IT’S A steaming hot day in Nagpur, but as always you can’t make that out by looking at Marlon Samuels. The rest of his teammates are either trying their best to find some shade or covering their heads with wet white towels. But Samuels is on his own in a corner. He has found his own shade, not like he seems to need it. He’s seated on a chair with a monk-like expression, and is staring into the distance without a single bead of sweat on his brow.
He could well have been sitting under his favourite mango tree back home in Kingston with a book in his hand, and his army of dogs around him — what he describes as an ideal day when not on the cricket field.
When it’s time to bat, the 35-year-old gets up from his meditative pose, walks into the nets, spends half-hour there, and then he’s off, lugging his kit with him, pads still in place. His communication with the team is limited to a few words and a joke with massage therapist Virgil Browne. The deadpan straight-faced smiley expression remains in tact, like it does perennially regardless of whether he’s lounging around an outfield seemingly lost in his thoughts or playing an unreal match-winning knock in a World Cup final — remember Colombo 2012?
Often, he can come across as standoffish, aloof and distant. But Samuels has always believed in keeping his own counsel. He was the baby of his house, the eighth out of eight children, but one who moved out when just 15 so that he could learn to deal with life’s challenges on his own. And he’s stuck with it ever since.
He’s been around 16 years in international cricket now, but you wouldn’t have thought so. His constant slipping under the radar has as much to do with his failure to realize the prodigious talent he came in with, as the unfathomable silence. Unfortunately, perception has always played a defining role in how a sportsperson is judged, and it’s no surprise that Samuels has rarely featured in popularity charts, which you would consider an oddity among this generation of West Indian cricketers. In India, more than anywhere else, the men from the Caribbean are perceived as fun-loving boisterous people who are just waiting for an excuse to break into a jig or provide comic relief in the high-octane entertainment of T20 cricket. And there is hardly a West Indian who comes to these shores and belies that reputation. Except Samuels.
Not only does he emote little on the field, he’s also never been one for nocturnal adventures. “I once saw a guy step on another guy’s shoe and get shot,” he once said when asked about his resistance to leave his room.
Ask kids back home in Kingston about his so-called lack of popularity, and they are bemused. For them, he’s just their Tutta or Tuts, their hometown hero who always has their back — whether it is to do with last-minute tickets to see the West Indies in action at Sabina Park or getting cricket gear sorted. And when the going gets tough and their array of big-hitters don’t quite come to the party, it’s to Samuels that the West Indies team look up to. Already, the former champions owe two of their biggest wins in the tournament to the Jamaican. It was he who set up the run-chase against England with a rollicking 37 before battling and overcoming the challenges of the Nagpur pitch with a run-a-ball 43.
Though he possesses a repertoire brimming with extravagant strokes — his square-drive with the hands coming through with a majestic flourish in particular — Samuels’s batting is not about aesthetics always. He doesn’t mind looking ugly, whether it is while edging deliveries to third-man or getting caught in awkward knots due to the minimal use of his front-foot, but behind his glassy eyes rests a steely determination. And it comes through often when the West Indies need it the most. The pitch at Wankhede might be designed more for Chris Gayle and the other swashbucklers in the batting line-up, but if the Indian spinners do make life difficult it is Samuels who will have the burden of bringing stability and solidity to their cause.
There’s a serious combative side to him too. Though he rarely is seen picking on an opposition player, he doesn’t back down from a challenge. After mockingly seeing off England all-rounder with what was subsequently referred to as the Samuels salute, he went on to score a century. Then as Stokes looked to reciprocate with a few verbals, he would say, “The English boys don’t learn because whenever they talk to me, I score runs.” Back in 2012, he got into plenty of scuffles with the Australians, later claiming, “the Aussies only know to give lip, but you give them back and they don’t know how to handle it.” But the magic of Marlon is that even when he is hot under the collar, you hardly can make it out, for he remains entrenched in his unflappable cocoon, while also being cool, calm and enigmatic.
No net gains, WI peeved
THE WEST Indies team was not happy with the net bowlers offered to them during practice at the CCI on Tuesday, and complained to the authorities at the venue. The session was scheduled to be held between 3 and 6 pm, and as the visitors arrived at the venue they were annoyed to find there were no net bowlers on view.
And once the session started, they weren’t too pleased with the quality of local bowlers who had showed up in the nets either. It’s learnt that both head coach Phil Simmons and former fast bowler-turned-commentator Ian Bishop, who was present during the session, expressed their dissatisfaction to the authorities at CCI.