ICC's code of conduct, but stated the Jamaican batsman had not acted "dishonestly or in a corrupt manner" and that he "is an honest cricketer … [who] has never betted on cricket matches". Richardson, one of the three panel members to rule against Samuels, later said he regretted his decision and argued that the minimum two-year sentence set down by the ICC was "unfair".
Samuels has maintained a low profile during his suspension, having abandoned his original plan to conduct a judicial review of the verdict through the Antiguan courts. He has spent much of the last 18 months in the gymnasium preparing for his re-entry to cricket - which coincides with the second week of the World Twenty20 tournament in the Caribbean - where he hopes to revitalise West Indies' misfiring top- and middle-orders.
"It's always hard to see your team lose," Samuels told Cricinfo. "I'm a West Indian and that will always be my team. I hope Chris Gayle will pick up his troops and take them to bigger and better things. I watch a lot of games and a lot of tapes. It has been very frustrating sitting and watching cricket all this time, but I am hoping to come back better than before. I will definitely come back with a stronger frame of mind.
"Most definitely my intention is to return to the West Indies team. I have trained very hard and been very disciplined while I have been out of the game. The two years will be over soon. I want to bat No. 4 for West Indies. That is where I always wanted to bat, but unfortunately I haven't been able to get that opportunity. I am very much looking forward to batting again with guys like Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan. I think I could have a positive impact."
Samuels is not alone in making that assessment. Clyde Butts, West Indies' chairman of selectors, is buoyant about the exiled batsman's international prospects for a year that will include Test series against South Africa and Sri Lanka.
"Once Marlon's suspension is over and he's playing cricket again he will be considered," Butts told Cricinfo. "Of course, the performances have to be there. When Marlon was suspended he was just starting to score a lot of runs and look the part. He's someone who could strengthen the middle order and he also offers part-time off-spin."
Samuels insists he has no regrets over his dealings with Kochar, whom he befriended during a limited-overs series in Sharjah in 2002. He claims his tapped telephone conversation with the Indian gambler before a one-day international against India in Nagpur two years ago did not amount to corruption, and Kochar's settling of the hotel bill in Mumbai two weeks later was the result of Samuels being short of cash when a paid television appearance was cancelled at short notice.
"I don't want to go into too much detail, but it has really been one man against the world," he said. "An appeal would not have worked. I had a lot of telephone conversations with all kinds of people, and they told me an appeal would be a waste of time. Why would I do anything different? Anyone in that situation would have done the same thing. There have been past players come out and say things about me when they have done the same things themselves. The entire world has seen my case and know that I am innocent."
"Once Marlon's suspension is over and he's playing cricket again he will be considered"
West Indies chairman of selectors Clyde Butts
It is nine years ago to the month that Samuels, then 19, made his Test debut against Australia at the Adelaide Oval, the same venue where West Indies will attempt to improve their Frank Worrell Trophy prospects this week. Memories of confrontations with the Glenn McGrath-led Australian attack evoke in him both pleasant memories and sadness. He had hoped to make a third tour of Australia.
Samuels achieved notoriety at the conclusion of the 2000 series when he asked Steve Waugh, the then-Australian captain, for a piece of his famous red rag. Waugh obliged, and Samuels to this day counts the tattered piece of cloth among his most treasured items. "To me, he is one of the greatest players I have seen," he said. "That red rag is very special to me. It will die with me. I have it in a glass case inside my house so when my career is over I will have something to show the world. He is a great Australian icon.
"I would have loved to be making my third tour of Australia and giving Ricky Ponting a good run for his money. I have great memories of being there as a 19-year-old making my debut. It was good to see (Adrian Barath) scoring a century also as a 19-year-old and I wish him all the best. I wanted to go there as a fearless cricketer and approach the Test matches as if they were club games for Melbourne in Jamaica. I was just trying to play the ball, not the name that was Glenn McGrath."
Just how Caribbean and international audiences will greet the return of a player linked to gambling remains to be seen, but Samuels is hopeful of a positive response. He is spending the last few months of his suspension in the company of family, whom he expects to see less of from May 9, and mentally preparing himself to return to cricket's elite competitions. "I know that when cricket starts again I will be away more often, so I am using this time now to do the things I want to," he said. "When the time comes to play again, I know I will be ready."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo