6 October, 2012: It’s a humid evening in Colombo, Marlon Samuels is casually walking towards his hotel gym when he sees the West Indies Super fan, Peter Mathews, and shouts: “Pete, I think it’s going to be my day tomorrow.”
Samuels: Because I want to kill somebody bowling!
7 October, 2012: West Indies have lost opener Johnson Charles in the first over of the World T20 final after opting to bat at R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo. In walks Marlon Samuels. He watches the others arrive and depart. But he is calm and composed. He has a good measure of his game and then provides a killer blow as he destroys one of the most lethal bowlers in the shortest format of the game — Lasith Malinga. Samuels’s knock propels West Indies to a respectable 137 from 87/5 at one stage. 78 runs of the highest quality off 56 balls help West Indies make history and end 33-year world title drought with a comfortable 36-run win to spark Gangnam style celebrations. This was a major turnaround in West Indies cricket history. Samuels was named the Man of the Match.
Samuels, it seems, knew it was going to be his day. Sometimes players get that hunch and then they go through with that flow.
Fast forward to 3 April, 2016: West Indies have lost Charles in the second over, chasing 156, after opting to field against England in ICC World T20 final at Eden Gardens. Samuels walks in. He watches the others arrive and depart. The required rate is increasing rapidly. But he is calm and composed. He is resolute, determined to shut someone up. He lays into one of the best England bowlers in the tournament — Chris Jordan. Samuels plays one of the most important innings in his career and then watches teammate Carlos Brathwaite provide the most blockbuster finishes of all time to erupt into the wild celebrations of ‘Champion’ dance.
Robot-like, Samuels mostly presents a poker face. At best, he allows a hint of a smile. Here, at the Eden Gardens, he ran and ran, tore off his jersey, ran some more and then ripped off his vest and let out a huge, primal roar.
This time too, Man-of-the-Match Samuels knew that it was going to be his day. But this time, he was going to perform for a different reason — that of shutting up his old nemesis Shane Warne.
“I woke up this morning with one thing on my mind. Warne has been talking continuously and all I want to say is ‘this (Man of the Match award) is for Shane Warne’. I answer with the bat, not the mic,” Samuels said during the presentation ceremony.
As it happened, between the personal score-setting, Samuels was also the key figure in Sunday’s proceedings that marked another major turnaround for the West Indies, grappling as they were with poor form in Tests, ODIs and player-management turmoil.
Three years ago, Samuels and Warne were involved in an ugly clash during the Big Bash League and things started going haywire since then.
Warne, working as a commentator for host broadcaster Star Sports, ripped into Samuels while commentating on the India vs West Indies 2016 World T20 semi-finals following his dismissal.
“Well, this is a bit embarrassing for Marlon Samuels,” Warne said. “Look where he is. He’s nearly off the pitch backing away again. He’s backed away every ball.
“And all it was, was just a normal length ball from Ashish Nehra. I said the ball before, if he can give him a good short one and get one outside off stump that Marlon Samuels was backing away so much he nearly couldn’t reach it.
“For your No.3, Samuels, in this situation in such a big game, that’s an embarrassing dismissal. That’s pretty poor,” he added.
After a while, when the replay of Samuels dismissal was shown, Warne went on again.
“I’m still trying to get over Samuels’s dismissal,” he said. “You can’t back away that far as a No.3 batsman when your team’s struggling and they need one of the experienced players to hang in there.
“He was so worried about the short ball and to get out the way he did, in that manner, you can see why the dressing room and the dugout for the West Indies was so flat. Look at this. Look how far. He’s nearly off the pitch and it was just a normal length ball on off stump.
“Now is the time to consolidate because one thing you can’t do in Twenty20 cricket is try and rebuild. You can’t lose wickets in clumps,” he added.
This wasn’t the first time Warne had laid into Samuels from the commentary box. In January this year, Samuels was run out in a horrible mix-up with Kraigg Brathwaite against Australia in the Sydney Test.
At that time too, Warne, who was in the commentary box, said: “Horrific running between the wickets, he was too cool for school when he took off and he blames his partner!
“Sorry Marlon it was your fault. It was bad running. That was straight to point. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘wait’. He’s an experienced player. He should know that.”
Maybe all of this was revolving in Samuels’s mind while batting out there in the middle against England. But not for a moment did Samuels seem impatient, angry or disturbed. He was in a different zone altogether.
