Cricket: Sammy the latest victim of Calypso-to-Collapso era
Darren Sammy has retired from Test cricket after being replaced as captain by Denesh Ramdin. It’s been a long time coming and Sammy is merely the personification of years of decline. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Darren Sammy will not play Test cricket again. After being sacked as captain of the West Indies Test team, the charismatic all-rounder retired from the longest format of the game, perhaps knowing he would not be picked to wear whites ever again. Denesh Ramdin has been named his successor.
The fact that a 29-year-old who brandished a defying message to Sir Vivian Richards is considered the best candidate for the job speaks volumes in itself. Ramdin’s tactical nous might be well recognised; he led the West Indies Under-19s to the World Cup final in Bangladesh in 2004, captained the A team, is the current T&T skipper, and was Sammy's most recent deputy. But a role model Ramdin is not. Yet there are very few others who could take on the role, and that is not too much of a surprise.
West Indies cricket is currently at a low ebb. Sammy’s sacking has been a long time coming. When Sammy took over the West Indies captaincy from Chris Gayle, he was hardly a regular in the West Indies Test line-up.
But it was a tough juncture in West Indies cricket. A player strike, the lure of Indian Premier League riches and serious incompetence from the board - they needed somebody who would do as they said. They needed somebody who could be calm and who could quietly lead a team that was falling to pieces.
Sammy was earmarked to be that person. Dwayne Bravo was one option, but he had chosen the life of a freelance cricketer and Ramdin, at the time, had been dropped from the team. Neither player was a yes-man and, as a result, Sammy was ushered into the job. Thrown into the deep end, with just eight Tests under his belt, a batting average of 19.40 and a bowling average of 27.74, Sammy not only inherited the burden of expectation, but also a poisoned chalice. His tenure began with a drawn series in Sri Lanka followed by a drawn series against Pakistan on West Indies soil, and it ends having lost four out their last five Tests. While Sammy’s efforts have been commendable and his passion infectious, his ability has just never been good enough to justify a place in the team.
For the West Indies Cricket Board, it is time for some serious introspection. While the ghosts of great players past are always haunting them, they have to answer why the state of cricket has been allowed to dip even lower than the expected natural course of action of ups and downs.
The Americanisation of sport in the Caribbean is a notion often perpetuated. Basketball is a far more lucrative option than cricket. American colleges are quick to offer prospective athletes the opportunity of scholarships; all while the WICB seems to be doing little about the talent drain. And it’s not like the problem is anything new.
As far back as 1997, in an address to the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board, sports agent Tim Nafziger noted how the best of West Indian young athletes are being lured away by the lucrative scholarships on offer from American colleges and identified that three out of the top eight players in the NBA draft that year originated from the West Indies with one in particular, Tim Thomas, having the potential to have made a devastating fast bowler.
Much of that blame has been shallow, though. Instead, part of the problem is that there is no real pathway created for the sport in the islands anymore. Young players do not believe that there is any reason for them to sacrifice whatever other sport they have taken an interest in to pursue either fast bowling or brutal batting.
Others theorise that the problem is the lack of nationalism. In no other sport do the islands compete together as a nation. Cricket is the only sport which unifies the representation. Attempts at integration have been tried, most notably after World War II, when the idea of a West Indian federal government was proposed. The British West Indies Federation was established in 1958, but lasted only until 1962.
Cricket, though, remained a unifying force and during the same time. Under the guise of Frank Worrell, it became synonymous with the rise of the "black consciousness" which tried to free itself from colonialism. Cricket had become a means of expression for resistance. Scholars have long theorised that by the time Worrell gave up captaincy in 1963, the only way was down, given that the islands would never again share such a common bond as they did in the fight to get him elected.
Yet the years that followed were fantastically successful, but the success was so dazzling and all-consuming that planning for the future had taken a back seat. During its heyday, The West Indies Cricket Board failed to lay down any infrastructure for future development. Funding, or rather the lack thereof, has played its part in this.
Because the WICB is responsible for funding several islands while all the islands govern themselves, getting it to all work together is always going to be confusing. Thus, WICB’s decline has been coming over a long time and its current juncture is the ultimate symptom of years of mismanagement and lack of care. Sammy is merely the personification of that.
Ramdin faces one of the toughest challenges of his career. With cricket’s funding restructure, the WICB are likely to struggle more and the wicketkeeper’s resources will remain limited. A captaincy change might inspire short-term improvement, but for the long term, the future outlook of cricket in the Caribbean remains bleak. DM
Photo: West Indies batsman Darren Sammy walks back to the pavillion after his dismissal during the Super Eight stage cricket match between West Indies and New Zealand of the World Twenty20 tournament in Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Kandy, Sri Lanka, 01 October 2012. EPA/HARISH TYAGI