There is no point offering “amnesty” to West Indies’ freelance T20 stars if the board does not pay them better. This was the opinion expressed by Darren Sammy, the former West Indies captain, during an interview at ESPN’s Bristol headquarters recently.
In July, when West Indies faced the growing likelihood – since confirmed – that they would not qualify directly for the 2019 World Cup, Cricket West Indies (CWI) offered to temporarily relax their ODI selection policy of only picking players who featured in the domestic 50-overs tournament. This, they hoped, would pave the way for the likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine to play ODIs and strengthen the team’s chances of getting through the World Cup Qualifier in March 2018.
West Indies are left to play just one further ODI series, against New Zealand, before they head to Zimbabwe to feature in the World Cup Qualifiers next March.
Sammy was critical of the selection policy, especially when allied to how little money the players stood to make from domestic cricket as against playing in franchise T20 tournaments around the world.
“That’s the problem,” Sammy said. “When it all started with the past CEO [Michael Muirhead] and (former) director of cricket Richard Pybus, he said ‘West-Indies-first policy’. But you say West Indies first, but the first thing you do you cut the salaries. That doesn’t work.
“You telling guys ‘don’t go and play elsewhere [where] they pay much better, stay at home,’ but the first thing you’re doing is you cut the salaries playing at home.”
In this environment, Sammy felt the temporary amnesty would not solve the standoff between the board and the T20 freelancers, and that CWI would need to draw up flexible contracts to allow players to represent West Indies while also featuring in their choice of T20 leagues.
“I think if you tell guys you have two or three tournaments a year where you get to choose. We give you a white-ball contract or your red-ball contracts, well the retainer contracts. You come back you play home (domestic cricket). If IPL is playing, those who have the contract to play in IPL you go and play. Those not in the IPL you stay home and play.
“Then you have the Pakistan Super League, where the lesser guys tend to filter into that league. So you say ‘okay, you play here, those not playing in that league you have to return.’ And you make the retainer contract something attractive.”
Sammy termed the failure to qualify automatically for the 2019 World Cup as West Indies’ lowest point, but said he had not lost hope of a turnaround in their fortunes.
“It’s something I spoke about. I was afraid that we would not make into the Champions Trophy, we didn’t, and now to this,” Sammy said. “Hopefully Jason [Holder] and his men can go down to Zimbabwe in March and get to the finals, and assure that there won’t be another ICC event without West Indies.
“But the good thing about when you hit rock bottom, you can only go up from there. Every time I hear or see West Indies play I’m always optimistic, I’ve not lost that passion that something will happen. We’ve shown it over the years, the glimpses where – especially the last Test series in England where they called us all sorts of names, and we have a habit when people call us names to bounce back firing.”
Not for the first time, Sammy was critical of Dave Cameron, the CWI president, on this occasion calling him “egotistical” and accusing him of putting himself above the players.
“Although I promised I would not talk about these things anymore, but we have a president who is very egotistical,” Sammy said. “I’ve already said before he thinks he’s the face of West Indies cricket. Youngest president, going around, that’s the type of things you see.
“But until you realize that the product is the cricketer – if you look at any sports stadium, all the chairs are facing the field. What’s on the field. Not one chair facing the box. Everybody’s coming to the stadium to watch these guys. So once you understand that if these guys do well, administration, everybody wins.”
Sammy also spoke about the downward turn in his relationship with the board – which began with his being perceived as the “golden child” when he was unexpectedly named the West Indies captain in 2010 and soured six years later, when he attacked the administration in his World T20 victory speech. That speech remains Sammy’s last act as a West Indies player.
“I was not always like that,” he said. “I absorbed a lot. I wanted to talk for a long time. I think there’s a right place and time for it. After speaking to these guys, because I was once the golden child of WICB. They made me captain against the backlash, threw me in the firing line knowing well that the media and even some of my teammates [didn’t think I deserved it].
“So I had to be going to work every day swimming with sharks, but I had to remain true and believe in myself that I’m there for a reason. And I understood that. So when all the critics said ‘Darren shouldn’t be there’, I understood what my purpose was.
“One moment I remember in India in , when I said to them [the board] I do not agree with the new MOU they signed, where you cut players’ salaries by 70 percent – which they’re still trying to do now – I don’t agree with that. All of a sudden I became a rebel. I just stood up for what I believe and what we believed in.”
ESPN will publish the full interview with Darren Sammy on Friday, November 10