We Won It On Our Knees

Darren Sammy in interview with Sunil Robert Vuppula for FOL

The West Indies cricket team is a mercurial team. One moment, they are capable of showing blinding brilliance, and, the next, they cave in like a pack of cards. A revered and feared team in the seventies and eighties, the country’s glorious past was reduced to nostalgia, until recently with the advent of T20 cricket. It revived cricket in the Calypso nations. Last month in the T20 World cup, the WI team showed again why their resurgence was not just a flash in the pan but a glowing streak that is here to adorn the firmament. Cricket fans and pundits alike were confounded by the West Indies puzzle as to how such a talented team could only accomplish so little. That perception was systematically destroyed as West Indies rode to a title win, often ramrodding opposition, including the famed Indian line-up in the semi-final. Orchestrating their wave of victories was their not so flamboyant but rock solid skipper Darren Sammy, who had the unenviable task of marshalling talented super stars who were inflicted with criticism and negative comments. Even a few weeks before the opening match, the team was not sure if they would make the trip to India. But what unfolded subsequently is the stuff that sporting legends are made of. Darren Sammy, who has been leading WI for the past six years, harnessed adversity and crafted history to lead WI to its second T20 World Championship.

FOL : Darren, congratulations again on the fantastic win at the T20 World Championship a few weeks ago. After you knocked India out in the semi-finals, most of India was rooting for your team and what a tournament it was. In the post-match ceremony, you referred to the many obstacles (Board disputes, jerseys not being available on time) that your team had to overcome. So would you say it was a bit like a serial David and Goliath story – overcoming many giants all the way?
Sammy : Thank you. Winning the world cup twice – the only team to do it so far -- is something we will cherish for the rest of our lives. It was a huge moment for us. More so because the Under 19 team and our women’s team won the World Cups, and it was fantastic for us to accomplish the title win. It means a lot to us in the Caribbean. We as a team, came in confident that we could win the tournament and, yes, there were many obstacles we had to cross and battles to be won like David and Goliath. The expectation out there was not matching with our belief. As a team, we believe in each other - we always were a praying team – remember the quote, “The Family that prays together, stays together”.

A team that prays together, stays together.

I have always shared that conviction considering the fact that I came from a background of a strong Christian home. My faith in God has always been a consistent factor in everything I did all these years as a cricketer. God blessed me to become what I am, and, as a sportsman, I incorporated my belief about God into everything, every area of my life. My God is a merciful God. He was a big factor in our victory. He continues to play an active role in our lives, which is why

I am never shy of admitting that God played a big role in our victory.

And I will be the first one to admit that I do not do enough to honor God as much as I ought to, but I try all the time. We were on a mission when we came to India, and God made it possible for us to win it.

FOL : The West Indies team has loads of talent, and it requires a leader who can harness it for the very best. What is your leadership style within the team?
Sammy : My Leadership style is simple: Consensus based. I trust everybody, and I talk to everyone. Further, I involve every single player wherever possible both on and off the field. We spend a lot of time in planning; we spend a lot of time together in practice. We work hard together, we play for the cause. And when we play for a big cause like the world cup, we are all focused on one result – winning as a team. We find inspiration, and I always believe in positive affirmative discussions. In my discussions, I always explain and communicate belief in oneself, in each other. It takes time to understand each player and his temperament, finding what makes him tick and what frame of mind suits him best to the message that we need to convey. Every single player is different; some like the spotlight, and they thrive in the public space. Some are shy, and they prefer to be private and one-on-one. We work well together as a team, and that comes after playing many years together. Winning the world cup is something we will cherish together because the West Indies team is finally showing the world what we are capable of accomplishing when our talent and potential is realized. So, as we were preparing for the World Cup, there was uncertainty and issues around selection, travel and player availability. The obstacles before and during the journey can really unsettle and shake our confidence. But we just want to focus on cricket, focus on what is in front of us, on what we can control. There were a lot of issues that were beyond our control. We can deal with issues as they come at us, one at a time. So we believe in one focus, one job, “To win the 2016 T20 World Cup”; and that became a single mission. We believed that we could win it. We had the ability to shift focus and the ability to become motivated, working with the goal. My leadership and the coaching staff’s support had one single goal to get the team to play to the best of our ability. We start our practices with prayers, and we end our team meetings with prayer, thanking God.

