Cricket

Daren Sammy interview: ‘If there's injustice and your voice can make a difference, don't stay silent'

  • Shantanu Srivastava
  • September 10th, 2020
  • 21:44:29 IST

New Delhi: There is not much to write about Daren Sammy’s international or franchise Twenty20 (T20) record. A medium-pace bowler and a right-handed batsman who can hit the ball long, Sammy has been quite mediocre in both his core skills, but has far outperformed a number of high-profile international captains in terms of results.

Winner of two World T20 trophies, the former West Indies captain has led his Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) franchise St Lucia Zouks to their first-ever final, enduring the absence of Chris Gayle, Colin Ingram, Anrich Nortje, Rilee Rossouw, and Afghan teen sensation Noor Ahmad.

Zouks start as rank underdogs against Kieron Pollard’s Trinbago Knight Riders, who are on an unbeaten 11-match run, and will be playing their fourth CPL final.

Zouks’ skipper Daren Sammy spoke exclusively to Firstpost on his leadership philosophies ahead of the summit clash. Excerpts:

This is your maiden CPL final after failing to enter the playoffs in each of your past attempts. What has worked for St Lucia Zouks this season?

Unity. I would call it our biggest strength. We have always played as a unit. I think we managed to find effective guys for the Trinidad conditions, such as Mohammad Nabi and Roston Chase. These guys have added value to our team. Then, as a bowling unit, we never give up. We have defended totals of 90-odd, a 140 against a strong Guyanese line-up, and have always found a way to win on difficult pitches. That’s the hallmark of a good team.

Another factor that has worked for us is our spin bowling, thanks again to Nabi and Chase. We have seen through the league that the spinners have dominated in both venues, especially in the Queens Park Oval. As I said, we defended 92 against Barbados Tridents and we had 15 overs of spin bowled in that game. It’s been difficult for the batsmen and as the tournament entered the business end, the pitches have assisted the spinners even more.

During the night matches in Trinidad, the dew made the ball skid, but during the dry conditions of the day, when the pitch is not wet, spinners are getting a bit more purchase.

'If there is injustice and your voice can make a difference, there's no point staying silent.' Image courtesy: St Lucia Zouks

'If there is injustice and your voice can make a difference, there's no point staying silent.' Image courtesy: St Lucia Zouks

You have been quite vocal about issues of racism, and have lent your voice to the Black Lives Matter movement. As a well-known cricketer, speaking your mind is not always the easiest thing to do.

You are right, but speaking your mind comes with experience. Looking back at my career, some of the things I say now or the stand I take on certain social issues, I wouldn’t have probably done that when I was just coming into the team. I wouldn’t have spoken out, or probably would have asked a senior player to do it. But, when you are in a leadership position, you should use your voice for the right reasons. That doesn’t mean you need to speak out on anything under the sun, but if there’s an injustice and you feel your voice can make a difference, I think you shouldn’t stay quiet.

What does leadership mean to you?

For me, leadership means empowering others. In cricket terms, we have players from different backgrounds and cultures coming together in a team for a common goal, which is to win matches. As a leader, you must interact with all these different personalities and also get them to work together for one common goal. You need to empower them and back them when their backs are against the wall.

For a leader, man-management and empathy are very important. You need to know your players. What works for one may not work for another. As a leader, my motto is to uplift and motivate. If you keep uplifting and motivating a player, make them feel good and believe in their ability, they’ll perform.

Would you call yourself a natural leader or someone who learned captaincy from the scratch?

I think I am a bit of both. Unless you don’t get an opportunity to lead, you won’t know how good or bad a leader you are. From the time I remember playing cricket - for my village team, for St Lucia, for Westward Islands, for West Indies A, or for West Indies – I remember being in a leadership role. Now that doesn’t mean you have to be a captain to be a leader, and it was the same with me. They say sometimes leaders are born, so I guess I was born to lead.

Not all great players are great leaders, and not all legendary leaders are exceptional players. Why do you think that happens?

Absolutely right. I think great players are mavericks which could be the reason behind them not becoming good leaders. They probably expect everyone to perform at their level. They don’t have the understanding that some guy may not be able to do a particular thing because he may not be that skilled or gifted, so there should be another way to get the job done.

Most of the times what I have found from watching superstar players who are captains is that they want to do a particular thing, or take a particular decision because they want limelight, whereas somebody who is not the superstar wants the team to get the spotlight.

As a skipper, I understand that superstars want the spotlight, so I give it to them. Leadership is about getting less that 40 percent of the credit and more than 75 percent of the blame. Once you understand this, no matter what, you don’t do it for the credit. You do it for success.

