Performance of The Day: Marlon Samuels
Samuels' attacking instincts were to the fore in a sublime innings
Things are never dull when Marlon Samuels is in town, as a colourful recent spell in the IPL illustrated. His Indian sojourn terminated early (for once not on the insistence of the authorities) to allow him to join the West Indies touring party in time to play the 38th, 39th and 40th Tests of a chequered 12-year career.
As his appearance record suggests, the Jamaican has talent to burn – and has largely burned it. Until now. This series has seen him score 31, 86, 117, 76* and 76 to anchor an outclassed batting unit thrown in against the number one ranked Test team's attack working in home (and helpful) conditions. Precisely nobody expected so consistent a return from one of the game's great under-achievers.
By now we are growing accustomed to Samuel's run-scoring and his method has become familiar. Playing the ball late and directly under the eyes, he toyed with the bowling, disdainfully cutting Swann's first ball after the afternoon drinks break for four and later going to fifty by smashing a six and four from consecutive deliveries from the off-spinner. In all, he hit six boundaries off England's most experienced bowler and only the admirable Graham Onions was able to keep him quiet.
As important as his runs, was the confidence he gave the younger men in the side. This is an England attack that bowls dry, preying on the pressure of dot ball after dot ball denying the batsmen boundaries and the easy single. It was noticeable how often Samuels backed up a four with a one in the next couple of deliveries to rotate the strike and relieve the pressure – something he managed five times. Denesh Ramdin, something of a confidence player, gained strength from Samuels' approach during their stand of 56, going on to register a good half-century himself.
After two Tests in which he had shown circumspection, Samuels' more attacking intent was obvious right from the start. Playing the ball with immaculate timing through the off-side and straight and lifting the ball with power and placement on the leg-side, he reminded spectators of another Caribbean batsman who bowls – Carl Hooper.
Jimmy Adams once claimed that Carl Hooper was more gifted than his contemporary, Brian Lara, but was less prepared to work on his game. That Hooper accumulated over 36,000 runs and took nearly 1000 wickets in professional cricket without ever giving the impression that he did anything other than turn up and get changed into whites, is a tribute to the gifts granted to him by the gods.
Marlon Samuels won't play enough cricket to accumulate those kind of figures, but, still only 31 and without too many miles on the clock, he has a chance over the next few years to raise his Test batting average from the low 30s to the mid-40s - something that should be well within the compass of a man who has added four runs to it in two and a half Tests this summer.
West Indies' fans have waited a long time to see Samuels at his best and must hope that his new maturity is a permanent feature, allowing him to support and then succeed Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the fragile batting unit.
Moreover, this magnificent burst of form from the Jamaican will be cheered everywhere cricket is played – because cricket needs a full quota of competitive Test teams and because there are few things in sport as satisfying as seeing a talent, at long last, finally fulfilled. The Edgbaston crowd's standing ovation, as Samuels trudged back to the pavilion, was testament to that.