Gifted Samuels has been a great under performer

The supremely gifted right-hander is a batsman of the highest quality, but he is somewhat vulnerable in the mind and hasn’t always done justice to his extraordinary talent.

The 30-year-old’s career has been a litany of run-ins with establishment from the time he made his West Indian debut in December 2000, as a 19-year-old with no experience of first-class cricket. He impressed Steve Waugh enough for the Australian captain to part with the beloved red rag that he used to carry in his pocket, but unlike the older Waugh whose greatest strength was his mind, Samuels has often allowed his emotions – some might call it indiscipline – to get the better of him.

The first in a series of mishaps occurred in India in 2002, when Samuels broke curfew and was almost sent home. A rap on the knuckles translated itself into a patient century at the Eden Gardens Test, and he then wowed the audiences in the one-day format with his classical strokeplay based on exemplary timing.

More often than not, however, the Jamaican has frustrated his vast legion of fans. Just 1763 runs from 36 Tests at 29.38 do no justice at all to Samuels, who for all his silken touch will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Just before the 2007 World Cup, Nagpur police alleged that Samuels had been guilty of hobnobbing with bookmakers, and while he went on to play the competition, his most significant role was in the run out of skipper Brian Lara in the legend’s farewell international appearance.

The following year, he was found guilty of receiving money that could bring him or the game into disrepute, and was banned for two years by the West Indies Cricket Board. Earlier this year, he was summoned as replacement for an injured Dwayne Bravo for the World Cup but turned the offer down saying he wasn’t mentally ready, but has done just enough since his comeback in May to suggest that the lessons of a troubled past might have been well learnt.

His controversial action has been cleared by the Intenational Cricket Council so that he can send down his off-spin unquestioned, for the moment, and recently, he was awarded a central contract by the WICB. His batting too is gradually beginning to blossom again, as he showed with a brilliant 84 at the Eden on Thursday.

For the first 15 minutes, Samuels looked like he had strayed on to a cricket pitch. His footwork was all over the shop, he was edgy and nervous and tentative, and sought release from pressure with a crude hoick that just sailed over mid-wicket. He could have been dismissed at least a half-dozen times in that period, but once he got over that phase, he was all sublime grace and spectacular shot-making.

His propensity to sit on the back foot early on makes him an obvious leg before candidate, but with a little time in the middle, the feet were moving beautifully at the Eden. He coaxed and cajoled the ball into gaps, not unlike VVS Laxman, and was the equal partner in an excellent rearguard action alongside Darren Bravo.

That knock, as much as the recent positive developments, should give Samuels heart. Despite 11 years of international cricket, he is still only a young man with his best years ahead of him. If he can get his head sorted out, then West Indian – and world – cricket will be better off for it.

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