Do you have any leadership principles that you always adhere to in various teams you have led, or do you go by the gut feeling?

I was just about to come to this. I think leadership is a lot about the gut. Just trust your gut. Too many times it happens that you feel you need to have two slips, but you let things drift, and just then, a catch goes through the vacant slips. Then, when you become reactive and put a slip, the ball doesn’t go there. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that you should not prepare. Anything you do, it should be based on preparation. I discuss my strategies and plans with my players and coaching staff, and then it is down to me to process that information and retain it when I am in the field. I need to remember the right match-ups we have discussed in the dressing room and place the right men in right positions. But the first thing I do is trust my gut feeling.

When a decision you make on the field doesn’t produce the desired results, do you see it as an error and make a mental note of it to not repeat it?

I don’t see any of my decisions as errors, because whatever you decide, you do that in the best interest of the team. So, you could live with that. Not all decisions will go your way; you have to accept that. Sometimes you bring in a bowler because you feel he is the right match-up against a particular batsman, but he gets smashed. Sometimes, you send someone to bat higher up the order and he fails. That’s all part of the game. Remember, you are playing against somebody who is competitive as well. For me, it is always about trusting my gut feeling. My decisions are in the best interests of the team, doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong. That’s why you get 75 percent share of the blame.

How do you deal with dropping players? How different is the conversation with a Chris Gayle or a Chemar Holder?

That’s the most difficult part in leadership. You have a squad of 15, but only 11 can play. If you as a captain have not actually performed and you still have to go ahead and drop players, that makes it even tougher. But, you have to do what is in the best interest of the team. I always believe in transparency, so I’d always have a conversation. My door is always open for my teammates and even in this set-up (of the bio-secure environment), I like to tell the guys in advance if they are being dropped. I try to be as open and transparent as possible. Dropping Gayle, my God, that’s tough! Especially for a player of his stature, I’d have a quiet word in advance, maybe during a practice session. I’d say, ‘Look, maybe we are trying to do this in this game, and we may have to drop you.’

As a captain, do you stay switched on all the time during the game?

No, I stay switched on when the action is happening. If there is no action, I automatically switch off. But, my mind is always thinking about match-ups, how the game is developing, and so on. My brain doesn’t stop working, more so if you are defending a small total. That’s why preparation is so important. If you have prepared well, you have an idea of how you want the game to go. It is something I think about when I am in my room a day before a game or even a few hours before a match. I begin to visualise my match-ups of different bowlers versus different batsmen.

When you are in the field, it really, really matters. When your team is batting, the two batsmen in the middle are the captains of the side; there is nothing I could do from the dressing room. When we are fielding, that’s when I am more focussed on strategies – how to deal with powerplays, who to bowl in middle overs, how to tackle the death overs… so my brain is always ticking.

Daren Sammy led St Lucia Zouks to their maiden CPL final. Image courtesy: St Lucia Zouks

Daren Sammy led St Lucia Zouks to their maiden CPL final. Image courtesy: St Lucia Zouks

With all the experience that I have, I can now second guess a lot of things. I understand T20 cricket really well. I can look at the grip of a batsman and tell what the opposition will be discussing about him in their team meeting. Likewise, I understand the inputs of our analysts really well and I tend to remember most of what is discussed to eventually implement it on the field. I would say I have a mental recorder that stores every information.

Tell us something about the love and acceptance you have received in Pakistan?

It’s different. They always embrace me as their own and I have done the same to them. I am in awe of the amount the love I have received in that country. For a country boy from St Lucia to get the amount of love and adulation from a country of over 200 million is truly humbling. It is just an amazing place to visit and play cricket. The people are really passionate about the game and they just love cricketers.

You’ve led West Indies to two World T20 titles. Broadly speaking, what worked for you in both these campaigns?

I think I had a great team. We planned really well for these events. The guys responded to the decisions I took on the field. Also, I feel God was on our side in both these tournaments.

As a captain, I always enter a competition believing that I can win because at the end of the day, that’s the reason we are participating. If you don’t believe, you won’t achieve. With that belief and our preparations in place, we take each match one by one.

One captain you admire and why?

I absolutely admire Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a captain. I have always looked upto his calmness under pressure. Growing up, I always heard about Clive Lloyd’s leadership, though I never watched him play. I read a lot about Lloyd, and going by what I saw in ‘Fire in Babylon’, he was really good. But, among the captains I have played for and against, Dhoni is the one who always inspired me.

Updated Date: September 10, 2020 21:44:29 IST

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