India’s tour of the West Indies in 2011 held great relevance for both sides. This was Raina’s maiden makeshift appearance as the captain, his first and only in the Caribbean.
But for the West Indies, it was the usual story: finding their backs against the wall.
After being beaten in the previous three ODIs, the hosts were on the edge of usual capitulation, which is when the once-known now largely-forgotten Anthony Martin leg spun his team to a 106-run victory thanks to a four-for.
A rare victory over a team that had until such time been in an assault-mode was refreshing.
But there was still a problem. The man on whom there was onus to collect vital runs for the middle-order was unable to put bat to ball.
Now only one game remained.
India had nothing to prove having taken the series 3-1. There being no Gayle or Lara with Sarwan and Simmons having already hit runs, the onus was on Marlon Samuels to deliver.
But there was trouble.
Samuels’s recent scores read a rather disappointing- 1 off 10 and 8 off 21. The flying start at the curtain-raiser (at Trinidad) that produced 55 crafty runs had been spoilt.
Another loss here and it would mean Windies down by 4-1. But then that’s often been the story for a team that despite much promise dwindles often at home and abroad, isn’t it?
Though for Marlon Samuels, it was about reputation saving.
In scripting what eventually became an easy 7-wicket victory after a Bravo and Sarwan show led the team on course to a challenging ask of 252, Marlon Samuels took his team over the line.
But it wasn’t that easy.
When Darren ‘Lil’ Bravo (86) departed in the 46th over, West Indies still needed 39 off 29. Sarwan, with the team on 156- still a few yards away from the win- had already retired hurt for 75 several overs ago.
But there was Marlon Samuels, albeit with lacklustre form at the other end. Eventually, with 7 needed off 13, the right-hander brought it down to 3 off 12, opening up for the first time as he slashed hard at R Vinay Kumar around point for a vital boundary.
Then a fluent off drive by Samuels drew the scores level. Pollard would strike the next one to the fence and the job was done.
In winning the last two games of the series, the hosts avoided the embarrassment of India walking all over them.
But it’s not as much about the muscular Pollard pull that led the team to victory as it was about a particularly emotionally charged moment in the immediate aftermath of West Indies winning that formed the highlight.
Marlon Samuels, in wasting no time whatsoever to celebrate what may perhaps have been the most important 20-something knock of his career rushed to the stands to greet one man in particular.
His name- Christopher Henry Gayle.
Rare are occasions wherein an unbeaten 28 (25 balls) matters so much more than even a century in a nail-biter.
Probably only a fellow Jamaican would’ve understood the significance of the occasion. Marlon Nathaniel Samuels had finally made it count having sat out of the team for two long years for alleged involvement with a Dubai-based bookie (ahead of an ODI at Nagpur 2007).
Vaulting to the Kingston stand to embrace his closest friend in the team, someone alongside whom the fantastically talented but full of flaws Marlon Samuels played much of his cricket, the moment was a strange leveller of sorts.
It’s not that Marlon Samuels hadn’t made runs before.
For someone fast-tracked into the team at 19, this was a batsman who countered this very opponent at its own turf, at a time where the likes of Pooran, Hope, and Hetmyer were single digit scores in age.
Honestly, many might not even remember but the last the West Indies ever beat India in India and seemed utterly competitive, it wasn’t Carl Hooper or Shivnarine Chanderpaul who played the hero’s role.
It was Marlon Samuels, whose unbeaten 108, perhaps his finest ODI century before reaching a personal best of 133, guided the West Indies to beat a Rahul Dravid-led India.
Many moons ago, which today seems like a different lifetime given Windies cricket has undergone so much change- the old guards in Lara, Chanderpaul, Sarwan are several years into their retirement, Pooran and Hetmyer form the today, the Universe Boss is 41- Marlon Samuels played an extraordinary innings in the final ODI at Vijaywada.
As a 21-year-old squaring against Srinath, Kartik, and Agarkar, Samuels went berserk in a 75-ball-century that yielded 5 sixes (India hit 1) and 11 fours on way to a maiden hundred.
That his unbeaten century came in a decider made the West Indian’s Indian hurrah even more special. Perhaps even more so than the fact that a relatively unknown batsman was seen tearing down Indians having scored over 34 percent of his team’s output that game (315).
But as Marlon Samuels-5606 ODI runs, 3917 Test runs- runs leaves the sport, he does so with a daunting question, one that warrants some scrutiny that perhaps many might not even care to offer.
Was he the finest talent since the Brian Lara-era that went unfulfilled?
Or was Marlon Samuels a flash in the pan on occasion too many or even a flickering myth that didn’t seem too interested in prolonging his stay at the crease?
Only if the West Indian selectors were losing their marbles would they have launched a new creature on the block with only 7 first-class games against his name.
That Samuels had the backing and the shots in the book was clear in the way he handled spin and pace in his first proper calendar year. In 2001, as a 20-year-old kid he compiled 664 ODI runs- an eighth of his career- including 5 fifties, two of which came facing Pollock, Telemachus, Kallis, and Ntini in ODIs in the Caribbean, one that transpired into a much-wanted win at St.Vincent, the other a valiant 65 that pushed a team comprising Lara, Chanderpaul and Hooper to 200.
