'Captaincy is overrated'
People have questioned your place in the side, let alone your position as captain. How do you handle all this?
As long as you have mental toughness you can achieve anything you believe [in]. That's how I go about doing things. I don't see myself as a saviour. I see myself as someone who tries his best to make a difference, brings the guys together and leads in the best manner possible.
How did the players react when you became captain, and how have you gone about trying to get respect?
I have always been a team player. I give my all, be it as a 12th man or as a player. That's just my nature. Of course, my record doesn't match up to a world-class player, but what I have is passion, the heart, and the motivation. If someone is going through a rough patch, I can relate to him because I have been through it myself. As the team is rebuilding, everybody is going through a rough patch. My being captain gives them the assurance that we are in it together. That's the message I am trying to bring across.
What did you tell the team when you took over?
The talk in the media was I shouldn't be captain and I am not the person for the job. I remember, before the World Cup I pulled the guys aside and told them: I did not ask for this position. It was given to me. West Indies cricket is not about me. Anybody who has West Indies cricket at heart will go out there and give their best. And that was my message to them. They are not playing for me or the coach. They are playing for the millions of supporters who wake up early morning or stay up in the night to watch us.
What did they say?
I guess they bought into it. When we play you can see signs of us giving a fight, especially when we are out there as a bowling unit. The work the coach has done with the bowlers is paying off. As we saw in the last Test [against India], Kirk Edwards put his head down, Shiv [Chanderpaul] did what he is accustomed to doing, you saw the young [Darren] Bravo in the first innings of the second Test… you have seen guys trying to play for the team.
Were you comfortable when the captaincy was thrust on to you? Did you ever think you will become captain so soon?
I never pictured becoming captain. I was just delighted to play for West Indies; it was my childhood dream. When it [captaincy] was given to me I knew the state our cricket was in, and understood it would be a very difficult job. I saw it as another chapter, another challenge in my life, that I was meant to face. It has its ups and downs but I am a fighter. I am trying to do my best for West Indies.
You knew when you accepted that job that it would be portrayed as Sammy v Chris Gayle. Did you think about that?
My wife told me before I was captain that I was the most-loved cricketer in the region [laughs]. Today, at the end of the Test, you saw a full stadium, West Indies earning a draw, and the people rally behind us. When I meet people in the streets they urge me to keep doing what I am doing. It gives me motivation to go on. Somebody has pointed out to me that critics voice their opinions quite loudly, but the majority of the people are silent. So I should just keep doing what I am doing.
People saw some leadership qualities in me. Today if they tell me, "Darren you are not doing what we thought you could have done," life goes on. I am that type of person. If I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing, then I will give it up without a fuss.
How did you bear with West Indies' poor results when taking over as captain?
Our cricket has been in decline for the last 15 years. When I took up the job I knew I was not going to perform miracles. That's the reality you have to accept. We have been losing for a long time and have been doing the same things over and over. A new coach came on board and he brought a different feel. My feeling is, if you remain the same, you will never improve. The coach is bringing some new ideas, a more professional attitude, and unless the guys buy into it you will find inconsistency in our performances. As long as we buy into what the coach has put forward, this team can do well.
Let's flip it around. If you are not the captain, you won't get into the Test team. So in some ways, was it a selfish decision for you to accept this role? Kemar Roach would be there in the team, for example. So how you respond to criticism from certain quarters that it was a selfish decision?
Ha! I just keep doing what I am doing. At the end of the day if I look at my Test record, it's okay. In every team somebody will be always be the fall guy. So far it's always been me. Kemar… it's tough luck on him. At the end of the day the selectors pick the team and Fidel Edwards came and took so many wickets on his return to international cricket. What's good is that we have competition for spots in the bowling department.
I also think I have justified my selection as a bowler in the team. My batting has obviously not been up to scratch. It's something I have to work on.
Do you feel you have to prove a point each time you play?
I take five wickets in a match and the credit goes to the pitch. I have accepted that people will criticise whatever I do. Whether I perform or not, people will have something to say about it. I tend not to focus on that. I have a job to do and believe in my ability and the task I have been given. I think I am doing quite well. I don't dwell too much on negative criticism. The more I get [criticised], the more motivated I get.
Some people call you a puppet of the board - a board man. What do you have to say about that?
Board man! I don't know what they mean by that. The selectors recommended I be made captain and I'm doing my job.
For example, you didn't attend the WIPA awards.
Oh, I wasn't the only one who didn't go. We had a few players who didn't go to the WIPA awards. I guess it's my name that has been caught. I have dealt with that issue. I spoke to the president of the players' association [Dinanath Ramnarine]. I decided not to go for my own reasons. Other players decided not to go for their reasons. If fact, I remember making a statement clarifying. I would never ask somebody not to go to the WIPA awards. I don't understand what the president of the players' association was trying to prove. These are small matters and life goes on.
The whole situation with Gayle is not in my hands. The people dealing with it have [discussed with] Gayle what he needs to do. And the coach has a way forward for the team, and I believe whoever doesn't want to buy into that, doesn't want to fit into that…
Why do you think he doesn't fit in the team?
I never said he doesn't fit in the team. The matter is being dealt with, and the sooner they resolve it the better it would be for us.
You said in a press conference that it was Gayle who first supported Gibson.
I can never forget it. It was in Guyana. The coach had his say and then Gayle, who was captain the time, got up and said Ottis Gibson was who we needed.
He said that even in his latest release - that he backed Gibson first and was disappointed he was let down by the coach. Are you sad that you have been caught in all this?
Those are all the hurdles in life [one has] to jump over. Before I was captain, the one thing I knew for sure was to go out there and give my full support.
Did he support you?
Yes. He publicly said he would support me. I have no issues with Christopher. He helped me throughout the World Cup. I was always going to him for advice and stuff like that. It's sad we have issues like this now. Hopefully something positive will come out of it.
All this negativity around you, has it changed you as a person? Are you more careful now?
No. I treat everyone the same. I have learned to be me. If I try to be someone else, it won't work. I will go down as Darren Sammy, the one who always smiles. That's who I will continue to be. I believe in myself.
We are at a stage where we are trying to build our team. When I see Kirk score, Adrian Barath hit a hundred, Bravo being consistent, Roach, Fidel… it's great to see [all this]. Our team can compete and we are creating opportunities. It gives me great joy.
My stint has ended with this match [Sammy was appointed captain until the end of the 2011 season] and who knows what will happen.
What do you wish for? What do you think will happen?
I don't know. Like I said, whether I am the captain or not, I will be the same. I am not somebody who, if he's not captain, will be sulking and stuff like that. To be honest, I never dreamt of being captain. Whether I am the captain or not, I will be the same person. Now that I am captain, everything has been thrown in my direction.
Have you enjoyed the role? Making the decisions, the buzz on the field…
Oh yes, I have enjoyed it. I enjoy my cricket. I like thinking about plans, talking to the bowler about them, and when, boom, it works [it is exciting]. This is cricket. You're thinking about the game and executing the plan. I enjoyed my job. But what I am saying is, I will still enjoy my cricket, even if I am not captain.
People also say that the coach is more powerful than you.
Obviously the coach is the head. He does the planning, together with me. I believe in any team the coach and captain should have a very good relationship in order for that team to go forward.
In the history of West Indies there hasn't been a captain who has not been the best player, be it Lloyd, Richards, Lara, Walsh, Richardson, Worrell. Did the fact that you weren't still a regular in the side affect you in any way when you were named captain?
Well, that was in the past, man. We are looking towards the future. The best player is not always the best captain. I respect all the captains who have led West Indies, dating back to the first black man who captained the team, Frank Worrell. He set the tone for everybody. Clive Lloyd did a lot of things with the team he had. We were losing and he transformed the team. Captaining has never been easy. It's a matter of what you do out there in the cricket field and how your team responds. How you are going make your players come together and perform for one cause - the success of the West Indies team.
Have you sat back, thought, and felt proud about the kind of names who preceded you as West Indies captain, and then to see your name up there?
It's not a dream come true, as I never dreamt about it. What I respect is the legacy and the history they created. Sir Frank Worrell going to Australia, Sir Viv dominating bowlers, Lloyd changing the whole attitude of the way we played cricket, Lara becoming the best batsman, Shiv as captain, [Dwayne] Bravo captaining few ODIs and Tests... to me, at the end of the day, captaincy is overrated. Seriously. Yes, you are the one making the decisions. [But] you need your team-mates to rally around you.
It doesn't seem like there is any obvious captain apart from you in this current team. You say captaincy is overrated...
It is, for me. I wouldn't say it's the leadership that is bringing about the change. I think the guys watched the movie Fire in Babylon and saw what West Indies cricket represents. I knew about our history and to see it put into a package was really awe-inspiring. I understood a lot about our fans and what we owe them.
How have your interactions with these former greats been? How have they reacted to you as captain?
I call Sir Lance [Gibbs] legend. I call all of them legends. I was joking with Mr [Desmond] Haynes and I could not believe this was the man I watched on TV and now... look at me, I am joking with him. And we were conversing like we were of the same age. It is wonderful having guys like them, to go and talk to them. The inclusion of Desmond in the dressing room has been a huge positive, although the batting in this series might not really have shown that. But just his presence, what he's done and his record - it's been a good thing and the guys are relaxed knowing they can talk to someone like him, about anything - be it life or cricket.
I watched cricket with my Pops (father), saw Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Richardson with his floppy hat, hooking all these Australian fast bowlers, Curtly Ambrose, Lara... It's a dream meeting these guys, and now rubbing shoulders with them.
You talk about the vision ahead, the brave new direction. Can you explain what this vision is all about?
I don't know if the coach wants me to talk about it. Obviously bringing the whole professional attitude into practice and getting fit. I believe the fitter you are, the more right decisions you will make. You will not cramp up under pressure. Also, we will start playing hard. [We are also looking at] being in the top five by 2015, and little team goals like building a strong team, a team that will go out and compete against anybody. Also, getting [new] players. If you notice, over the last couple of years, we have been rotating the same guys. So now we are exposing a few more players, getting the right system and work ethic to go out and represent the West Indies. [We want] to start changing the whole laidback type of culture; be strictly professional; know what to do for the team and do whatever it takes to make the team win.
What role do you see for the likes of Chanderpaul and Sarwan in the future?
Like you saw today, what Shiv does and what he has been doing throughout his career. He has the ability to rally the younger players around him. And we have a number of young players in the team presently, but you saw the way he guided Kirk Edwards through to his first century. Hopefully he can carry on batting like he's been doing.
Sars [Sarwan] is a class player. He has been in this position before and has always bounced back. I believe he will bounce back being the classy player that he is and the fighter that he is. So I will never write Sarwan off. I believe he still has a lot to offer. Everybody goes through a bad patch. It's not how you fall, it's about how you get up, and how quickly you do.
How have they dealt with you considering they both are former West Indies captains?
Well like I said, I have been me. I have been Darren, the same person. And I think it will be very difficult not to want to deal with Darren [wild laughter].
What have you discovered about yourself during this phase?
I think I am mentally very tough. I surprise myself. I am tougher than I thought. Even my team-mates have realised that. They tell me, "Boy, you are a tough one, boy." I thank my mom for raising me in such a way that I am so mentally strong. I have utmost faith in Jesus Christ. He did nothing wrong and yet he was crucified. So I am prepared. Ever since I made my debut I have always been under pressure.
How big a role does religion play in your life and in your cricket? I heard you wanted to become a priest?
I wanted to be a pastor. One of my favourite lines is, "The almighty never gives you more than you can bear." So I see it as: whatever comes my way I can face it.
Do you read the bible every day or pray regularly?
I have so many people praying for me. The more prayers go up, the more blessings come down. I have so many people praying for me.
Who do you pray for?
Yes, I pray for my team-mates. I pray for us to go out there and put in a good performance. I pray for guidance, leadership, I pray for me to make the right decisions and I pray for me to go out there and perform. I ask God for a lot of things. We are a praying team. We pray every session and before every session. At the start of every day, first thing before the warm-up. Everyone. Together.
Do you only pray, or even preach?
I used to preach when I was a little boy. Preach around the neighbourhood and the community. But I guess God had a better plan for me. I wouldn't say better plan, but cricket came in and I could still minister in a different way. There is life after cricket. When I am home, I make sure I go to church.
The glamour and the material world hasn't changed you?
Glamour? Me? Look at me. You know, I think I just be myself. If someone would tell my parents that your son is disrespectful, I would let my parents down. My image [overrides] all the criticism I get, because as a person I have a very clean image.
Has no one criticised you as a person?
Exactly, and that's what keeps me going. Me being me. And whatever people say, after I leave this game, despite all the criticism I get, people will still say that as a person Darren was a good guy.
And that means a lot to you?
Yeah, because I wouldn't like to be disrespectful or arrogant or anything like that. Because that's not how my mom raised me. The humble background that I came from, it will be very sad if I ever changed.
So does that mean you will never sledge a batsman?
No there is a difference being competitive. At the end of the day, it's good to have some banter in the middle.
Do you ever abuse someone on the field?
I remember telling Fidel before the last over, "Come on Fidel, I don't eat ribs but I would love a rib for lunch," and I am laughing by myself and nobody takes me seriously. That's about it.
There's plenty of criticism. Do they have more sympathy in St Lucia?
No, no. I wouldn't say sympathy. There is love. Dominica is also home. Whenever I play in the islands, from St Kitts to Grenada, there is always more love for me. I am comfortable playing anywhere. It's just about going out there and doing my job.
Was today your proudest day as captain?
The whole Test match, the kind of character my team showed, it was tremendous. Three bowlers, Shiv playing his part, Kirk Edwards, Rampaul coming back after being sick… India led by over 100 runs and we managed to bring out our best batting performance in the series on the last day, and we held India to a draw. It was great when we beat Pakistan as well.
Ah, for the first time you said "my" team.
Ha! Did I? [Laughs].
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo