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A turning point for Samuels?

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Tom Fordyce | 19:48 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

It was a day of surprises - unblemished blue skies after a month of rain, West Indies fighting back in fine fashion having seemed damaged beyond repair, a glorious Test century for one of cricket's more wasted talents.

The sunshine had at least been forecast at the start of play. What no-one dared predict was that the tourists would recover from 63-4 and then 136-6 to reach 304 with four wickets still in hand, leaving England so frustrated that James Anderson was seen throwing sunglasses and Graeme Swann booting his home turf.

The source of their ire was perhaps the most unexpected sub-plot of them all. Marlon Samuels has a Test record that is the definition of mediocre - 31 years old, 38 matches, an average of only 30.

His career has been more about infamy than fame - running out Brian Lara in his last ever international innings, being banned for two years for bringing the game into disrepute after a murky business with murkier bookmakers.

Marlon Samuels (right) is congratulated by Darren Sammy

Captain Darren Sammy was there to congratilate Marlon Samuels on his third test hundred. Photo: Press Association

His batting rearguard innings at Lord's alongside Shivnarine Chanderpaul had given notice that the ability that saw him given his Test debut at the tender age of 19 might yet remain.

But his 107 not out here at Trent Bridge was several giant leaps further on, an innings that first irritated England and then left them impotent and perplexed.

There was resolve, and there was real class. In partnership with the more liberated Darren Sammy, himself an also-ran producing a performance most thought beyond him, he piled on 150 runs in the last 33 overs of the day.

Whether Samuels has turned a corner in his journey as a Test player is perhaps too bold a claim to make. But he has shown his more callow team-mates at the top of the order what can be done with technique and concentration, and steered his side far closer to parity than seemed possible midway through the afternoon.

"Samuels and Sammy gave us a much better indication of the pitch's true nature than the top order," says Michael Vaughan, former England captain and now Test Match Special pundit.

"This is the best batting pitch I've seen in a long time. I think the par score is around 450 - the bounce is true, there's barely any movement through the air and the outfield is quick.

"Three of the first four wickets that went down were a result of poor thinking and poor technique. Adrian Barath got a good ball, but the others were guilty of playing for the drive at a time when there were three slips and a gully in, and the very strong possibility that Broad and Anderson would get the new ball to move.

"If you're going to drive like that your feet and head have to be perfectly in line. Kirk Edwards had neither in place, and neither did Darren Bravo.

"Sammy played a very nice innings under pressure, both in terms of the match and his own reputation, and Samuels carried on where he left off at Lord's.

"What impressed me was the way the pair attacked in the 10 overs before the new ball. They realised that it was their opportunity to get some runs and they piled them on."

On a day that started so well but ended in increasing and visible frustration for England's bowlers, Tim Bresnan will probably be the most disappointed.

His 21 overs cost him 83 runs with just the wicket of keeper Denesh Ramdin to show for it, 15 boundaries coming as he perhaps strained too hard to find that magic wicket-taking ball.

"Bresnan is a high-quality performer," says Vaughan. "But it's not easy knowing there are quality bowlers like Steven Finn, Graham Onions and Chris Tremlett - when he is fit - waiting in the wings.

"There is the possibility that, in a situation like this, you can go looking for wickets a little too much. It's something Anderson used to do when he was in and out of the team.

"Bresnan doesn't need to do that. England are very consistent in their selection, and rightly so.

"Finn will be in the side sooner rather than later, and he will have a long and successful Test career. But I would have stuck with Bresnan here. He has won all 12 Tests he has played in, and these are conditions that offer little help to a bowler of his type."

At 136-6, West Indies looked almost beyond assistance, certain to go 2-0 down in this three-match series and follow the unedifying example of their predecessors in 2009 and 2007.

That they recovered to the comparative safety of 300-plus speaks loudly of the superior resolve of some of this present vintage. Whether this team can go on to pose a real threat in this match and the series that lie ahead is less certain.

"There is too much quality that is not being utilised," believes Vaughan.

"It's a tall order asking these young players to succeed against the best bowling attack in the world, and I don't see enough of the X-factor there to justify leaving so many other players out.

"Sunil Narine is a quality player, Ramnaresh Sarwan is a quality player. Jerome Taylor can be a real handful for top batsmen, as England found out in 2009. And Chris Gayle has been destroying attacks in the IPL.

"The West Indies management have to find ways of bringing these difficult characters back in. That's what good management is all about - bringing the best out of the materials available to you.

"I'm not sure Gayle can ever truly come back into the Test fold. His mind may be too far away on the IPL. But add Narine to an attack of Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul and Taylor, and you have a unit that could take 20 wickets in a match. And then West Indies might just be a different proposition."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Why does everyone jump on Darren Sammy? He has a decent Test record as a bowler, and the same commentators who ridicule his bowling praised him to the skies when he took seven-for on Test debut in England 5 years ago. He's doing an excellent job as captain.

    They are right to leave out Gayle, who was always a divisive influence within the team. And why the nostalgia for Sarwan, who always underprepared and underperformed? Memories are very short.

    The fact is that England are a better side, so what neutrals can hope for is a bit of fight in the West Indies' performances. And, under Sammy, we are seeing that. Far more than if Gayle were captain.

  • Comment number 2.

    I've said for some time that the West Indies need to take the same approach to international cricket as Zimbabwe did prior to all the issues with the ZCU. Zimbabwe were a team with a couple of standout players and a few average ones who put everything into their performances and frequently achieved far more than anyone would have thought possible. That was all coupled to a high work ethic and I'd still rate some of their sides as being as good at fielding as anyone around at the time.

    That work ethic has started to be seen in the West Indian side. It isn't there constantly, the odd fielding lapse still occurs, but they look a much more professional side than they did in the Bennett King era for instance. There is unity there. They look like a team who play for one another. The bowling unit looks like they have some consistent performers. Shillingford and Narine are useful spinners with the like of Benn lurking around too (providing he can keep his head). Roach and Rampaul are a decent opening pair. With the earlier Zimbabwean comparison, Heath Streak and Sammy could easily be compared. Streak's time as captain involved trying to keep a side performing despite massive struggles internally and with the obvious problems within Zimbabwe looming overhead. Taking on that role affected Streak as a bowler but his batting went through the roof.

    Streak as captain: 21 Tests, 1013 runs at 36, 56 wickets at 34.
    Streak overall: 65 Tests, 1990 runs at 22, 216 wickets at 28.

    Sammy in the last year has shown signs of being more responsible with the bat. I for one really hope he gets his century on Saturday morning. He deserves it as it is he, a man who goes out and tries his very hardest, who should be the role model for the West Indies, not someone who goes out around the world cashing pounds for hitting sixes over 50 yard boundaries and tearing up contracts when it suits him.

    The main problem for the West Indies has been shown in this Test amply and that is the top order. Anyone who saw the recent West Indies-Australia series would have seen the sort of wicket which seems to be common in the islands now. The WI regional 4-day competition bowling averages were dominated by slow bowlers. Nikita Miller topped the table with 49 wickets in 8 games. The much-vaunted Narine took a scarcely believable 31 wickets in 3 games.

    http://stats.espncricinfo.com/regional-4-day-12/engine/records/bowling/most_wickets_career.html?id=7015;type=tournament

    Those figures suggest a lot of slow turning wickets in the WI right now. Certainly it sounds insane to think that the semi-final between Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados featured Sulieman Benn opening the bowling in both innings with Tino Best.

    With the wickets like that, you begin to understand why some of their younger players had success in the series away to India and why they are struggling so badly in England in May. A lack of exposure to these wickets will hamper their development. Seeing a player like Kirk Edwards who really did impress in India struggle so badly in England tells you a great deal about the surfaces these guys are playing on back home. Those kinds of surfaces do nothing to expand a batsman's ability to adapt and neither do they help promote good seam bowlers.

