Darren Sammy, St Lucian, allrounder, twice world-champion captain, the nicest man in cricket, one of its most popular and now – as the World XI ventures to Pakistan for a potentially pathbreaking tour – Pakistan expert.
Sammy is one of five men in the World XI squad with experience of playing in Pakistan – Paul Collingwood, Tamim Iqbal and Hashim Amla have played international cricket there, while Imran Tahir’s first-class career began in the country.
Sammy’s is the most current experience, however, having played in Lahore in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final in March as Peshawar Zalmi’s title-winning – and extremely popular – captain.
Sammy spoke to members of the squad as part of a security briefing on Saturday as they began arriving in Dubai, ahead of the flight out to Lahore on Sunday. The first of three T20Is is scheduled for Monday, at Gaddafi Stadium, the scene of Sammy’s triumph earlier in the year.
“I did brief them quickly about my experience in Lahore for the PSL final,” he said. “We’ve had the best security team, who have also briefed them. Like I said before, it’s important. I get to play in front of my fans in St Lucia and around the world and we see how passionate they are, and to get an opportunity after so long, they are all happy to be part of that process.
“First thing I said to guys after the PSL final – apart from all the security and the protocol – once I stepped on the field, it felt like playing in St Lucia. That is my honest experience – the crowd were just hungry for cricket, to see their icons and role models play in the game. That is what it felt like. That is what I briefed the players when the coach [Andy Flower] asked me about my experience.”
The enthusiasm is unlikely to have been feigned. Even in the uncertainty over which foreign players would attend the PSL final, Sammy was the most eager advocate, an eagerness that has translated into an endearing bond with Pakistani fans. And as soon as he heard about the possibility of this tour, he was in – he would’ve been “disappointed” he said, had he not been called.
“We have a reason, a greater cause,” he said. “Everybody here has accepted that they are part of something more important than just their selves. To me, it’s a place where I have a great connection and going back there, like I said through the PSL final, to bring cricket back to Pakistan, if we can be part of history, a greater purpose, it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
One of the players interested in Sammy’s experiences would no doubt have been Ben Cutting. The allrounder is one of three Australians in the squad and, alongside George Bailey and Tim Paine, stands a fair shot at becoming the first Australian cricketer to play an international match in Pakistan in nearly 20 years.
Australia’s absence from Pakistan dates back to well before the 2009 attacks on the Sri Lanka team which forced international cricket out of the country. They had not toured since a series in 1998-99, choosing to play their away commitments against Pakistan in the UAE, Sri Lanka and England in that time, though an Australia A side did tour in 2007-08.
Cutting wasn’t aware of the little bit of history he might create. And some time playing alongside Azhar Mahmood a few years ago is about the breadth of his experience of Pakistan and its cricket.
But a passing encounter with a former Australian cricketer who was part of that ‘A’ team tour a decade ago confirmed that this will be an experience to remember.
“I did run into Jason Gillespie about a week ago and he said well done,” Cutting said. “I asked him what he knew about Lahore and Pakistan, and he said you’re really going to enjoy it, particularly Lahore itself. He spent some time there. So that was refreshing and good to hear.”
Source: ESPN Crickinfo