Currently regarded as one of the top Twenty20 players in the world, Darren Sammy's leadership was crucial in his country's victory in the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 tournament. An all-rounder par excellence, Sammy has represented his country in thirty-eight Test matches scoring 1323 runs and has taken 84 wickets, whilst in the fifty-over format of the game he has played 126 ODIs scoring 1871 runs and picked up 81 wickets. His record in the Twenty20 over format is equally impressive with sixty games to his name where he has picked up forty-three wickets and scored 526 runs.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion, thirty-two year old Darren Sammy spoke about the proudest moments of his international career so far, the decline in fortunes of the West Indies as a force in international cricket, the motivation behind playing Twenty20 cricket in leagues round the world and looked forward to playing in the Pakistan Super League for Peshawar Zalmi.
By Saj Sadiq (31st January, 2016)
PakPassion : To onlookers you look like a cricketer who really enjoys playing cricket and entertaining. Is that an accurate statement?
Darren Sammy : Yes that is accurate. As a little boy growing up playing cricket was all that I wanted to do. Cricket was a way out for me and to get an opportunity to firstly play for my region and then my country warrants playing with a smile on my face. I'm a jovial person and always smiling and that's the only way I know.
PakPassion : West Indies has had many cricketing legends over the years. Which were the ones that you looked up to and revered?
Darren Sammy : When I grew up it was the back end of Sir Vivian Richards' career. I've watched more footage of him on the television than actually watched him live at the stadium. Curtly Ambrose and Brian Lara were two of my favourite West Indian cricketers. As far as non West Indian cricketers are concerned I liked watching India play particularly Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar. For South Africa I always admired the way Jacques Kallis played.
PakPassion : You were recently excluded from the list of centrally contracted players by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). How does this affect your international future?
Darren Sammy : It's the first time in the last seven or eight years that I've not been given a retainer by the WICB. It's quite disappointing but cricket has not been about Darren Sammy, it's for the West Indian people. I am disappointed that I never received a contract from the WICB but it's not my decision. I've played the two limited-overs formats for West Indies on a regular basis and performed the role I was asked. It's very disappointing, particularly as I am the Twenty20 captain, but life goes on. I guess they are more focused on Test cricket which I've retired from but I'm fully committed to the One-Day and Twenty20 format for West Indies if selected. Looking back, when I was growing up I only dreamed of playing for West Indies but now I can travel the world and play for so many different franchise teams.
PakPassion : What have been your most memorable moments for the West Indies?
Darren Sammy : I've had some fantastic times playing for West Indies. I enjoy playing for West Indies and it is still my number one priority. I have never missed a chance to play for West Indies and have always put playing for my country first and I have always made myself available for selection. My Test debut was memorable and a special moment when I took 7 for 66 against England. Also being part of the team when we won the Champions Trophy in 2004 under the leadership of one my cricket idols Brian Lara was excellent. Winning the World Twenty20 trophy as captain in 2012 against Sri Lanka has to be one of the brightest and most exciting moments and also the match against Australia in 2014 at the World Twenty20 was exciting as well as I hit thirty-four runs off thirteen balls to help us win by six wickets and then my team mates ran on the field towards me. Scoring my only Test hundred which was against England was also special. Being in the team when Chris Gayle scored the triple century and the double-hundred were also memorable moments. We all enjoy playing for West Indies and sharing the special moments.
PakPassion : Looking ahead to the World Twenty20, do you think the West Indies can repeat their performance of 2012 and lift the trophy?
Darren Sammy : The twenty over format brings teams closer together and one defining moment or one passage of play can win you the match. We have match-winners throughout the squad and that makes us a very competitive side. We have won this tournament once and been through to the semi-finals twice and we believe it's a tournament that we can win but we have to play collectively. I love leading the side and knowing that we have an experienced team and one that has a lot of caliber. As a captain it gives you a lot of confidence if you know that you have an experienced team and one that has many match-winners.
PakPassion : Kieran Powell has recently expressed an interest in playing baseball instead of continuing his cricket career. Is this something that should worry followers of cricket in the Caribbean?
Darren Sammy : Every sportsperson is entitled to ply their trade or try to play in a field where they feel they can be successful. Kieran was one of our bright youngsters coming up and one who was seen as a future leader of West Indies cricket. It's sad to see a twenty-five year old not playing cricket anymore and that does not look well for West Indies cricket but at the end of the day we are talented people in many sports. Jamaica dominates athletics and we've produced some of the greatest cricketers who have ever played the game. We have at the moment some of the most sought-after cricketers in franchise cricket. However at the end of the day if he feels he can do well in baseball then kudos to him. Whatever sport youngsters in the Caribbean choose to play, it's up to the authorities to ensure they are given the best facilities and the best mechanisms to succeed and be the best in the world.
