Michael Maynard – Sports Columnist

He had the swagger. He had the bling. He had the attitude. And more unfortunately, he had the lowly batting average.

Marlon Samuels epitomised what the critics believed to be the problem with the modern day West Indian cricketer. Today, however, the supremely confident Jamaican is one of the most valuable commodities in the world game.

Ever since 2000 when the Kingston native was introduced to Test cricket at the tender age of 19 –  before he had even represented his island in a first class match –  the cricket world has waited for a return.

Hopes were so high that many likened his coming to that of the much vaunted Lawrence Rowe. But like his compatriot, Samuels was in danger of not fulfilling expectation.

A lack of application, indiscipline, injuries and a two year ban for “inappropriate ties to an Indian bookmaker” – and of course running out Brian Lara in his last international match didn’t help –  resulted in Samuels’ career being stuck in first gear.

But the last 12 months has brought about a transformation. Samuels has become one of the most feared batsmen in all forms of cricket. In the Five Day game he has scored 866 runs at an average of 86.60 over the period.

Marlon Samuels in Sri Lanka. Photo courtesy thisisjersey.com

Compare this with his disappointing overall Test average hovering around 30 and you can measure the improvement.  In fact, his recent good run has seen him break into the world’s top 20 batsmen in the ICC Player Rankings for the first time.

In the shorter game he has also excelled. His blistering innings in the Twenty20 World Cup Final was the stuff of legend. With the West Indies innings in danger of petering out like a damp squib Samuels came to the rescue.

His 78 off 56 balls, including three sixes off one over from Lasith Malinga, one of the world’s most feared T20 bowlers hastened Windies to a competitive score of 137.  A total that proved too great for Sri Lanka in front of their home crowd.

Samuels was named Man of the Match for his batting efforts and for bowling his four overs of off-spin at a meagre rate of 3.75 runs and the wicket of Ajantha Mendis.

So what has brought about this metamorphosis? Without doubt Samuels has completed his cricket rites of passage with distinction. Although he still exudes total confidence and remains the personification of cool, the current 31-year-old certainly isn’t the swaggering, gold chain wearing, gum chewing yout’ man of ten years ago.

His increasing maturity was evident in his last Test innings, a beautifully constructed 260 – his highest First Class score – against Bangladesh in Khulna.

As the fielding side placed men around the boundary to stem the flow of runs, the Samuels of old would have been tempted to try and clear the ropes every other ball. But the new Samuels refused the bait and played a controlled, smart innings which helped his team to a match and series winning total.

But signs of Samuels’ coming of age were evident earlier in the year. In the losing Test series in England, Samuels finished as the leading run scorer with 386 runs with one century and three fifties.

Photo courtesy cricketreligion.com

Inspired Twenty20 performances in the Bangladesh Premier League for Duronto Rajshahi – for who he signed a two-year deal for a reported US$ 360,000 – won him a contract with Pune Warriors in the more prestigious Indian Premier League and cemented his status as one of the world’s premier players.

He will now take his talents Down Under as he turns out for the Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash, Australia’s domestic T20 competition. It will bring to an end the best year in Samuels’ professional career. A career that could have so easily been lost to mediocrity.

Is the new Marlon Samuels here to stay? Only time will tell but West Indies certainly need the smarter, more dedicated, wiser model if they are to maintain the progress they have shown under Darren Sammy’s leadership.