It’s hard to understand Samuels — one moment he will delight you with his beautiful strokeplay and the other he will frustrate in equal measures with his antics.
He is an eccentric personality.
Samuels’s career has been a roller-coaster ride fraught with off-field and on-field controversies. In 2002, the right-hander was almost sent home from India tour after breaking a team curfew. Six years later, his career nearly ended when he was handed a betting-related two-year ban in 2008. He has been reported for suspect bowling action numerous times and even banned from bowling. He was embroiled in ugly confrontation with Warne. And then there was that cheeky military-style salute send-off to Ben Stokes last year in Grenada.
However, Samuels gets into a different zone while batting. He stands up on big occasions when his team requires him the most. He put his hand up on that humid evening in Colombo, four years ago, when West Indies were in desperate need of him.
“I’m not someone that will ever give up. I never say die. The person that I am deep down inside is the reason why I am still here playing cricket,” he said after that match.
Four years on, that never-say-die attitude was again on show. He arrived at the crease in as early as the second over and played a match-winning knock. He saw Gayle and Simmons depart in the next two overs but didn’t panic. Didn’t get bogged down. He paced his innings to perfection. There was a casual raise of the bat after he reached his fifty — a complete paradox to his post-match celebrations. The hallmark of his innings was placement and straight-hitting.
He hit one of the best England bowlers of the tournament — Chris Jordan — for 30 off 18 balls and the impressive Liam Plunkett — who started off with figures of 2-0-4-0 — for 25 off 17 balls.
The big match player knew he will perform on the big occasion.
“In the practice against Australia I sat in the same seat and made a first-ball duck, so I said I’d go back in the same seat I’d do something special. I don’t worry about semi-finals because when it comes to finals I always turn up and do well for the team,” Samuels said after the match.
He had an unflustered temperament throughout and somewhere down the line the brief altercation with his another old nemesis — Ben Stokes riled him up.
The one moral after this innings is you never try to get into the head of Samuels. England had been on the receiving end of this earlier last year. This time too they paid for it dearly.
“Well, he (Stokes) doesn’t learn,” Samuels said after the match. “They keep telling him when he plays against me not to speak to me because I’m going to perform. I didn’t even face a ball and he had so much to say that I know I had to be right there at the end, again,” Samuels added.
The Jamaican loves challenges and he gets pumped up when someone adds fuel to fire.
“That’s what I thrive on,” Samuels said. “That’s why I’m still around for so long, despite so many ups and downs. I’ve turned my life around in the last five years, and I wake up every day and give thanks to god and to my kids, this is what I am doing for them.”
His contribution didn’t stop here. He provided some wise words of wisdom to Brathwaite at the start of the last over after which the latter hit four sixes in a row to finish off the match.
“Stokes is a nervous laddie, so what I told Braithwaite is to just hold his pose, and he’s going to bowl a couple of full tosses, as always, and it will work in our favour. And he played a brilliant knock at the end there to give me a little break down at the other end,” Samuels said.
Much has been written about the Jamaican and his attitude on field and in the dressing room but it is evident that Samuels still inspires awe among his teammates. After his swashbuckling century against England in group stages, Chris Gayle had expressed gratitude towards Samuels for shouldering the burden in initial stages when the left-hander was still getting his eyes in.
On Sunday, Brathwaite applauded Samuels for the way he anchored the innings.
“It’s us against the world and someone needed to take responsibility. And today Marlon Samuels after a slow start took responsibility and played a fantastic knock. That was amazing man, I wish I could use some expletives on TV to really express how much of a top knock that was. He did it in 2012, and I knew if Samuels was there in the end, he’ll bring us home in 2016… It was a matter of when and not if.”
Pavilion Opinions on Twitter churned out an interesting stat.
“Marlon Samuels in WT20 finals: 163-1
Marlon Samuels’ team mates in WT20 finals: 121-11”.
Just as Brathwaite hit the ball in oblivion, Stokes sat on the ground in disbelief, almost in tears as Samuels went wild in celebration. There was madness from Brathwaite and Samuels had added method to it.
Another big final. Another crucial innings. Another Man of the Match award. Another major trophy. While the ‘Wonderful and beautiful’ West Indies deserve all the plaudits, Marlon Samuels surely deserves a simple little ‘salute’.