To be axed as captain of the West Indies Test team and then hours later announce your retirement as a Test player must have been a taxing experience for Darren Sammy.
And though he remains the West Indies Twenty20 skipper and has also made himself available for selection on the one-day team, there will always be questions over his decision to leave the Test arena at the age of 30 as Denesh Ramdin, the experienced wicketkeeper/batsman from Trinidad and Tobago takes over as Test captain beginning with the three-match series against New Zealand in the Caribbean next month.
It is truly amazing how minds can sway depending on the circumstances.
On the eve of the three-Test series against New Zealand in New Zealand last December, Sammy was quoted as saying “I want to reassure myself as a Test captain and Test cricketer”.
By the end of the series, which West Indies lost 2-0, Sammy realised the tremendous pressure he was under to keep his job.
“There are tough decisions to be made by the coach and director of cricket, some careers are on the line, could be mine as well, you never know,” he remarked.
Now let us look at what he had to say on leaving the Test arena.
“It was a difficult decision. If you have been playing cricket as a kid, all you have been dreaming of is to represent your team in Test cricket and I have been fortunate enough to do it. But I thought it was the right time for me to move on. I feel it’s time the West Indies Test team continues to move in a new direction, under a new leader,” the St Lucian said.
Sammy was always under the microscope as a Test captain and player and I recall remarks made in late 2011 by his former vice-captain Kirk Edwards, who ironically was removed as the Barbados captain for both the regional Super50 and four-day championships this year after two years at the helm. Edwards described Sammy as “a fighting cricketer who gives his all”.
“He is a cricketer who everybody has a lot of negatives to say. He is always under pressure but I kind of admire the guy for the fact that he goes out there and gives his all,” Edwards said then.
Those comments came after West Indies had won a two-Test series against Bangladesh 1-0 but had been beaten 2-0 in a three-Test rubber against India.
At that time, Sammy had been criticised in many quarters for his handling of the side as well as personal performances.
He had taken over the captaincy from Chris Gayle in October 2010 for a tour to Sri Lanka after Gayle did not sign a central contract but from the outset, it was generally felt that on merit, Sammy could not hold a regular place in the team.
One can hardly, however, fault him for his commitment and whole-heartedness as skipper and his desire to mould the team into a winning unit.
As a medium-pace bowler and lower order batsman, he also tried his best but as time went on and with the added burden of leading the side in all three versions of the game, it became clearer and clearer that his returns in the Test team were not cutting it.
Even when West Indies managed to reel off six consecutive Test wins under Sammy, there was a quick reminder that the opponents included the likes of New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Of Sammy’s 38 Tests, 30 were as captain with a record of eight wins, 12 defeats and ten draws. Overall he scored 1323 runs including one century and five fifties at an average of 21.68, and took 84 wickets at 35.79 runs each. As captain, his batting average was 22.43 and his bowling 39.61.
Hence, there were constant cries that he was not living up to what was required of a genuine all-rounder, especially bowling medium-pace.
Sammy would also have to concede that in recent Tests, his manner of dismissals left a lot to be desired when West Indies were under pressure. His aggression was more one of desperation when the occasion demanded a cool head.
There will always be debate about his timing of retirement from Test cricket. But a player must have a gut feeling about the thinking of selectors and his own game.
Dwayne Bravo, the West Indies one-day captain, would now be the likely choice to replace Sammy in the side after being in the wilderness of Test cricket since December 2010 – six years after his debut. In 40 Tests, he has 2200 runs including three centuries at an average of 31.42, while his medium-fast bowling has earned him 86 wickets at 39.83 runs apiece.
For argument sake, there is little difference between Bravo and Sammy from a bowling perspective but his batting is superior.
Funny enough, when the late Joey Carew was chairman of the West Indies selection panel, he pointed out that Bravo’s place in the team made it a bit unbalanced since at that time he was not producing enough with either bat or ball.
As far as Ramdin is concerned, based on his leadership roles from the time he was a teenager and including captaining the West Indies Under-19 and Trinidad & Tobago first-class teams, he was always destined to skipper West Indies at the highest level.
At the age of 29 and with 56 Tests behind him, he has shown maturity with both bat and gloves in the past couple of years. Yet, he knows that consistently good performances will be crucial if West Indies are to have a change in fortunes.
Inevitably, there have been reminders of his unfavourable behaviour in a couple international matches in the last two years. This is now a test of his character.
There were some comments he made in reaction to his elevation as Test captain which are worthy of repeating.
“For the last six to seven years, West Indies have gone off the boil in Tests because our opponents have out-thought us more. We need to think harder as a team,” he said.
“The talent is there. The cricketing skill is always there but it’s more mental with us. Since my West Indies Under-19 experience and Trinidad stints as captain, I’ve always focused and prided myself on proper analysis of the game and we need to improve on this to move up.” Ramdin should also be reminded that West Indies have been struggling to turn the corner in a significant way since the late 1990s.
When he was the West Indies captain for 15 Tests between 2000 and 2001, Jimmy Adams often said at Press conferences that the team needed to “bat better, bowl better and field better”.
A few individuals managed to do what Adams asked for but unless those three areas are achieved collectively and on a regular basis, Ramdin, too, will find that the recipe for success goes beyond “out-thinking” the opposition.
(Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org).
Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Midwicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.)