‘Indian conditions no stranger to us’ – Sammy
“The message is cricket.” “Kaun Banega [who will become] champion.” “In it to win it.”
There is no shortage of catchy one-liners in Darren Sammy‘s press conference. Or animation for that matter. Four of his team-mates – Jason Holder, Denesh Ramdin, Samuel Badree and Carlos Braithwaite – who turn up after Sammy are relatively coy to begin with but eventually warm up to become more conversational; Ramdin even helpfully identifies Holder as one of the team’s funnier characters.
Minutes later the decibel levels go up even higher during a riotous, closed-door photo session. There is Dwayne Bravo attempting the chest roll made popular by West Indies Under-19 allrounder Shamar Springer at the recent World Cup even as Chris Gayle’s thunderous laughs are threatening to bring the walls down. Coach Phil Simmons and media manager Philip Spooner are amused, but offer more restrained smiles.
This isn’t 2012. This isn’t after West Indies won their first world title in 23 years. This is a West Indies fighting for a rational pay structure, a team that hasn’t always had a full complement of its talent at its disposal. You almost expect Sammy to march up to the dais and strike a defiant pose like an angst-ridden trade unionist; there was, after all, a fear that West Indies’ players might boycott the World T20, something which Sammy himself denied later.
What you get to see instead is the quintessential Sammy: cheerful, witty and forthright. There is an unmistakable tinge of helplessness when the contract dispute is brought up but Sammy is aware that for his generation of players this is possibly the last crack at a global title. So squabbles can wait, at least till the end of the World T20.
“We are focusing only on cricket,” Sammy says and turns around to point to the sponsor boards in the background. “This event means a lot to us as a group. I think the next T20 World Cup is in 2020. The most experienced guys will not be part of the next World Cup. Everybody is focused on winning. It would mean a lot to us and the people at home in the current situation our cricket is in if this team comes here… not only the men’s team but also the women’s team if we can win.
“The message is cricket. Once you step out on the field, you shouldn’t be worrying about contracts and other stuff. You focus on what you could do to help your team and make your country proud. Ideally we would like everything to have a smooth sailing. But that’s not the case for us. We will just do what we can on the field and put all our energy and focus on how we go out and play the cricket.”
Sammy is trying to harness positive energy from wherever he can, and it seems to be coming from the Under-19 side. “It’s been a massive motivation for us to see our youngsters do well in Bangladesh. Any nation, once your country is being represented in a major event… once you win, it elevates your country, the nation, your region, we all know. Cricket is the glue that unifies the Caribbean – whichever Caribbean team does well it’s a massive plus for the Caribbean people.”
For some time now West Indies’ players have found themselves in a situation where they are individually well fed on T20 cricket in different leagues across the world but have found it increasingly hard to play together as a unit. Sammy recognises it is less than ideal but feels the presence of players like Gayle, Bravo and Marlon Samuels makes life easier for him.
“When I see all these qualities in the dressing room, as a captain leading the side my job becomes very easy,” he says. “Ideally we want to be playing international matches but the fact that we have guys who have been playing T20 cricket it is not difficult to adjust. The group that is there we have been playing for a while. So we know the ins and outs of how we want to play T20. It won’t be difficult to gel.”
The pre-tournament camp in Dubai has served as an effective tool to achieve that end; for players like Badree the prospect of forging stronger off-field bonds is a significant benefit. “I guess it’s just as important to have that camaraderie off the field as it is to have on [it],” Badree said. “We have been doing lots of stuff together, whether it be going to the beach and having a session there or going to the desert safari. We have done some stuff in Dubai that really brought us closer together as a team off the field as well.
“That’s the sort of thing we like to pride ourselves on – not only playing together on the field but as well as showing that camaraderie off, and that will always augur well for the strength and unity of the team or any team as a matter of fact.”
If the West Indies can go on to accomplish an encore of 2012 then Sammy’s “message is cricket” may well have a lasting resonance.
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo