No easy road for Sammy
By Tony Cozier | Sun, May 27, 2012 - 12:00 AM
EVEN a careful, if non-scientific, trawl through West Indies cricket history could not unearth two simultaneous performances as crucial to the players involved, quite apart from the immediate position of the team, as those by Marlon Samuels and Darren Sammy with their individual hundreds and their record 204-run partnership over the first two days of the second Test.
The situation when Sammy walked in midway through the second session was dire and depressingly recognizable to anyone who has followed the West Indies in the last decade or so.
The pitch was beige in colour and benign in nature. From a clear, blue sky, warm sunshine bathed the ground. When he called the toss of the coin correctly a few hours earlier, Sammy’s worst fear was the one that now confronted him.
The electronic scoreboard revealed a score emphasizing West Indies’ woes. It flashed 136 for six after 48.3 overs with the additional, significant statistic that Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the high priest of lost causes, was among them.
In other words, Sammy and Samuels, by now 33 but reprieved on a review of umpire Asad Rauf’s lbw decision when he was one, were the last two standing to avoid a paltry, match-losing total.
All this was bad enough but was appreciably intensified by the unsettled circumstances of the seventh-wicket partners.
Since his appointment in October 2010, no other West Indies captain has had his credentials more frequently and fiercely queried than Sammy.
The main theme has been that he simply does not merit his place. Given his record after 25 Tests (an average of 19.46 with the bat and a topscore of 61, an average of 31.25 with his medium-pace bowling), it was a case difficult to rebut.
Against such an argument was the widely acknowledged influence his strong, enthusiastic leadership has had in restoring discipline and pride, both palpably in short supply for some time, and creating a close-knit team.
There was also admiration for the way he has handled the widely publicized criticism. He has responded to the inevitable question at every media conference with a smile and a calm, measured response, rather than a short, irritated answer.
Even though the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) initially named him for three successive series (an exceptional vote of confidence) and retained him for another four, he is sensible enough to appreciate that his leadership qualities alone are not enough to guarantee him the post for life.
Indeed, as he entered the latest battle in the Nottingham sunshine on Friday, he surely knew that the doubts over his position would become ever more strident with another brief, cameo innings.
His rejoinder was to meet the challenge head-on. He chose counter-attack, the way he knows best – it might be said, the only way.
Together with Samuels, by now settled and engaged in the silky strokeplay that has always been the hallmark of his batting, they reclaimed the initiative. A scoring rate that had dawdled at well under three runs an over climbed to over five in the final session.
Samuels, throughout his spasmodic 38 Tests an irritating underachiever, passed his hundred. Sammy, his free-swinging, power-hitting method so different to Samuels’ classy style, moved to within 12 of his, duly completing it to his obvious and understandable delight on resumption yesterday.
For his part, Samuels was on a mission not dissimilar to Sammy’s.
His place in the team has been doubted for even longer than Sammy’s. He had rarely combined the necessary discipline with his abundant talent. An average of 30 was a travesty. Then came the ICC’s two-year ban for his alleged contacts with an Indian bookmaker.
At 29, his career might well have been over. Instead, he forced his way back into the West Indies team with more runs for Jamaica than anyone else on his return.
He gained so much trust from a previously skeptical WICB that it acceded to his request to take up a contract in the Indian Premier League (IPL), thus missing the recent home series against Australia before joining the team for the current series.
His second innings 86 in the first Test at Lord’s provided a hint of what was to follow here on Friday. The trick now is for him to retain the same commonsense approach to batting, rather than indulging in the fancy stuff that so often led to his downfall in the past. If he does, another six or seven years in the team lie ahead.
These were the definite “positives”, to use the modern jargon, gained on the opening day. Yet, they could not mask the troubles that still exist, at the top of the order and with the continuing failure to get meaningful runs from the wicketkeeper, whether Carlton Baugh or, here, Denesh Ramdin.
They were intensified when England had their turn to enjoy the favourable pitch, the cloudless sunshine and the fast outfield yesterday. In the field, the West Indies could not maintain the discipline necessary to make an impression.
Kemar Roach, on whose fast bowling they now so heavily rely, was no-balled eight times in his 15 overs. Two found the edge of the bat on their way into Ramdin’s gloves and Alistair Cook, a quality batsman, was reprieved each time as Roach overstepped.
It took the consistency of Ravi Rampaul, the only controlled bowler, to check England’s advance by dispatching Cook and Jonathan Trott with legitimate deliveries.
Roach, his confidence undermined by his constant overstepping (one clever ‘tweet’ suggested that he change his name to EncRoach), held none of the threat he did at Lord’s and in his opening spell.
The major disappointments were Sammy himself and Shane Shillingford, neither of whom seemed capable of landing the ball in roughly the same spot for successive deliveries. Sammy’s 15 overs went for 69. Shillingford’s 15 for 78 as Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen rattled along at four runs an over on a glut of boundaries in adding 136 by close.
For Sammy, it took much of the gloss off his earlier hundred. In just a few hours, his triumphant acknowledgement of a vital hundred to a packed Trent Bridge had turned to crestfallen resignation.
The same doubts quickly resurfaced about his all-round worth. They won’t disappear until he can prove he is capable of big performances in both areas.
He might have spent an unsettled night wondering how his team can get back into contention.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.
- Editor's Choice