Darren Sammy spoke to AOC columnist Peter Miller about the reasons behind his Test retirement, the future for West Indies cricket and the prospect of playing with and against Kevin Pietersen.
Darren Sammy is the personification of West Indian cricket in the 21st Century. He swings the bat hard and plays the game with a smile so broad it is infectious. He was the man who led his team to World T20 success in 2012, while becoming the first player from the tiny island of St Lucia to play Test cricket for the West Indies. In all but eight of his Test matches he was the captain of the side, leading his team over a hundred times in all international formats. When you meet him you are struck first by his height, then by his charisma. Sammy has an easy-going intensity which engages you and puts you at ease, all at the same time. You can see why he is considered a leader of men.
His Test career started with a bang, taking seven wickets against England at Old Trafford in 2007 in a match that the West Indies came close to winning despite being set 455 for victory. On his next tour of England, in 2012, he scored a Test hundred. But which performance meant the most to him?
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“Both of them have a lot of significance for me,” he says. “The seven-fer was on my debut which was a dream start for me. But the Test hundred against England at Trent Bridge was also special for me: the conditions in which it was scored with the team under pressure, and a record partnership with Marlon Samuels. They’re equally the same for me, but any cricketer would dream of having those to his name.”
In May, Sammy announced that he was calling time on his Test career when the news he was being replaced as captain filtered through. It is a decision he feels very comfortable with, and he is clear on why he made the call.
“I have no regrets about Test retirement at all. Like I explained when I retired, it came to a situation where the director of cricket, the coaches and the selectors, they had a new direction that they wanted the team to go and they didn’t have a role for me to play. I have always been an advocate that cricket is not about one individual, it is a team sport. For me it was quite easy when I found out the direction the team wanted to go and I am all out for West Indies cricket moving forward. My dream and I guess everybody’s dream is to do the right things to get us back as a top Test team.”
It is in the shortest form of the game that Sammy has received his biggest plaudits, though. Even the most cold-hearted cynic couldn’t help but smile at the cricket his side played at the World T20 in Sri Lanka two years ago. The St Lucian sees it as the best of times.
“Everybody enjoyed watching the West Indians play T20. The flair, the way we play. In fact they love watching us play anyway. We bring a different flair to the game and that is why it is important that West Indies cricket stays on top. The World T20 final, I remember that night in Colombo, yeah, under a lot of pressure as a captain and as a leader and to go out in Sri Lanka and the West Indies winning that cup – yeah, I would say it would pass as a highlight of my career.”
Sammy has become a global T20 specialist, even more so now that his Test career is over. He has just finished playing in the IPL for Sunrisers Hyderabad, now he is playing in the NatWest T20 Blast for Glamorgan, and in matter of weeks he will heading home for the Caribbean Premier League. He’ll follow that with a stint in Australia’s Big Bash League. So how does county cricket differ to the rest?
“It is a different experience in county cricket. Most of the games are played here on a Friday. As we know, T20 is a fast-paced game and in most tournaments I have played you more or less have one or two days between matches. Waiting six days can be a challenge. For me, I am only here playing T20. I have to find other ways of passing the time. I think the people in charge of directing this tournament – with the County Championship, the one-day games and the T20 – they are trying to find the right balance.
“I guess this is the best they could come up with. But it kind of limits the attention given to the tournament with the availability of international players – it is a long time to commit to a tournament like this. It means five games in a month so it is kind of difficult to commit to that.”
West Indian mystery spinner Sunil Narine recently made the decision to miss two Tests against New Zealand to play in the final of the IPL. This caused a lot of disapprobation in some quarters: some were critical of Narine, while others felt the intransigent West Indies board was at fault. Sammy’s thoughts are somewhere in the middle.
“I understand both parties. It’s a situation that has brought a lot of debate over the last few seasons since the IPL started. We have had our own issues. You know, that is the challenge that cricketers face nowadays. The IPL brings that financial gain that most boards apart from Australia, probably England and also India… most of the other players from the other boards will have those decisions put forward to them.
“For instance, I remember Sunny Narine before he played Test cricket, he played the one-day series in Australia. We were all tempted in play him in the Tests but he had a $750,000 contract to play for Kolkata. What I can see over the last two seasons [is that] the West Indies Cricket Board has made a special effort to give these players the availability. In life you can’t always get what you want; no matter what, there is a compromise. And the compromise was that we go out and play and the No Objection Certificate states that you have to be back in the Caribbean at a certain time. So if you have got your part of the deal, it is good that you honour your side of the bargain. It is a very difficult situation, but the player has to live with the decisions he needs to take.”
This Friday, the West Indian will be playing against Kevin Pietersen in a NatWest T20 Blast fixture against Surrey, next month he will be captaining the English batting maverick in the Caribbean Premier League. Sammy says this is just the way cricket is nowadays.
“That is the beauty of T20 cricket around the world these days. One minute you are in the dressing room with teammates and a week later you are playing against them. That is the beauty of franchise cricket. That is what T20 has done for cricketers. It is important to realise that cricket is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Right now a player doesn’t have to play for his country to make a living around the world or to be known around the world in different franchises. It will be good to play against Kevin, and I am looking forward to his experience and knowledge when he comes over to the St Lucia Zouks.”
This kind of situation is only going to become more common as T20 expands and, whatever your thoughts on the pros and cons of franchise cricket, seeing the world’s best cricketers playing with and against each other is certainly great for the fans.
Follow Peter Miller @TheCricketGeek