West Indies’ captain has forged a team of champions by uniting some tricky characters from different nations
It was one of those nights when the man hosting the presentation ceremony, who happened to be Nasser Hussain, barely earned his corn. He had only to ask Darren Sammy one question and the victorious West Indies captain was up and away.
Sammy thanked the Almighty and then berated Mark Nicholas (please do not get this pair confused) before going on to castigate his own board, which had been rather slower than anyone else in the Caribbean to send support and then congratulations for a stunning victory.
For drama Sammy’s speech could not quite match the astonishing six‑hitting of Carlos Brathwaite but it was still riveting and rather more gracefully delivered than the observations of Marlon Samuels, who kept both Ben Stokes and Shane Warne in his sights as he languidly stretched his still padded legs on the press conference table.
Samuels and Sammy both had a brilliant World Cup. Samuels was by a distance West Indies’ highest run‑scorer in the tournament (with 181) even if Warne did not think he played frightfully well in the semi-final against India. For the second time Samuels walked off with the award for man of the match in a World Cup final after scoring the crucial runs – he also won the award in Colombo when West Indies defeated Sri Lanka in 2012.
Sammy’s figures are not quite so impressive. He faced 13 balls in the tournament and made eight runs in three completed innings and he bowled 18 balls (one for 31) and yet his contribution may have been as critical to West Indies’ triumph as that of Samuels.
Somehow Sammy gets the team to play – more, one assumes, with a carrot than a stick. West Indies have flourished in Twenty20 only recently – apart from their “mediocre” side drawing with England in a Caribbean Test series a year ago – but that, along with their victory in the Under-19s World Cup, is sufficient to offer hope of a more wide-ranging revival.
It is very clever to use a bitter pay dispute with the West Indies board and the ill-considered words of a distant cricket commentator to glue a team together. But that seems to be what Sammy has achieved. Relations between the West Indian players and their board are likely to remain frosty especially once the glow of victory has dimmed. Those between Nicholas and West Indies will mend much more quickly.
In another piece written for Cricinfo after the final Nicholas has gracefully offered “an unreserved apology” for “a throwaway phrase”, which described the West Indies as “short of brains”. In fact Sammy might have taken more umbrage that Nicholas in his preview of the tournament spent 10 paragraphs celebrating India, his obvious winners, and their captain, MS Dhoni, and 10 words on the men from the Caribbean. For some reason India possesses a certain magnetism for overseas television broadcasters.
Sammy’s achievements go beyond his ability to uncover unlikely motivational aids. His side cannot be the easiest to captain. Leaving aside the potential problem of uniting men from different nations he has some tricky characters in his dressing room and Samuels may be the trickiest of the lot.
An encounter earlier this winter with a respected and experienced international coach, who has worked extensively with T20 franchises around the world, was enlightening. At various times he has had Samuels and Kevin Pietersen in his teams and he confided: “KP is an absolute pleasure and an absolute doddle to deal with in comparison to Samuels.”
Here is the best evidence yet of Sammy’s virtues as a captain in conjunction with his coach, Phil Simmons. Sammy has a way – and it cannot just be a consequence of that sunny smile – to incorporate the difficult ones into his team if he thinks they can win him cricket matches. Which is precisely what Samuels did on Sunday night.