FOL : The T20 format with all its explosive nature suits the Calypso style of cricket which is a bit free spirited, a creating-your-own-rhythm type of approach. One single over can change the outcome of the game. Does this format make it particularly suited for you more than the 50 over or even the longer format?
Sammy : I have always said that if we can play to our potential, we can beat any team in the world in any format. But we approach each team with the same respect that every opponent deserves because Cricket has a way of shaking you or giving you a jolt of reality. Anyone can beat anyone on any given day. Whether we are playing Afghanistan or India or Australia, we plan based on the situation, but it is all about executing the plans out there. We are blessed with some serious talent in the Caribbean. I have said before that we have 15 match winners, and one person can change the outcome of the game in one single over.

FOL : Captaincy is about making plans and, when they don’t work out as planned, making sure you take control. How do you react on the field when things do not go as you planned?
Sammy : As you know, we have some gifted players like Chris Gayle, who played the second highest number of T20 matches. Dwayne Bravo is a fantastic player. Marlon Samuels is another seasoned player. Badree and Brathwaite are gifted. Dinesh Ramdin is a key player behind the stumps. So, whether it is the most experienced players or younger players, like Suleiman Benn, Lendl Simmons and I have a lot of input to give, along with our coaching team. First, we sit and discuss how we want to go about executing a plan. And once we start playing, T20 is about momentum and ensuring that the players execute the plans we made. I won the toss six times in the World Cup recently, and we bowled first and chased because we feel confident when there is a score on the scoreboard to chase. There is a belief in the team that “whatever they can do, we could do even better”. When things get out of control or when things get tough on the field, whatever they do, we could do better. We trust each other to stay calm and reflect and recall all the plans that were put together. It is also part of our culture; as Caribbean people, we grow up tough as we face many adversities in life. So as a leader, I stay calm, make the right decisions, and incorporate other players’ decisions. In crunch time, we slow down the game and incorporate different players at different stages. Because we all believe as one team that we can overcome, we shall overcome.

FOL : Did you believe that your time to become a World Champion had come again?
Sammy : I believe in perfect timing, that if we pray, work hard and play to our potential, we could be World Champions for a long, long time. In my understanding, every disappointment is a blessing in disguise; you want to question why it happens. Each time we lose a game, I know that is the way God wanted it to happen. To any athlete or a sportsperson, a difficult aspect to digest is to accept losing. In this World Cup, it was pretty humiliating when we lost a game to Afghanistan. It was the biggest upset match of the entire tournament. It was shocking. We analysed it, and I accepted the mistakes we made. I shared with the team candidly that if we had to lose a game, this was a good game to lose. We further looked at the positives from a game we should have won. Without pushing anyone into guilt, I told them, “Let’s leave this feeling right here in the dressing room”. He continued, “From here on, it is a reminder that we cannot take anything for granted”. As a team and as a captain, I am always looking forward to move and build from strength to strength and not feel stuck in negative thoughts. Maybe that day, God was smiling on Afghanistan. He is a fair and just God. He helps and He helped the Afghan team that was willing to help themselves more that day. A few weeks earlier in the Asia cup, two legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara retired from the Sri Lankan team, and, as you know, they played a big role in the title win in 2014. I thought to myself, perhaps it was time for the West Indies team to win again. God is in control and everything happens for a reason. Let me give you another example from our very first title win in the 2012 T20 World Cup. We did not have a great tournament, and we were playing the eliminator match with New Zealand. As I was walking to my bowling run up, I prayed and asked God why we were not winning. I felt this was not the vision I had in my mind about the title win. We were one step away from elimination, and things were not looking good as New Zealand was easily knocking the runs away in the chase. Although I got a wicket and a couple of overs, Chris Gayle took a blinder off Sunil Narine to dismiss Franklin: the comeback had begun. We tied the match. It went into a super over, and we won it in the end. We went on to beat Sri Lanka in the final. So with all the retirements from Sri Lankan side, which lost two key players, we knew we may be onto something special. God will make a way when there seems to be no way.

FOL : You are so strong about your faith in God and you openly shared about your beliefs in front of the whole world. Who impacted you the most? Who are your heroes?
Sammy : My faith is a massive issue; it brought me criticism. But that creates belief in myself and in my team because it’s God that I ultimately serve. I am blessed to have inspiring people like my mom. If there are these incredible blessings, I am getting, it is largely because of my mom and family who are forever on their knees. It helps me big time. I don’t think I give God enough of the praise and honor that He deserves for my six years of captaincy, for the WI team and for making us double World Cup champions. An achievement no other team has been able to accomplish. As far as heroes are concerned, Curtly Ambrose, who was part of the coaching staff, is a big influence on me. I like Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry, Lebron James, and I watch a lot of NBA players. But I would largely credit my family for the influence and support I receive from them. I used to preach as well. But I loved cricket.