But while the lazy elegance, often bordering Mark Waugh-style flair made a case for the scorer of 30 fifties and 10 tons in ODI cricket, that Samuels’ were spurts of occasional brilliance never helped his cause.
Case in point being the single-digit scores that hurt the brilliance occasional centuries and fifties produced.
Prior to his sensational maiden ODI hundred, Samuels self-hurt his cause scoring 1 off 6 (Vadodara), and even a 28-ball-3 (Jodhpur).
Not that those constantly wavering numbers changed for the better in the longest format, where the constantly gum-chewing Samuels compiled a little under 4,000 runs.
What surprises- and should even hurt the loyal Windies fan- is that someone who promised to exercise more restraint and focus, in a renewed bid to save his fledgling Test career, circa 2012, having failed to capitalise all this while, didn’t even strike 10 centuries or at best, ever neared an average of 40, let alone 35.
This is when Marlon Samuels played no fewer than 71 Tests.
But of course, how can any narrative bearing Samuels’ insignia ever lack thrill or better yet, stunning achievements?
One’s not really sure if it’s widely known that in his most enterprising overseas Test outing, that too against an Anderson and Broad-powered England, Samuels averaged 96- let that sink in- scoring 386 runs, including 3 fifties and 1 ton.
That he all but scored a ton at the opening Test at Lord’s (117 runs overall) something Brian Lara failed to do in his career, only heightens the tensity associated with a career that should’ve prospered more than it did, ending with a batting average that is not even 33.
In the Third Test of the very series, Samuels 76 and Ramdin’s only Test ton in England helped Windies salvage an unlikely draw.
In the game before, the batsman with a personal best of 260 (against Bangladesh) stood as a rock between his struggling team and an England keen to exploit chinks in Windies’ armor.
Not one stroke in the 193 runs he collected at Nottingham lacked the intensity and grit which, you ought to feel, he should have carried further with to conjure a substantive Test career instead of leaving with a largely unfulfilled one.
But then not everything about Marlon Samuels was a mishit, in fact, further from it.
Which other batsman has collected two T20 World Cup wins having played a part in each of the defining moment?
While much of us remember the big-hitting Chris Gayle’s Gangnam-inspired shenanigans in the aftermath of the 2012 World T20 win in Sri Lanka, few can forget Samuels’ 78 that single-handedly guided Sammy and company to their first of the two world cup triumphs.
At a time where facing Malinga was about as tough as climbing a snow-clad peak barefooted, Marlon Samuels turned wrecker-in-chief of the Jayawardene-led side muscling the wiggly pacer for successive sixes taking only 56 deliveries to produce one of the most awe-inspiring fifties in a T20 World Cup contest.
That it came in a final and in a winning cause truly lifted Samuels- a product of passion but one marked by reckless, unrestrained conduct- from the brink of obliteration.
Not that this was the only feather in his cap.
Four years later, as the West Indies peaked again in the sub-continent, this time against a Root, Buttler, Stokes-powered England to lift their second World Cup, Samuels was at it again.
Long before Carlos Brathwaite’s incredible four consecutive sixes sealed the game in his team’s favor, Marlon Samuels resuscitated an inning that was going nowhere, Gayle, Charles and others departing cheaply.
In so doing, he’d compile 85* hard-fought runs (66 deliveries) and prove himself to be the backbone of a team when most needed.
But then his is a tale of a spine that often bended, sometimes in character and on other occasions, in sheer conduct.
Not sure if Sir Garfield Sobers or Sir Frank Worrell would’ve nodded in approval seeing the match-winner address a press conference with his legs on the table, speaking words punctuated with vitriol, bordering slander when all of it could’ve been handled with a bit more grace?
Surely Samuels didn’t step onto the cricket field to ‘Shame’ Warne!
But then it takes different kinds to make the rainbow- doesn’t it?
The usually phlegmatic, poker-faced cricketer who self-iconised himself as ‘The Icon’ decorated a career punctuated by power and impact.
And nothing can take that away from Marlon Samuels, who many may not notice, boasts of a significantly higher batting average than two prominent strongmen of Windies T20 cricket.
From 67 games, he’s fired 69 sixes to Russell’s 42 (49 games) and creamed 144 boundaries to Pollard‘s 73, having played fewer T20s than the Trinidadian.
Many may conveniently cast Samuels aside citing his questionable behaviour. Even that seemingly banal bowling action caught the ire of the umpires on more than one occasion.
But can we ignore the fact that it was none other then Cricket’s bad boy Marlon Samuels who rescued the West Indies when they found themselves at their lowest ebb, trying desperately hard to avoid defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers?
What might have happened had that blazing 86 off 80 not taken the team over the line at the must-win at the Super Sixes contest at Harare?
Would Jason Holder have led the team to the 2019 World Cup had Windies lost the match then?
Does that not beckon a salute?