By PAUL NEWMAN
PUBLISHED: 16:30 EST, 4 June 2012 | UPDATED: 01:35 EST, 5 June 2012
Marlon Samuels does things his way. It is a way that has seen him enveloped in controversies that could have ended his career but one that now finds him on a path he hopes will end with him becoming the best batsman in the world.
The man who has provided hope for West Indies with the world-class quality of his batting in two Tests that have again ended in defeat is a singular character who can be as eccentric as he is classy.
Samuels has spent almost as much time talking to the England fielders as he has batting at Lord’s and Trent Bridge but has come out on top in his running battle with Jimmy Anderson that, sadly, will not be continued in Thursday’s final Test at Edgbaston.
Time to shine: West Indies batsman Marlon Samuels has proved his class in the series with England
Above all, Samuels has shown that, with a display of defiance at Lord’s and then a century and another high-class contribution at Trent Bridge, he is now the key figure in West Indies’ batting line-up, possibly more so even than the veteran Shiv Chanderpaul.
It has not always been thus. Far from aspiring to be the best in the world, Samuels could once have laid claim to another far less flattering soubriquet – that of the biggest wastrel in world cricket.
There was not just the two-year ban for passing on information to bookmakers and the doubts over the legitimacy of his bowling action, but the suspicion that he did not care enough, a record of just two Test centuries in 37 matches stretching back to 2000 belying a rich natural talent.
Yet impressions can be wide of the mark. Michael Holding, a man Samuels talks of as a father figure, had told me that Marlon was one of the good guys, that he had been innocent of charges he collaborated with bookies and that he cared very much both about his own batting and West Indies’ fortunes. Turns out, not for the first time, Holding was right.
We meet in Leicester where West Indies were attempting to prepare for their last chance on this tour to show they have made enough progress not just to compete but to win a Test here.
Samuels, 31, is a very receptive interviewee, talking not only about his career and hopes for the future but also about his penchant for on-field chat, his devotion to his family and his five dogs in Jamaica and about his cricketing hero, Nasser Hussain.
Aiming high: Samuels wants to be the best batsman in the world game
‘Over the years I’ve been plagued with all sorts of issues and problems with people I regard as evil but I always knew that my time to shine would come,’ said Samuels.
‘I have always had a lot of fire burning inside but I’m managing that fire well at the moment. I’m going out there and transferring that fire on to the field and I’m very happy to be showing what I can do.
‘I use every disappointment to build me as a person and not let anybody get me down. I use all of them to motivate me and I know that if I can overcome all the obstacles put in front of me I can get to where I want to go.
‘I see myself going up a hill. It will take time to reach the top but I am willing to put in the time to get there.’
Samuels has been as entertaining to those with access to the stump microphones in this series as he has to those in the stands who have seen him apply himself so impressively with the bat. He has told England’s fielders to ‘shut up until I’ve got back-to-back hundreds’ while enjoying a running commentary with Anderson that twice saw umpire Aleem Dar step in to cool things down at Trent Bridge.
Not that Samuels felt the need for any cooling down. ‘I went out against Australia at 19 and the Aussies talked to me a lot and told me a lot of different things,’ he said. ‘So I started enjoying it and talking to me in the middle is a waste of time now because it motivates me. When I am batting I am begging the opposition to say something because it means my concentration level is improving.
Preparation: Samuels at Leicestershire’s Grace Road ground ahead of next week’s third Test
‘I enjoy a challenge and Jimmy is a fantastic bowler. I remember hitting him over his head a few years ago but he has learnt so much and is the best bowler in England now. Even when he said a few things to me I said, “Jimmy, you’re still my favourite bowler”. It’s a bit of fun. He wants to get me out and I’m enjoying the challenge.
‘The English players are lovely people. They are competitive but anything they say stays on the field and off the field they are very nice. None of the talking means anything.’
Samuels has always had respect for one Englishman in particular. ‘Nasser has always been my favourite batsman,’ he said. ‘I have a few. Shiv, Steve Waugh and Sachin Tendulkar, but Nasser has always been my No 1. It’s great to see him in the commentary box and I knew I had to come up as the trump card for him because he knows my story and knows I’ve been through a lot.’
That story reached its nadir with his two-year ban and he remains one of the few high-profile players punished by the International Cricket Council for involvement with bookies.
‘I was innocent. I got into a situation where it was unfair,’ he insists. ‘I will tell you honestly, if I had done the crime or done anything to be ashamed of I would not have come back to my sport.
‘But I didn’t do anything wrong and that gave me more strength to come back and show people that this ban didn’t kill me, it built me. It made me a stronger man and I’m raising the bar higher now. I am training hard and my work ethic has gone up.
Jimmy’s nemesis: Samuels has enjoyed a running battle with England fast bowler Anderson (left)
‘The two years that were taken away from me worked wonders for me because it enabled me to look at myself. I never thought of quitting.’
The time out was spent with his family and now he dedicates his achievements to his two children Dimitri and Djourna and his dogs in Kingston – Sheba, Samson, Simba, Demon and Devil.
‘I love dogs. I’m going to get some more. I am batting for them at the moment,’ he smiled.
And he is doing that batting, thankfully, for West Indies having left the Indian Premier League halfway through his contract with Pune to join this tour.
‘If I’d been available for the whole IPL season I’m sure I would have gone for double the money but I wanted to come here and play against the No 1 team because I have more than just a point to prove. Sometimes it’s not about cash,’ he said.
‘I’m not just batting for my family. I’m batting for the missing time and I want to be the No 1 batsman in the world. I’ve been stopped in my tracks many times but I’ve never lost sight of my aims and my goals.
‘I like Twenty20. It’s fun. And I like the one-dayers. But Test cricket is the best cricket. And Test cricket shows the real quality of the batsman. When you look at the archives and look at the great players it is Test cricket they are remembered for.’
Samuels will be remembered for the right reasons now.