'West Indies are stagnant. We are not going anywhere'
"A lot has been happening," Darren Sammy says, as he sits down for this interview. It is Tuesday evening and we are in Dubai, where Sammy is playing for Peshawar Zalmi in the inaugural Pakistan Super League. He looks weary and not keen to talk; not the Sammy we are accustomed to, with his sunny smiles and positivity. He reveals that he has been busy in a dialogue with the WICB over player fees for the World T20. Also, obviously with planning for the tournament, in which he will lead West Indies.
Being back as West Indies T20 captain must come as a shot in the arm for you?
People see it as a surprise, but I have been captain of the T20 team since 2010. It is just a continuation. It is my fifth World Cup, in a format which we won, and we stand a good chance of winning again. I am always excited about leading, especially the T20 team. It gives me pleasure and joy to captain some of the most sought after T20 players in the world.
Brian Lara has said: watch out for West Indies in the World T20. Between the last tournament and now, what has changed for the team?
We are not often called favourites. The difference now is we have barely played any T20Is since the last World T20. Most of us have not been selected for ODI cricket as well. It is only by playing in different leagues that we continue keeping ourselves match ready.
It is good that we are playing in Dubai [in the PSL], which is similar conditions to India. The experience we have in the dressing room, especially playing in India [in the IPL], will take us a long way. Take it one game at a time and believe we are the best. When it comes to T20 cricket, we are a confident bunch. I remember in 2012 when we won, it was about believing that we could win the World Cup. That was the goal. That was the mission.
As a captain how do you deal with the challenge of leading players who have not played as a team for a long time?
It is always a challenge, but the plus for me is that the core of the team remains the same. If I recall, probably eight or nine of us were in the team that won in 2012 and the team that lost in the semi-final in 2014. These guys are very clear about their roles now in the team. It is a team that is very experienced, and it shouldn't be too difficult for them to play the role that they have been asked to.
It must be difficult to keep a positive mind, considering you have not been given a WICB contract?
At the end of the day West Indies cricket is not about one individual. Since the inception of retainer contracts, I have always had one. To not be offered a contract is disappointing. But I have moved on. Last year I have played probably the World Cup and a few T20s. And now we have only been selected for T20s. I have not really represented the West Indies. So I ply my trade in different T20 leagues around the world. That is how I provide for my family.
Any sportsman, their passion, their desire is to represent their county. That is where your ultimate pride is. That has always been the case for me. I have learned throughout my career that nothing lasts forever. It is about me keeping myself fit and, when given the opportunity, like in this World Cup, going out and representing my region, hopefully we could win the World Cup. Because I believe we could.
Our cricket is suffering because we are not making the right decisions. And it did not start with me, it did not start with Pollard, Bravo, Chris Gayle, Jason Holder. It started decades ago, way back. We have been known to manage situations poorly.
How would having a contract help you?
Having a retainer contract is [recognising] what you do in the field. If you noticed, only the guys who are playing Test cricket got retainer contracts. There are guys who play one-day and T20 cricket, formats West Indies does well in. You can safely say T20 is the format we are best at. There are criteria based on which you are supposed to get a contract. I believe what I have done, what some of the other players have done, merits a contract. Simple. I also don't believe that if you are a senior [player] you are supposed to get a contract. It should be based on what you have done in the matches you have been asked to play.
Why are you not part of the West Indies' Players Association?
They [WIPA] are the ones WICB negotiates with on player issues. But 14 of the 15-member World Cup squad is not part of WIPA. West Indies cricket has gone through a lot and it will continue to go through a lot. I don't see things changing anytime soon.
What exactly is the issue that has disturbed you? Is it related to the contracts dispute that flared up during the India tour?
We players are not happy with the remuneration offered by the WICB to participate in the World T20. We have not given any authorisation to WIPA to negotiate on our behalf. A large number of players in the squad do not receive any significant remuneration from WICB at all, so we want the opportunity to negotiate fairly the financial terms within the contract.
In the past, 25% of the income received by the WICB for participating in ICC tournaments was distributed to the squad. The remuneration being offered now compared to previous World Cup events is shocking, to say the least. We are being offered now just $6900 per match across the board, irrespective of experience. Players are being asked to start providing services from nearly four weeks ahead of the World Cup and be guaranteed just $27,600 if they play all the guaranteed matches, which is a staggering reduction. What happens to a player who does not feature in a match?
The WICB say they cannot figure out what 25% of the participation fee is as the ICC's formula has changed. Surely they must know a figure. What is it? We want the match fees to be doubled. I have also written to the WICB, asking if they have got a sponsor for the team, and what is the sponsorship revenue. We need answers.
Is there a danger of West Indies pulling out of the World T20 in case the WICB does not want to negotiate?
Under my watch players have never said they would strike or not take part in the World Cup. All we've said is, we don't accept the terms given or agreed by an association that doesn't represent us.
Considering that Jason Holder was denied a chance to play in the PSL and Rayad Emrit lost the Trinidad captaincy for playing in the Bangladesh Premier League, do you reckon that the WICB and domestic boards have shown themselves to be poor negotiators with Caribbean players who play in T20 leagues worldwide?
