By R Kaushik in Mirpur
Despite barbs about his place in the side, the West Indies leader has remained calm, delivered in crunch situations, and earned unstinted backing from his side
Darren Sammy has often been perceived as a captain of convenience, a man to be rewarded for his loyalty because he stood by West Indies cricket in its time of crisis.
The first cricketer from St Lucia to represent West Indies, Sammy was elevated to the captaincy in 2010 when Chris Gayle refused to sign the central contract, and has often been the object of thinly veiled barbs and ridicule. His Test place has been questioned, questions that have grown increasingly aggressive following West Indies’ abject surrenders in India late last year and New Zealand early this year, but through all the criticism and the mud-slinging, Sammy has remained composed, a ready smile on his lips and soaking in all the negativity like a sponge.
Sammy is the perfect example of the free-spirited Caribbean cricketer. In victory or defeat, he gives the impression that he enjoys his cricket, and that is no put-on; that’s how he is, because his love for the sport and the satisfaction he derives from playing it is immense. Another man might have reacted with bile after leading the team to a world title, like Sammy did in Sri Lanka 18 months back when West Indies was crowned the ICC World Twenty20 2012 champions, but Sammy isn’t just another man. He is a man of integrity and principles, a man who believes in settling issues, not fanning the fire, and gradually, he has come to establish himself as a wonderful leader of men who can lead from the front, especially in Twenty20 International cricket where he is worth his weight in gold.
Sammy lost the captaincy of the 50-over national side last year – strangely enough, he remains the Test and T20I skipper – but that hasn’t prevented him from throwing his complete and not inconsiderable weight behind Dwayne Bravo, the One-Day International captain. The two men have a healthy respect and genuine affection for each other; one of the more unnoticed scenes on Tuesday (April 1) night, when West Indies crushed Pakistan to seal its semifinal berth in the World T20 2014, involved the two international captains of the Caribbean side.
Bravo had just been run out by a quarter length of the pitch in the final over after a partnership of 71 from 32 deliveries; he had found himself on his knees after failing to connect a pull off Sohail Tanvir, the bat having flown off his hands. Sammy charged down the pitch, Bravo had no option but to haul himself to his feet and run towards the non-striker’s end, optimistically, hoping for Kamran Akmal to miss the stumps. Akmal scored a direct hit with Bravo well short, Sammy cutting a forlorn figure with his head in his hands.
Once he had recovered sufficiently, Sammy trudged over to pick up Bravo’s bat and stood apologetically; Bravo walked up to his captain, punched his shoulder as if to say ‘Don’t worry maan, just carry on’, took his bat and walked off, head held high and with no trace of bitterness or irritation. As reassurances go, it was exactly what Sammy could have done with.
Their blitzkrieg on Tuesday was the second time in as many innings that the two men had resurrected a meandering cause. Australia had felt the full fury of their willows in a needle clash on March 28, Bravo and Sammy caning them towards the end to fashion a win out of thin air. Tuesday was an encore in a game with greater stakes for entirely different reasons, the captain and his trusted lieutenant again getting the job done.
“The team back him 100%,” Bravo said after being named the Man of the Match against Pakistan. “We know West Indies are missing someone like Kieron Pollard, who over the years has been that go-to person coming into the later stage of the game, so in Pollard's absence, the coach (Ottis Gibson) mentioned that someone has to step up. So we have Darren Sammy and Andre Russell, who has yet to the get the opportunity. Sammy has been working hard on his batting, he plays with a level of confidence, the team gives him that confidence. Most of the time when he comes in to bat, we have our backs against the wall and we need a big innings from him and he delivers. Today's the same, the timing's right, up in his comfort zone, as long as we don't give him much overs to bat, allow him to come and be himself. He's one of the most dangerous batters in this format, very strong guy and he's our captain and leading from the front. He's played two great match-winning innings and the team has come out on top.”
Previously in the tournament, Sammy had been asked about the loss of the ODI captaincy, and whether it affected team dynamics. “Whether I am captain or not, I have always enjoyed playing cricket for West Indies,” he had replied then. From someone else, it would have come as a politically correct cliché. From Sammy, it sounded sincere, for such is the reputation he has carved out for himself. “I have dreamt of doing that as a boy and whether I lead the team or not, I always do what I can to help the team.”
Sammy is one of the boys too. Composed and sagacious as he is, he can also get caught up in the moment sometimes, like he did on Tuesday night when he celebrated every boundary with a pump of the fist. It made for great viewing; the captain having a ball, but also quickly regaining his focus before the next delivery. Talk of joie de vivre. ”I could safely say West Indies are the second favourite team for the fans (all over the world, behind their own home team),” Sammy had said before the game against Australia. There is little evidence to suggest otherwise
Bravo can’t stop talking highly of Sammy. “He's very down to earth, very approachable, keeps the dressing room calm. There is no malice in our time, so whether Sammy is the captain, Chris Gayle is the captain, we all get along very well, respect each other and always have a smile on our face,” he said. "By nature, we are all laidback individuals, we all enjoy this game, as long as we enjoy we perform better. We play for the fans, those are the ones we come out to entertain, so it's important we always have a smile on our face, to play with a lot of passion. We play our cricket with a lot of flair, enjoying ourselves, enjoying the competition but never going too overboard. All West Indians are like that, we just want to entertain our fans. The people of Bangladesh come out every game and support the tournament, so it's important that we give them their money's worth. Enjoy the game, it's one we were born to play and it's a pleasure to represent your country in such a big tournament. Because of cricket, we all have this luxurious life that we live, so it's important that we treat it with respect, respect the opposition but play hard and play fair.”
West Indies is now within two wins of defending its crown, Sri Lanka ahead of it in Thursday’s first semifinal in a repeat of the last edition’s final. The Sammy seal of authority and the Bravo seal of entertainment will mean repeat is as much a possibility as revenge is.