    Still, whatever happens in this series from now, there is hope that the West Indies will return to a higher level than they have been.

  • Comment number 3.

    Indeed. Guys like Odean Brown have world-beating figures in first-class cricket in the Caribbean and aren't even in the best half-dozen spinners over there. The scores in the last 4-day season make worrying viewing.

  • Comment number 4.

    This, for example, from the once-mighty Leewards batting line-up is just awful:
    http://www.espncricinfo.com/regional-4-day-12/engine/match/540555.html

  • Comment number 5.

    I think the problems with Gayle stem from the fact he's been part of the conflict between the WICB and WIPA that has dragged on for so long. Gayle has always been a 'WIPA man' and has had his own disagreements with the WICB stretching back five years or so. I don't agree with those however who say that Gayle doesn't care about Windies cricket. He played some of his best innings as captain and scored his triple hundred in Sri Lanka after he was replaced by Sammy. I still think he has a role to play and would add some stability to that top order. I think he's also capable of helping the younger players - he had nothing but kind words to say about Adrian Barath when accepting his West Indies Cricketer of the Year award in 2011. I think relations can be repaired with the coaching staff (If Chanderpaul can do it then why not Gayle?) and I feel he's never had an issue with Darren Sammy in anycase. On the other hand I feel Sarwan is lost to Windies cricket for the time being. He obviously has big issues with Gibson and he's not prepared at the moment to bury the hatchet. He seems to enjoying his stint with Leicestershire and is happy just to be in a new environment away from the Caribbean.

    As for today's play, I really think Samuels looked the part today. He always looked calm and composed at the crease and his batting style is easy on the eye. Vaughan was a bit disingenuous when he said it was a flat pitch and all that. He is stating the truth of course but Samuels and Sammy have to be applauded for the way they played after the Windies were reduced to 136-6. That takes some character. I hope he can kick on from here and be a consistent performer for the Windies at test level as I think he's a genuine talent. I can remember him scoring a century in South Africa in 2007-08 and it looked like he had got his act together but then the ban came along. I hope now that Windies can add a few more runs in the morning and a Sammy century would certainly silence the critics!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    I realley hope West Indies have turned a corner in their cricket fortunes.Growing up their was no greater series than West Indies in England and their constant demolition of English cricket, with fast bowling, great batting and fielding.Not structured but off the cuff, I loved it.They are faced with the wealthier nations now dominating through sheer numbers , but I think if Sarwan, Bravo and Gayle can return to bolster the top order , they will become even more competitive and galvanise the Islands like Sir Frank Worell's and Clive Lloyds team did.Had the three mentioned players been available this series would have been even more interesting than it already is.

  • Comment number 7.

    Congratulations to centurions Samuels and Sammy.


    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 8.

    I want strong Test cricket. This WI side is comparable to where Nasser Hussain' England were during the late 1990s/early 2000s: harder to beat because, as Andy Plowright points out, there's a team ethic there which hasn't turned into a 'siege mentality'. Sammy got his ton and full credit to this hard-working West Indian. A good coach, in my opinion, is needed. Not sure that Ottis Gibson can carry WI much further given their resources.

    But strong Test Cricket is everything. Good luck to them. I think they'll lose this Test. But if they go down fighting they'll retain their pride. Crucial

    pS. Good post from Mr.Plowright.

  • Comment number 9.

    Good to see the West Indies rediscovering some of their old mojo. If they can discover one really good fast bowler and some opening batsmen they will be a force again...something that any cricket fan would relish.

    I can actually see the Windies winning this game! It's a superb batting track so it is only in the last two days that it may crack up enough for the bowlers to get some help. England at the moment could post 500+, but if the Windies can get a 200 run lead going into the final innings, England could find themselves struggling for runs on a deteriorating wicket.

    Fascinating stuff! It's what makes test cricket so much better than hit 'n hope cricket!

 

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