Darren Sammy and Andre Fletcher pray, England v West Indies, World T20, final, Kolkata, April 3, 2016
Darren Sammy and Andre Fletcher pray, England v West Indies, World T20, final, Kolkata, April 3, 2016

Let me tell you how I used to argue with my mother who would insist I be in church instead of the cricket ground. I would argue and quote from the scriptures and repeat her own words about how to use our talents, and cricket was my talent. My mother and family members really instilled in me the importance of being planted and rooted in the church and have a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. In my opinion, there is a big difference between being religious and having faith. Having faith is about possessing a deep connection with your heart and soul and every part of your life. If I had a talent, why can't I do something that I love and express myself?

I used to sneak out of the house and, after playing cricket on the sly, come back home and get a beating. But I endured all that because I saw cricket as a way of blessing my family and having an impact on the larger community. Today, I was able to witness to the entire world about my faith because cricket gave me that platform as a captain of the West Indies team. Since the World Cup final, not a day has passed by without numerous people thanking me for my speech about God, about Jesus Christ and how, as a team, we came together and played like a champion unit. One particular young man wrote to me about how each morning he keeps repeating those words as he begins his day. So my family is a huge part of my inspiration, and my faith keeps me going.

FOL : So what is on your mind as far as your legacy is concerned?
Sammy : I have a single message that I would like to leave for young people: “Don’t leave it too late and enjoy the pleasures and then try to do good stuff”. I want to be remembered for our team that overcame so much adversity and criticism. But we won the battle on our knees. Andre Fletcher is the chaplain of the team; we prayed right in the stadium. Some people do not understand the culture of our team, where we came from. Whether they like it or not, we will pray; if anyone has a problem they can leave the room. What matters for people is the end product and the results we deliver. Our team has become a solid group because of the adversity and criticism. It means so much that we played every game, and it was not a one man show. God still loves us... What we were going through before is because we did not give God the glory He deserves; we forgot who was in control... It’s probably why we were no longer the giant force we used to be in world cricket. Because success got to our head and we did not depend on God and honor him.

FOL : Before I wrap up Darren, post cricket, what do you see yourself doing? Do we have a preacher/motivational speaker in the making?
Sammy : My life is static back in the Caribbean. I want to share inspiration as a leading testimony that God is great - all the time. Wherever I go as a leader, we always believe in a “Never say die” attitude. Wherever I go, I let them know, “With God everything is possible". If you can incorporate God into your life, believe, imagine. Then you could achieve. I always tell my mom, I carry myself the way I could be a living testimony. I have done many mistakes. I am not a saint, but I tried to live it in the way my parents raised me. Mom is a praying warrior and so is my grandmother. My best friend said to me, “Blessings come to you like a water fall. Because of your grandmother and mother, you are reaping”. Just like that, I want to be on my knees. I want to continue the trend so that my family and my children will continue to be blessed like I am. If Prayers keep going up, Blessings keep coming down. I want to impact young people who are our future, particularly in my islands, sharing encouragement. Because they see me as someone who has succeeded against the odds. My mom loves to sing in church. Even now when I am back home, I sing in the church. St Lucia takes me back to my roots with wonderful gospel music, so I enjoy singing as well. One of my all-time favorite songs is, [and he breaks into a song], “ Every morning when I am awake, I get down on my knees, and I pray to the God above, God is so merciful, He wakes me up every day. So I sing every day all the days of my life”. About preaching, let me tell you a small story. As a child, I loved to get up there and preach about Jesus. Around that time in St. Lucia, there was a Pastor by the name St Louis who made an impact as my inspiration. In fact, at that time when most ten year olds and my friends would find his sermons long and boring, I would just sit and watch him, and I could hear him all day. So as a ten-year-old, I once preached about Jesus and God’s love, and I must have been moved and preached my heart out. Unknown to me, an elderly gentleman who had the habit of recording sermons on a cassette player recorded my sermon. And for years, he kept playing the tape early in the morning and connected it to a microphone so that the whole neighborhood could listen to the sermon. Recently when I heard about it and met him, I told him that he must give me a copy of that sermon. I had a no idea about preaching when I was a kid, but God has a plan for all of us. He is a merciful God, and He will give us opportunity to use our God-given potential to His glory. So wherever I am, and whatever I do, I will keep singing, keep shining, for His name’s sake.


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