“The first ODI between India and West Indies is not only significant for the Barsapara Cricket Stadium in Guwahati, which is getting its first one-day international game, but it is also equally significant for the 37-year old Marlon Samuels, who is set to feature in his 200th ODI for the Caribbean nation”
It was December 15, 2000. The venue was Adelaide. A 19-year old Jamaican was about to make his international debut for the West Indies in a Test away from home, down under, without even having any prior first-class experience as well. He was even given his maiden ODI cap later in the same year, on the basis of the promise he showed and the potential he had in him.
Like most Jamaicans, this strongly built and supremely confident teenager was touted to be a future West Indies star. One destined to have a long career and achieve greatness.
18 years down the line, with 72 Tests and 199 ODIs to his name, Marlon Samuels has fulfilled his destiny to have a long international career. However, greatness, like other Jamaicans, is something he hasn’t been able to achieve.
When West Indies lock horns with India tomorrow, in the first ever one-day international match at the Barsapara Cricket stadium, it will also be a significant moment for Samuels, as he will join the elite club of cricketers with 200 ODIs to their names.
During his career spanning almost two decades, the 37-year old has seen West Indies cricket at its best and worst. He started his career as a junior to the likes of Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Wavell Hinds among other Caribbean greats. And now, his name stands out as the most experienced one among the current crop of young West Indies cricketers like Jason Holder, Shai Hope, Rovman Powell and others.
When he looks back at his career, he probably regrets the mistakes he has made. He was found guilty of match-fixing in 2008 and was subsequently banned for two years. He would probably do anything to go back in time and undo this mistake that brought not only him but also his team, country and most importantly, his family, to disrepute.
He wasn’t among the best players in the world at the time he was banned. But he was probably the best West Indies had and could have relied on at a time when the legends of the game, like Lara, were retiring.
He wasn’t the most consistent of players. He was not even equal to the shadows of the previous greats of West Indies cricket. But the sparks of brilliance he came up with, from time to time, were enough to inspire a rising generation of Caribbean cricketers.
However, he had undone everything with his greed, stupidity and selfishness. His involvement in match-fixing was a blow straight at the heart of cricket in the Caribbean nation.
West Indies recovered. Those two years were tough for them as it was for Samuels. But he was fortunate enough to get a second chance. The West Indies Cricket Board was kind enough, or may be, it was their necessity to let Samuels represent his country regularly, once again.
Everyone was expecting to see the second coming of the veteran cricketer in a more responsible avatar. For a brief period, it even seemed like so, when he smashed 386 runs in five ODI innings in challenging English conditions back in 2012. Those runs included a mesmerizing century and three gritty fifties as well. A fighting 78 in the 2014 World T20 final against Sri Lanka and another knock of 72 runs in the 2016 World T20 final against England, which helped them to win the title on both occasions, probably became his biggest contributions to West Indies cricket over the years. In between, there was his first Test double ton, an innings of 260 runs against Bangladesh at Khulna, as well.
However, apart from these big match knocks, there was again the clear lack of consistency in the way he played. The period between these big match-winning knocks was completely shallow. His ability to step up on big occasions was the only thing that enticed the board to keep their faith invested in him. An ODI career average of 33.77 and Test average of 32.64 will back these facts.
Although he kept performing on big match occasions, his poor returns otherwise didn’t do justice to the young players who looked up to him for inspiration. But as the old saying goes, ‘it is better late than never.’
At 37 years of age, he is still fit enough and has at least a couple of years of cricket left in him, if not more. And in this remaining time period, he still can do wonders, if he can guide the young Windies players towards the right path.
They were completely outplayed in the Test series against a far more superior Indian side. With the ODI series beginning now, it is his responsibility to instill the same belief in the young guns as was visible in the forefathers of Caribbean cricket, to remind them of their glorious past, to make them realize what they are and most importantly, what they can be!