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West Indies needed someone to inspire and unite and someone fully committed to the role. Darren Sammy ticked the boxes but his numbers never stacked up.
May 10, 2014
On the eve of the Test series against New Zealand late last year, Darren Sammy marked down some significant personal objectives. "I want to reassure myself as a Test captain and Test cricketer," he said.
Little more than three weeks later, a dejected, shell-shocked Sammy sat down in the indoor nets at Seddon Park to try to explain away a West Indies collapse that had seen them lose all ten wickets in a session to consign them to a 2-0 series defeat. "There are tough decisions to be made by the coach and the director of cricket, some careers are on the line, could be mine as well, you never know," he said, with the honesty and openness that has always been Sammy's way.
He was right, too. That proved his last press conference as West Indies' Test captain and a West Indies Test cricketer. You sensed at the time that he had a gut feeling about the loss of the former status, but the latter has come somewhat out of the blue. He had never chased the captaincy but did not want to let it go yet; now that it had gone, he has decided the long format is not for him anymore.
Rumours began circulating as West Indies arrived in New Zealand from India that change could be afoot, but the gap in their Test programme since December meant the axe did not come until yesterday.
The 2-0 loss in New Zealand made it four heavy Test losses in five matches - a run broken by the notable draw in Dunedin, but which without rain would have been another loss - and although that was pegged against six wins on the bounce, those included victories against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe on home soil. Overall Sammy's record as captain stood at: played 30, won eight, lost 12, drawn 10.
And neither was it just the losses, it was the manner of them, capitulating as West Indies did in Hamilton, Wellington, Mumbai and Kolkata. "It's the same record we keep hearing," Sammy said after the New Zealand series concluded. Any small gains - Shane Shillingford's bowling, Darren Bravo's double-hundred, Denesh Ramdin's counter-attacking century - were offset by spates of dropped catches, batsmen undone at the first sight of swing (or spin), and a lack of basic consistency in pace bowling.
However, Sammy has not just been a victim of the results. It would be possible to argue that as a leader he remained a viable choice for captain, but his inability to master two disciplines well enough to justify a place without question hurt his credentials (his fielding, especially the slip catching, remains among the best in the world). Trying to fit 12 players into 11 is a problem often faced when trying to balance a side, but when the trickiest piece of the jigsaw is the captain it becomes an unsustainable situation.
This was not a scenario that had crept up on West Indies. In a sense, then, you could argue that they have reaped what they sowed, but having suffered a damaging strike in 2009, which forced them to field a 2nd XI against Bangladesh, the board wanted someone detached, as much as is ever possible in the West Indies, from the political wrangles.
When Sammy took over the role from Chris Gayle in 2010, he was not even a regular in the starting XI. West Indies needed someone to inspire and unite and someone fully committed to the role. Sammy, a man brimful of passion, ticked those boxes among a small field of candidates.
But the numbers never stacked up: as captain he averaged 22.43 with the bat and 39.61 with the ball (even when West Indies won six Tests on the run, that batting figure only touched 30 and the bowling number was inflated to 55). Sammy, to his credit, knew this and often acknowledged the need to pull his weight. But he was neither a Test-class third seamer nor a No. 6 or 7 batsman.
The problem was also exacerbated by the fact that West Indies' best chance of bowling a side out twice in Tests now come from their spinners - at least until Kemar Roach is fit and able to bowl at 90mph again, even on the unforgiving Caribbean pitches, perhaps partnered by Jason Holder, Miguel Cummins or a revived Fidel Edwards.
Shillingford, now that he is cleared to resume his Test career after work to remodel his action for a second time, and Sunil Narine are set to form a twin spin attack against New Zealand next month. In their most recent Test, the Hamilton encounter, West Indies also fielded two spinners (Veerasammy Permaul partnered Narine) and it left Sammy sharing the new ball alongside Tino Best. Sammy was actually by far the better of the two seamers, but that was more an indictment of Best.
His decision to follow the sack with retirement, at the age of 30, is perhaps an acknowledgment that he never cracked Test cricket for a sustained period of time for all his effort and commitment. It is true that those two words should be prerequisites for international cricketers, but Sammy oozed them while some team-mates did not. There were also a few memorable performances sprinkled among the 38 appearances: 7 for 66 on debut against England, his maiden Test hundred against the same opposition in 2011, and a match-winning 5 for 29 against Pakistan in Providence.
However, ultimately, much like West Indies cricket for two decades now, the occasional spark of brilliance, the occasional victorious moment, was not enough to ever convince that the corner had been turned.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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