“EHHH, RUNS only for the tournament.,” he says before playfully punching you on the shoulder. Marlon Samuels has made a statement, and it sounds more like a declaration, one delivered with that unmistakable swagger. This is the eve of the West Indies’ opening clash against England, and we’re at the Wankhede Stadium and he can’t believe that you’ve just asked him about why the runs have dried up and whether he is confident of turning it on in the World T20.
A day later, Samuels lived up to his word, thrashing the England seamers with carefree belligerence to set up Chris Gayle and West indies for a scintillating run-chase. But when he walked out at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) stadium on Friday, the scenario was a lot more different. And so was the pitch. West Indies weren’t chasing a stiff target. They hardly had to score over run-a-ball. Unlike at the Wankhede though, where the ball was coming on to the bat as nicely as it was going off it, Nagpur was sluggish. No, it wasn’t the rank turner that many feared it to be. But it wasn’t one on which you could swing your bat with gay abandon either. And for most parts the match too mirrored the conditions-unfortunately for the 40,000-odd who turned up for the heavy-duty clash-with both batting line-ups struggling to come to terms with it as West Indies made heavy weather before chasing down 123 and booking their berth in the semifinals.
In many ways, it was the pitch and the scenario for Samuels to come through. That he is an enigma is no open secret, and it’s not uncommon to find the 35-year-old by himself during practice sessions. But that’s just him. He’s equally an enigma though in the West Indies batting line-up, the one who doesn’t quite thrive on destroying bowling attacks but has the skills to hurt them in more ways than one.
West Indies had lost the heroes from their first two matches in the space of six overs with Gayle bowled in the first over by Kagiso Rabada and Andre Fletcher run out for 11. Samuels now had to buckle down and rein in his strokes, and he did just that. Johnson Charles ensured that his partner could get away with it, as he took the attack to the South Africans with an array of his usual stand-and-deliver shots. On a day where the six-counter didn’t really get too many entries, he smashed the biggest of the lot, with the ball landing way back into the thousands occupying the east stand.
Charles’ departure for a 35-ball 32 meant that Samuels had to bat through to ensure that the West Indies didn’t mess it up. And though he did get away on a couple of occasions with boundaries coming to third-man off outside-edges it didn’t matter for it was a day for streaky boundaries.
The South African spinners did peg the middle-order back but weren’t penetrative enough before Imran Tahir broke through with wickets off consecutive deliveries in the 17th over to send the match towards a close finish. But Samuels kept his cool in the 19th over before picking off two more fours in Chris Morris’ 19th over to get the equation to more manageable proportions before getting out himself. That left West Indies with 10 to get off the final over. Carlos Brathwaite had already tried to swing for the fences with horizontal heaves on quite a few occasions and missed with some even sniggering about his opulent IPL price-tag. But then as Rabada missed the length with his off-cutter, the gargantuan Bajan showed what he’s made of, by connecting with the hoick and sending the ball and South Africa’s hopes in the match flying into the Nagpur night sky.
It was also a pitch that was best suited for the West Indian seamers who depend much more on cutting their fingers across the ball and taking pace off the ball rather than coming in at full steam like Rabada or Chris Morris who both struggled. And they kept knocking the South Africans back with regular wickets, most of them including AB de Villiers-who fell to an ugly swipe across the line off Dwayne Bravo- failing to adapt to their change of pace. Quinton de Kock did show uncharacteristic resistance to keep the Proteas going but it was his dismissal in the 16th over while trying an audacious sweep off Andre Russell that set them back. And Samuels was there to guide them home, and the West Indies can only hope that he still has plenty of more runs left in the tournament.
Brief Scores: South Africa 122/8 in 20 overs (Quinton de Kock 47, David Wiese 28; Chris Gayle 2/17, Dwayne Bravo 2/20, Andre Russell 2/28) lost to West Indies 123/7 in 19.4 overs (Marlon Samuels 44, Johnson Charles 32; Imran Tahir 2/13) by 3 wickets.