Being Darren Sammy

After a long training session under the hot Trinidad sun, Darren Sammy lumbers down the steps of the dressing room, sweat still streaming down his face. The face itself is hidden behind the wrap around glasses. He is hobbling a little bit from edging a quick delivery on to his leg in the net session, but he still keeps his appointment. He doesn’t have much time. He has a team meeting to go to. Soon. Of a team he was the captain of, just a few, short months ago.

There are no airs about him. He plops down on to the chair next to me, nice and easy, shoulder-to-shoulder. He has the unmistakable Sammy smile, radiating the feelings of a contented man – content with his cricket, family, and life in general.

West Indies are relevant again. They won the World Twenty20 in 2012. They are winning matches, in all formats. The fans are again coming back to see them, like in the good old days. The matches featuring West Indies in Trinidad in the ongoing Celkon Mobile Cup are a sell-out, days in advance. Sammy had a pivotal role in the re-emergence of West Indies. He is the forgotten man in a team of stars, when the going is getting good. He was the crisis man when West Indies were coming apart at the seams. He was the glue that kept it all together and played the role to perfection of grounded counterweight to all the flash.

Being the first international player from the cricketing backwaters of St. Lucia brings with it additional responsibility, but that is something Sammy always seems to be ready for. “Responsibility gets the best out of me,” he says. “As a person, a lot of people have tried to find out what makes me tick. The more responsibility that is showered upon me, the pressure situations, that gets the best out of me.”

Sammy used cricket as a way out of poverty and the island, and spread his sane wings across the Caribbean and the world. His family is the bedrock upon which his career is built. He missed the start of the IPL season to be with his wife as they were expecting their daughter, Skai, to be born. His celebrations with the pacifier hung around his neck during the IPL was unlike anything seen on a cricket field before.

“Growing up, not having much, cricket was my way out to be the provider for my family,” says Sammy. “Now having my own family with my wife and daughter, I am the provider. Cricket is the source of my living. I use cricket to provide for them. I use all aspects of that to motivate me to go out on the field and do well.”

Charles Barkley, the former NBA superstar, is well known for saying he did not want to be a role model. Sammy is the anti-Barkley. He welcomes it and embraces it, and uses it as additional motivation to be the best cricketer and person that he can be. He understands there are children in St. Lucia who want to follow in his footsteps. “When you walk out on the streets, the kids that look up to you and want to talk to you and want to be just in your presence, that in and of itself is a massive boost for me to continue what I have been doing. It’s good to be a role model to the kids. We owe it to the kids that look up to you to behave in a certain way, go and represent and be an ambassador of the sport”

The talk turns towards the West Indies team, their cricket, his captaincy and the criticisms. He answers them without even as much a tinge of sarcasm or sour grapes. The West Indies Cricket Board turned to Sammy to take up the stewardship of a once-glorious cricket team ravaged by disputes over contracts and needs of other players to be able to freelance cricketers. Now that things were settling down relatively, he got a tap on his shoulder from thousands of miles away while playing in the IPL, that the selectors were looking past him in the ODIs.

“Cricket was very fragile when I took over. My style of leadership and coach [Ottis] Gibson was a good blend at that time,” he says. “Right now, I could proudly say that the team is in a stable environment. The guys are being more responsible. We could go out and play for the [West Indian] people. Like I always told the selectors, they have asked me to do a job, whenever they want to move on, it’s all well and good. Now (Dwayne) Bravo is the ODI captain, the team is moulded and is looking like a very formidable unit.“

Was it a surprise that the decision to go with Bravo as the ODI captain came when both of them were in India, playing for their respective IPL franchises?

He chuckles and says it was, but quickly regains his poise and returns the focus to what he is all about. “Cricket was never about Darren Sammy,” he asserts. “I have always made it clear that whatever is in the benefit of West Indies cricket, I’m all up for it. I have lent my full support to Bravo and the guys are rallying around him. We are just looking to take WI cricket forward. Doesn’t matter who the captain is. I just enjoy playing cricket. Whenever I wear the WI shirt, I go out and play for my family and fans that turn out to watch us play.”

As an outsider, not from the established cricketing nations of the Caribbean, it was beyond his wildest dreams that he would play for the West Indies, let alone being asked to take up a job that once belonged to the likes of Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards. “I never dreamt of being the West Indies captain. It was an honor to be even considered”, he says in his usual understated manner.

Despite all the good he did for the West Indies, several former West Indian greats and the media constantly questioned his spot in the team – as a player, and as a captain. Sammy, on the outside, acts as if such criticisms did not bother him but, deep down, he turned it all into motivation to work doubly hard to prove the detractors wrong.

Now, even as Bravo has taken over the ODI captaincy, Sammy is brought on when one of the more celebrated fast bowlers doesn’t really stick to the plan and sprays it all around. He has to bring about sanity to the proceedings with his accurate medium pace. “Well, everybody knows Darren Sammy doesn’t bowl fast,” he says. “I just have to put the ball in the spot and do the job for the team which is to hold one end up.”

But, what of the criticisms?

“I think it’s the Lord’s way of keeping me on my toes,” he says. “It is his way of reminding me that I should never take this game for granted.

“When I look back at my career and the things I have been through, and the constant criticisms and pressures coming from all directions, it reminds me: ‘Hey, you can’t afford to not keep working hard and that’s what I try to do on the cricket field.’ I still enjoy my cricket. I still have that fire and passion for cricket. I have always said, criticism makes me stronger, it motivates me and as I said after the World T20, Christ came to this earth, did nothing wrong and yet was crucified, who am I, then?”

The usually calm Sammy gave in to a bit of gesticulating after he hit a belligerent 50 against India at the Champions Trophy. This was after he was dropped from the side against Pakistan earlier in the tournament. Was he trying to tell the powers that be what they had missed?

Even before the question is finished, he cuts in: “No, I just pumped my fist. It was a good feeling to get an opportunity to play. I said to myself when I was dropped that whenever I get my opportunity, I’d try to grab it with my hands and feet. I don’t have the ‘C’ next to my name [in the ODIs] any more.  So I have to work doubly hard to get a place in the side. That’s what I’m looking to do.”

“Saaammyyyy!” comes a booming voice from the dressing room. The coach wants him in the team meeting. The interview is cut short. Sammy hobbles off. He is just another player, trying to do his best – for himself, his family and the West Indies.

This article was first published on Wisden India on July 5, 2011.

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