PakPassion : If given the opportunity what would you say to the people running West Indies cricket on what needs to be done to help improve standards?
Darren Sammy : The decline of West Indies cricket did not start with us. West Indies cricket has been in decline for the past twenty plus years. I remember us losing the Frank Worrell Trophy to Australia in the 1990s and my father couldn't work for a week as he was that disappointed; that's how important that cup was. I don't think we have won that trophy ever since. The problem is that when we were producing the Laras and Ambroses and such players everybody thought that we would just continue to produce such cricketers. Whilst other countries were developing their talent by using our own expertise and copying what we did and how we played the game and to make them successful and investing in their under 15 and under 19 programmes, and developing their youngsters and infrastructure whilst we did nothing as we just thought we would continue to produce world-class cricketers.
Talent is everything but if you have talent and also work hard on your game it will always give you an edge. We didn't have anything in place to help develop and nurture the talented youngsters coming through. Yes we are still talented but due to the reasons I have mentioned, we are not dominating cricket like we used to. We didn't have a proper structure in place or plans for after all the great players retired and moved on from the game.
PakPassion : Do you think cricketers in the Caribbean are prioritising playing in Twenty20 franchise leagues around the world over playing Test cricket for the West Indies?
Darren Sammy : I wouldn't say that, but you cannot ignore the fact that twenty over cricket is something special and is getting the recognition and attention of cricketers all around the world and that cannot be ignored. When I was growing up I only ever dreamt of playing for the West Indies, but now in this age I have played for nine different franchises around the world. The fact that a youngster doesn't have to play international cricket to make a living cannot be ignored. The basics of the game has not changed but you cannot ignore the lucrative aspect of the game that is evolving. The organisers and the people running cricket cannot ignore this fact and they need to incorporate the rise of twenty over franchise cricket into the planning and ensure that all parties are happy.
I will always believe that in cricket there is no better feeling than playing for your nation but the people running cricket need to ensure that it's not a choice of either playing for your country or franchise cricket. We don't get the five match Test series that we used to when we dominated world cricket so we have to wait and see when other teams are not playing. There is a World Twenty20 tournament coming up and in the last twelve months we have only played a handful of matches in this format, so the players have to keep themselves going by playing in leagues around the world.
As for One-Day series we only played South Africa last year, then it was the World Cup and then another series against Sri Lanka. So it's difficult, how are we supposed to make a living? At the end of the day guys have to make a living and have families and bills to pay. You cannot ignore the fact that when West Indies is playing such little cricket, guys can get some financial security by playing in twenty over leagues around the world and they are entitled to explore these opportunities.
PakPassion : Speaking of Twenty20 leagues around the world. You must be looking forward to playing in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) for Peshawar?
Darren Sammy : You bet I am. Every nation has its twenty over tournament and you cannot ignore the fact that this format is taking the world by storm. Look at the Big Bash, 80,000 people turning up for a match in that tournament and 40,000 people at the stadium in Perth to watch another Big Bash match yet barely 20,000 attended a Test match involving Australia and India. If PSL is organised properly it can be a win/win situation for everybody. This is a chance for the PSL to build its brand and become a big name in franchise cricket.
PakPassion : How highly do you rate Peshawar's chances of winning the inaugural PSL?
Darren Sammy : Every team will fancy its chances. It looks an open tournament to me. We are all looking forward to go to Dubai and take part in the first PSL. I never dreamed of playing in the same team as Shahid Afridi who will captain the side. Twenty20 franchise cricket gives me that opportunity. Right now you learn about so many different cultures and so many players in these sort of leagues. When you go to play international cricket then you carry all the information you have gathered when playing alongside players in franchise cricket. This is an area of the game where an opportunity has been provided to see the strengths and weaknesses of opposition players. I'm definitely looking forward to playing in the Pakistan Super League, it should be a very interesting experience.
I'm looking forward to playing for Peshawar and my Pashto is improving. Shahid Afridi saw my video and he said he was shocked to see me speaking Pashto. It's all part of the fun of mingling with people from different cultures and playing around the world.
PakPassion : I suppose the PSL gives organisers the chance to put Pakistan's twenty over tournament on the world map and also gives young Pakistani cricketers the chance to learn from experienced international players?
Darren Sammy : Yes absolutely. Look at India and the IPL and how that started. It's about good international players mixing with local talent which creates an opportunity for learning. You have youngsters rubbing shoulders with international players and that gives them the chance to learn and improve their game. I'm not only looking forward to playing alongside Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz and Kamran Akmal, but also playing alongside the local talent that will be in the squad and you can only get that when you play in these sorts of tournaments. There is an opportunity for me to learn also as well as passing on some of my experience and knowledge to the local players and youngsters.