Sammy vows to bring passion and energy
Darren Sammy never dreamed of being the West Indies captain. He once said his goal was to be the workhorse of the side. Yet after playing only eight Tests, he finds himself catapulted to the forefront of West Indies cricket in a time of upheaval and change, with a tough tour of Sri Lanka on the horizon, but none of this appears to faze him.
"I am going to be bold and frank," Sammy told ESPNcricinfo. "I will let the players know what I expect and I, myself, will set an example. I will bring out the passion, the energy, and the commitment to West Indies cricket."
Sammy was given the captaincy after his predecessor Chris Gayle, and vice-captain Dwayne Bravo chose not to sign central contracts last month. The pair, along with Kieron Pollard, have forged lucrative Twenty20 careers in domestic tournaments, including the IPL, and refused WICB's contracts which stipulated that they must make themselves available for the West Indies team at all times.
The selectors decided it was important to have a captain who wanted to make that commitment, and placed Sammy and the Australian-born batsman Brendan Nash in charge of the Test squad until the end of the 2011 home series, ending Gayle's three-year period at the helm of the team. Gayle and Bravo are in the squad that is headed to Sri Lanka, and Sammy is confident of having his former captain's support.
"Ever since I started my career in 2004, Chris has been the one who has made me feel comfortable. I have a good relationship with him, and with most of the players. He has said he will give me and the team his full support, which I know he means."
Sammy said he doesn't feel any pressure to justify his place despite not being a regular member of the Test squad since he marked his Test debut in 2007 with 7 for 66 at Old Trafford. Since then he has been in and out of the side, averaging 19.40 with the bat and 27.74 with the ball. "I have full confidence in my ability," Sammy said. "When I have been given the opportunity to play Test cricket, my stats show that I have done well."
West Indies have slipped to seventh place in the ICC Test rankings and eighth in the ODI chart and Sammy, obviously, is keen to lead the side back up the table. To do this he talks about thinking clearly on the field and executing properly, about doing the right things. But most of all, he talks about playing with pride and passion - something West Indies teams of recent vintage have often lacked.
"I vow to represent the West Indies with pride and dignity," he said. "Whatever we do, whether we are fielding, batting or bowling, you do with pride."
He realises this is no overnight task, that West Indies are in a rebuilding phase, and the Sri Lanka tour is merely the first step in what will be a long journey back to prominence. He remains optimistic though, that everyone is on the same page. "It will take a strong work ethic and discipline to get us there. We have to work as a team. We have to enjoy what we do. When we do that, and when we play well, it brings lots of smiles to the Caribbean people."
Sammy is acutely aware of the heritage of West Indies cricket and the responsibility of the current generation to live up to it. "I am taking on a mountain that carries so much legacy," he said, "and I will also remind the guys of the great legacy that we carry." He talks about the honour of following in the footsteps of Frank Worrell, Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards as the captain of the side. Sammy's comments are in contrast to Gayle's, who has said more than once that he does not want to be captain, and that he wouldn't be sad if Test cricket were to disappear.
Sammy plans to pick the brains of Lloyd and Richards, as well as senior players in the current team, to help him become a better captain. However, he makes it clear he will ultimately be his own man.
His expectations for the tour of Sri Lanka are simple - to compete. The squad contains a lot of new faces and he cites Shivnarine Chanderpaul as someone who sets "an excellent example" as a batsman and a cricketer that newcomers can look up to. Gayle is another player he feels can inspire the youngsters in the squad. Although Sulieman Benn will miss the first Test due to suspension, Sammy is confident the team has the bowling resources to trouble the Sri Lankan batsman.
But beyond the mathematics of wins and losses, Sammy wants to put the smiles back on the faces of West Indies fans. He wants to make them feel the same way he felt when he first started watching cricket with his father. "That's what Darren Sammy wants to do. Bring back the joy."
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo