By Rituraj Borkakoty
How many active cricketers can claim to have an international cricket stadium named after them? I asked Darren Sammy as the gangly West Indies all-rounder looked at me before his face broke into a beautiful smile. He knew that the only active cricketer in the world to have an international stadium named after him is not Virat Kohli.
Of course, there is a strong possibility that cricket’s modern great will break all the batting records set by Sachin Tendulkar – the man he grew up idolising. But it’s hard to imagine anybody building a stadium in India or even renaming one in Kohli’s honour before he hangs up his boots.
But that’s what St Lucia did in 2016 when the Beausejour Cricket Ground was renamed as the Darren Sammy Cricket Ground in Darren Julius Garvey Sammy’s honour. For St Lucia’s 180,000 inhabitants, Sammy is a symbol of their pride. The first international cricketer to have emerged from the Caribbean country, the first player from that tiny nation to captain the West Indies and the only captain in international cricket to have won two T20 World Championships, Sammy has left quite an imprint on the island famous for its white-sand beaches.
“It has been an incredible journey, thanks to the Almighty for all he has given me, you know. He has blessed me with this talent. And, you know, what I have achieved, I am really proud of,” he tells me.
“But I am still playing and enjoying, and I will do whatever I have to do to help promote the game and develop the young players coming through.”
Remarkably, his international career ended when his extraordinary outburst against the West Indies cricket board after winning 2016 World T20 Championships led to his sacking. It was an unprecedented outpouring of emotion from a captain against a cricket board. Little did we know that the bitter contract dispute between the West Indies players and their board would reach a climax during the captain’s victory speech at the Eden Gardens. It ruffled the feathers of cricket administrators, but the man who wears his heart on his sleeve continues to enjoy the support of the fans across the cricket-playing world.
Every year in the star-studded Indian Premier League, his name draws loud cheers from the stands. But it’s his impact on the Pakistani version of IPL (Pakistan Super League) that has left many wondering if Sammy has eclipsed Boom Boom Afridi as the most-loved, active cricketer in that cricket-obsessed country. “I don’t know. I think it starts from playing for the West Indies, the way I have played the game and represented the West Indies team. I think my character, my personality always has been one that is welcoming and showing appreciation to the fans,” he says.
“And I think in Asia, you know, the West Indies are the second favourite team of the people. And with me captaining West Indies, you know, doing what I did gave me the popularity.
“Also in the first season of PSL, I think Peshawar Zalmi, the fanbase we had with players like Afridi and the way we played you know, the fans loved it and they loved me and the Zalmi team.
“I must admit the love I have received in this part of the world is just so overwhelming. It’s something I am really thankful for.”
But does a part of him regret the post-match outburst against the West Indies board that eventually ended his international career?
“No, not at all,” says Sammy.
“I probably knew that I would not be playing for the West Indies again after that speech. But it was a step I was prepared to take and I thought it was a step in the right direction.
“It is not something that I have regretted. I think it’s a part and parcel of my life and my journey now. And I think it showed people what Darren is really about as a leader.
“Obviously now, looking at two years after that you know, I have still enjoyed playing cricket. You know I am still loved around the world and I am still giving back to the game in the leagues that I have played as a leader, as a player.”
Incredibly, the West Indies board — the same board that sacked him as a captain and player after their victorious 2016 World T20 campaign — sought Sammy’s support for the ongoing women’s World T20 Championships in the Caribbean.
“Now I am working with the WICB as an ambassador for the women’s World T20 Championships that is taking place in the West Indies. So I am not bitter,” he smiles.
“Like I said, I would continue to give back to the game. It’s also a great opportunity to showcase the Caribbean unity and the beautiful places.”
Talking of unity, who could ever forget those images of the jubilant Caribbeans celebrating at the Eden Gardens after Sammy’s team completed a memorable double at the 2016 World T20 – hours after their women’s team had won the title on the same ground? “It’s a day I will never forget,” he says.
“I remember we were driving to the Eden Gardens and the women’s final was pretty tight. I think the last over was being bowled when we got to the stadium.
“And all the guys were just rushing to see what had happened because we were not getting the commentary and I remember as soon as we entered the stadium, we saw they won it in the last over. The boys were running on to the pitch to congratulate the girls.
“I think that started the evening for us, seeing the girls win it was a big motivation for us to win that Cup.”
Of course, the celebrations sparked by Carlos Brathwaite’s four-straight sixes against Ben Stokes when the West Indies needed 19 off 6 balls to win the men’s tournament will never be forgotten by those who saw it. That was a fitting reply by Sammy’s men to their board and to English commentator Mark Nicholas who described them as a team with no brains before the tournament.
But, 30 years from now when Darren Sammy tells his grandchildren about his greatest triumphs, would he also tell them about any regrets in life? I asked the gentle giant.
He looked at me and his trademark smile appeared again.
“Look,” he said, “in life everything happens for a reason. I have always been an advocate of that. And that night at the Eden Gardens, it showed people that I am someone who believes in speaking the truth and standing up for a cause which the team believes in. And I always put the team first.”
Rituraj’s biggest cricketing regret is not seeing the glorious West Indies teams of the 1970s and early 1980s