Creating a professional ethos, improving fitness levels and identifying new talent are the key focus areas for West Indies as they aim to break into the top half of the Test table by 2015, their captain Darren Sammy has said. In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, Sammy, who was appointed captain until the end of the 2011 season, also spoke about his experience thus far, the role of seniors in the side and his dynamics with former captain Chris Gayle.
"Obviously bringing the whole professional attitude into practice properly and getting fit [are top of the agenda]," Sammy said, outlining the side's vision, as they strive to shake off years of sub-par performances. "I believe the fitter you are, the more right decisions you will make. You will not cramp up under pressure. Being in the top five by 2015, and building a strong team that will go out and compete against anybody [are also part of the plan].
"If you noticed 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, the right work ethic to go out and represent West Indies. Start changing the whole laidback type of culture, just strictly being professional. Knowing what to do for the team, and doing whatever it takes to make the team win [are the goals]."
Sammy took charge of the side in a period of turmoil caused by the team's on-field disappointments, and continued wrangling between the board and senior players, Gayle in particular. Several critics have questioned Sammy's place in the side as an allrounder, pointing to his modest batting returns at No. 8. Sammy has gained more success with the ball - he has 46 wickets in 16 Tests - but his presence in the team relegates the much faster Kemar Roach to the bench. Sammy said the criticism was unfair and believed his record was good enough to merit a spot in the starting XI.
"I think I have justified my selection as a bowler in the team," Sammy said. "My batting has obviously not been up to scratch. It's something I have to work on.
"If I look at my Test record it is okay. In every team somebody will always be the fall guy. So far it's always been me. It's tough luck on Kemar. At the end of the day the selectors pick the team. What's good is that we have competition for spots in the bowling department."
Sammy also revealed that while he was ready to lead the team through the tough times, he had no qualms over playing under someone else. "I am not somebody who, if not the captain, will be sulking and stuff like that. To be honest, I never dreamt of being the captain. Whether I am the captain or not, I will be the same person. I enjoy my job, but what I am saying is I would enjoy my cricket even if I am not the captain."
The Gayle-WICB dispute has raged for the bulk of Sammy's tenure as captain - he took charge after Gayle's demotion. However, he challenged the perception that he was the board's man and insisted he had always enjoyed a good working relationship with Gayle and had no part to play in how the feud unfolded.
"The whole situation with Gayle is not in my hands. 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 that we have an issue like this now. Hopefully something positive will come out of this issue."
Even as West Indies make a concerted push towards introducing new talent, Sammy said seniors like Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan have a role to play in the side's future. "You saw today [fifth day of the Dominica Test] what Shiv [Chanderpaul] 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. I believe that 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."