Not only in T20, in our Test team, in our one-day team. It just shows the state of West Indies cricket. We are stagnant. We are not going anywhere. The only team that has shown that they could win cups is the T20 team. They call us all sorts of names, but yes, when selected, we still turn up to play for our country.
You cannot ignore the rise of T20 cricket. It is crazy to ignore how T20 cricket has taken the world by storm. [Dwayne] Bravo and myself were talking the other day. Look at how many players like Bravo have come through since he made his Test debut. Remember, West Indies believed in five bowlers, a wicketkeeper and five batsmen; or a wicketkeeper, four fast bowlers and six batsmen. Since Bravo was selected back in 2004, I remember thinking: "Wow, they have selected Bravo, that means allrounders could get a chance. Since Bravo you have had Dwayne Smith, you have myself, Jason Holder, now you have Carlos Braithwaite and Andre Russell.
Braithwaite just got an IPL contract worth probably $600,000. In this day and age how are you going to manage that? There must be a medium in which all parties can be happy. Because first of all we can't compete with Australia, India and England in terms of the pay structure for their players, who could say, "Okay, this year I don't want to or I can't play the IPL", because they are well looked after by their boards. What happens to other boards that cannot do that? So there must be a medium where both parties are happy.
What about the argument that Test cricket in the Caribbean is suffering as players are giving up the longer format to play T20? Is there a way out where Test cricket remains strong and players play all three formats?
I played Test cricket. I was given the captaincy at a time when they said they needed stability in West Indies cricket. Four years later I was told I was not needed as a captain and as a player. I was 29, 30 years old. That was the message sent to me. You know, I made myself unavailable [to T20 leagues] for so many years just to make sure I stay home and play for West Indies. I am retired from Test cricket. It is a decision that I don't regret. So I thought I should commit myself to ODI and T20 cricket. Our Test cricket is a reflection of our first-class cricket.
How good is the first-class cricket in the Caribbean?
They have professionalised the league. Guys are getting paid way much better at the expense of international players, but the cricket itself has not improved. Leeward Islands have probably lost 14 out of the 16 matches, with probably one being rained out. Matches are finishing inside two days. It is a reflection of our Test cricket. Spinners dominate the first-class season because the pitches are turning from day one. You don't get that in Test cricket.
What is the solution?
Ask the guys in charge, who make the decisions. There are people in place for that. I am here to play and try to win matches.
If these men in charge sit down with the players, is there a way out?
Of course. There is plenty of information. The relationship has always been a broken one.
How concerned were you by WICB CEO Michael Muirhead's statement that players like you, who did not play in the just concluded Super50, but appeared in the Big Bash - might not be considered for the tri-series against Australia and South Africa in a few months?
Yes, and he also said he wants the best available players to compete in the Super50 one-day tournament, knowing that some of us were given no-objection certificates to play in the Big Bash. Also, three months ago the so-called best players were available for the ODI series against Sri Lanka. None of them were selected. So what message are you sending? One minute you say the best players should play and then three months later the same players are not selected. Look, I am 32 years old. I am not an Under-19 player anymore. Priorities change with difference situations.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who claims he was forced to retire, recently said he fears for the Caribbean youngsters, given the way the WICB has treated players. Do you relate to his feelings?
For years now they have been calling the guys who play T20 around the world mercenaries, money grabbers. At the end of the day, this is our job. I can't go to Dubai Mall and collect everything in the store and say, I'm Darren Sammy, West Indies cricketer, and everything will be paid for. No, it is not going to happen.
I know and I can vouch for all the guys here that there is no better feeling than representing your country. There are many ways things can be resolved, but you need proper communication. Too many people with big egos, man.
How then does West Indies cricket some day utilise the services of Darren Sammy?
Oh, no, no. Once I retire, that's it for me. And it is not far. I have three kids - 11, six, and my youngest daughter will be three soon. I have not seen them losing their front teeth. I have missed so many first days of their school, so many birthdays…
That is what I do - cricket is my job. Cricket has been my life. You miss so many other important aspects of your personal life. And people label you so many different things. I am a professional. My passion is cricket. The day I have lost that passion is the day I am done. It is not far.
Did it hurt to go unsold in the IPL auction?
Not really. I believe international cricket is the window to the IPL. I have barely played international cricket. Last time, the day before the auction I got 80-odd against Ireland in the first game of the World Cup. Everybody was watching.
Life goes on. I told my wife there is an opportunity that I'll be home for two months. April is a big month for me: it is my wife's and my mom's birthday - both of them were born on the same day. My daughter's birthday is also in April. I get to be home for one of the occasions I have missed for the last five or six years.
Are you looking forward to pairing up with Phil Simmons, the West Indies head coach?
I have been looking forward to it for a long time. He is well respected. I can't wait to start with the camp in Dubai immediately after the PSL, and then the World Cup. We picked the best possible 15 that we could have. We gave [Sunil] Narine the best opportunity to be in the squad, even though he needs to go for the ICC test [to clear his action]. We also gave Pollard, who is injured, the best opportunity to get fit. He has been training and his knee is getting better after the surgery.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo