x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sri Lanka left stunned by brilliance of Marlon Samuels

Mahela Jayawardene steps down as T20 captain after Sri Lanka are beaten by 36 runs in World Twenty20 final.

The 35,000-strong home support were disappointed to see their Sri Lanka team lose a fourth World Cup final. Chamila Karunaratna / AP Photo
The 35,000-strong home support were disappointed to see their Sri Lanka team lose a fourth World Cup final. Chamila Karunaratna / AP Photo

COLOMBO // All day long the streets of Colombo were silent and empty and the skies full with heavy clouds. It was not just Sunday quiet, it felt curfew quiet.

Maybe it was a day of silent preparation, a great long inhale, for an evening of big emotional release.

It never came, because around 10.10pm Colombo time as Sunil Narine took the final Sri Lankan wicket, the crowd inside the R Premadasa Stadium, quieter as the night drew on, wondered how it had come to this.

How expectant had Sri Lanka been? It has been difficult to tell as an outsider cocooned inside an ICC tournament. But it did not carry the oppressiveness of India or Pakistan, which can be volcanic in its release of heat and hate in case of failure.

Tellingly the only journalist to ask Mahela Jayawardene if he had anything to say to the fans was an Indian one (it could easily have been a Pakistani), and even more revealingly – and refreshingly – Jayawardene did not say sorry as the journalist might have expected of an Indian or Pakistani captain.

Mahinda Rajapakse, Sri Lanka's president, had said the day before he was unsure of attending because he had brought bad luck the last two times he had gone to Sri Lanka finals. He did attend, by the way, if only briefly. Newspapers were predicting rain at exactly 9pm. It never came; it was that kind of tension, superstition inducing.

It was not to happen because this was the night that Marlon Samuels was to become a bona fide Caribbean hero. This should be an essay question for a university exam: "Marlon Samuels as West Indian hero. Discuss."

Samuels has serious history. Quite apart from being the next big thing who was not for over a decade, he has been banned for passing information on to an alleged bookmaker and has been called for chucking. This last one is not resolved.

Goodness knows what and how but something has happened to him this year. And last night, it all came to be. Throughout his entire 78, it looked like serious rage was driving him, rage not only at the impotence of the start his team had made but more pointedly at himself, for wasting a decade.

Later, looking like he still had not digested what had just happened, he said something pertinent. "I've had a career of ups and downs, lots of tough times. Being who I am, I tried to let them pass and slide, so me being in a situation under pressure on the cricket field is nothing compared to what I've been through off the field."

I am not sure whether it means anything, but in the sixth over, just after Chris Gayle had walked off leg-before to Ajantha Mendis and the West Indies were halfway to losing it at 14 for two, Samuels stood away from the pitch and visualised. He had been unable to get the bowling away and here, now, he set his stance and practised some air strokes, ignoring the new batsman coming in.

It might not be anything, but seven overs later with three sixes off Lasith Malinga, he truly began what, in the winning moment and those sweet hours afterwards, felt like the greatest Twenty20 innings of all time. Whether or not it is (and it is surely in any top three) does not matter.

How much of a difference did he make? He hit nine of his side's 13 boundaries and made up for a start which read 32 for two after 10 overs; it made up for a few dropped catches when Sri Lanka batted; it made up to be enough to repel the wishes and hope of 35,000 people inside a stadium and many millions outside. That is how big and single-handed it was. And then he bowled four tight overs.

Appropriately, the garnish came from Darren Sammy, the antithesis of Samuels; a cricketer of limited talent but immense discipline and will. Sammy scored ugly but important runs at the end and then came on to take two wickets, the first of Angelo Mathews the precise moment the cat was set among the pigeons.

The night ended quietly, images and voices of three men the only disturbance. Samuels cool, unemotional and relieved; Sammy, beaming and joking, gleefully vindicated and Jayawardene, having masterminded 10 overs of Zen cricket to begin, down, unable to understand what had occurred thereafter.

"It hurts," he said, when asked how it felt to have lost four finals, a little before he announced he was stepping down from the Twenty20 captaincy. Not for the first time or last in his impressive life, they felt like the right words in this country.


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