x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Darren Sammy's hands on deck

There is nothing spectacular about the West Indian but he is proving to be a leader of men, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Darren Sammy, second from left, admits not being as comfortable with the spotlight as the likes of Chris Gayle, right, Dwayne Bravo or Marlon Samuels do. As captain, his job has been to manage all of them. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
Darren Sammy, second from left, admits not being as comfortable with the spotlight as the likes of Chris Gayle, right, Dwayne Bravo or Marlon Samuels do. As captain, his job has been to manage all of them. Gareth Copley / Getty Images

I am not sure what, but the World Twenty20 has told us something significant about the nature of modern-day captaincy. Of the four captains in the semi-finals of the tournament, three are under persistent, varying degrees of scrutiny both for their place in the side and their leadership of it.

Mahela Jayawardene is lone among them who is unquestioned, and he was happy to hand over the captaincy to Kumar Sangakkara, on paper, for the game against England to avoid a possible ban for slow over rates.

He may do so again in tomorrow night's semi-final against Pakistan.

But of the other three, none has had to hear that they are not good enough for as long as Darren Sammy, who has had to listen to such criticism for nearly two years now.

The loudest shouts came from England when the West Indies landed earlier this year. There, the least critical assessment was that Sammy had stopped the West Indies from getting worse but was stopping them from getting better.

Sammy is a God-fearing man so, as we talked the night after they qualified for the last four, he took recourse in faith.

"I never queried my position and my record, as the role I was picked for I've always done," he said. "People will share different opinions and I've always respected that. But I live my life by one motto: I've always said that if Jesus Christ walked this Earth and did nothing wrong and was still crucified, who am I?"

It is one way of looking at it. The earthier way is through what happens on the field under him. The problem is that so bad have the West Indies been and so heady was their peak that the past never can be just the past.

It towers over the shoulder of the present, like some scorned ex-girlfriend tut-tutting a new relationship.

The West Indies have improved a little under Sammy; he has 27 wins from 77 international matches (in all formats). These are small steps – he checks on "success" and corrects to "little success" they have had – but they are necessary ones.

There is something to the argument that he is both boon and bane, most probably to the Test side where it can be argued he keeps out a genuine pace bowler or a better all-rounder.

Sammy does have average numbers, as player and leader. But it is not as if obviously better options are screaming out for inclusion.

Or, more pertinently, that there are leadership alternatives. Chris Gayle has too much history; Marlon Samuels, in another sense, has too; Dwayne Bravo is too injury-prone, his younger half-brother Darren Bravo too callow.

"Obviously, every player, captain or not, wants to perform at their best at all times," Sammy said. "This never happens.

"[My] performances are not as consistent as I'd like, but gradually I can get better. I just hope to continue my contribution to the team, whether batting, bowling, captaincy, fielding or motivating a player to do their best."

Sammy is doubly cursed because he plays alongside not just cricketers, but mega-brands such as Gayle and the elder Bravo, men who in some senses are in the tradition of what we expect Caribbean cricketers to be like on and off the field.

Sammy, uncomfortable in the spotlight, is not.

"I've always been shy, but cricket has made me more open," he said. "I like being behind the scenes, still getting the job done. We have entertainers, you know the entertainers. I could celebrate as well, but we all are different in our own way."

Instead he is the man in charge of them. He describes each player in the side – "Gayle, he is the entertainer, Dwayne Bravo loves the attention, Marlon is another cool guy" – when he says that he understands them.

"They are different," he said. "My job is to understand and make sure they are in the right frame of mind to go out and perform so everybody is at their best. They have days that are going to be good and bad. Most of the time the guys come, they've been playing this game for so long, they know what's required to go out and perform."

He is human though, perhaps too human to be a cricketer, and a reminder that decent human beings also hold some value in sport. One day, any day he said, he could give it all up. He has a young family, two sons and a daughter on the way and he does not want her to remember him from the television.

"I'm big on being a family man, yeah? I started in 2004 and all these years I'm travelling. I always said I don't want to miss out in my kids' life. With hopefully my daughter coming up, I want to be there, I want to be part of it. I'm 29 years now, I'm somebody who could retire anytime, probably after the World Cup, I could make up my mind and say that's it. I don't have a specific time, but I don't foresee playing past 33."


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