The one to make a difference
All-round nice guy Daren Sammy has big plans for the future. James Fuller speaks to the St Lucian cricketing legend about his legacy, T20 ambitions, inspiring youngsters and launching Brand Sammy
Daren Sammy is a man on a mission. More accurately, he’s a man on several missions. The St Lucian’s affable exterior masks a driven character that has seen him scale the cricketing heights, captaining two West Indies world T20 triumphs. It is a commitment and work ethic that pushes him on to achieve more, on and off the cricket field. Currently that means juggling ambitions of leading another tilt at T20 glory in Australia next year, supporting the education of underprivileged youngsters, guiding the next generation of St Lucian cricketers and launching his own brand.
There are many components to the life of Daren Julius Garvey Sammy, OBE – the all-action all-rounder who turns 36 in December – but his immediate cricketing ambition is clear.
“I have a vision of defending the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2020,” says the man who has played in every T20 World Cup since 2007. “That would mean everything to me, and is my cricketing focus right now. It’s what’s driving me. It’s fair to say I’m entering the twilight of my career but, as a T20 player especially, I still feel I have a lot to offer. The last time I wore West Indies colours was lifting the World Cup on 3 April 2016 with my teammates, whom I had led for the previous six years. I would love to do it again.”
Passion is the essential ingredient. When an athlete stops playing the game it is when the desire no longer burns brightly enough to rise early and sweat in the gym, to endure exhausting travel schedules and media duties, or to cope with the personal sacrifices that come with being an international athlete. There is no hint of that in Sammy.
“Before it becomes a career, it’s a passion,” he says. “My mum actually wanted me to be a pastor, but cricket was my first love, and I still have that kid in me when I play today. The moment I wake up and feel like I don’t want to play, or I’m driving down the road and see a match and I don’t want to stop and watch, then I’ll know it’s time to pack it in. That time hasn’t come.”
This is no ego-driven last hurrah for Sammy. He has the self-awareness to know what he brings to the table: a proven man-manager whose emotional intelligence and personality helped him steer a side of divergent characters, superstars and wannabe stars for six years. Sammy says that not being a superstar himself helped. “Not being a star player allows everyone else to shine and, if they fail, then you get your chance to perform. I may not always have been the most talented or the prettiest on the eye, but every time I have performed it has been when the team is in trouble or our backs are against the wall.”
He adds, “As a captain, you can’t motivate everyone the same way. There are those who thrive on the limelight, so you provide them with a platform to shine; others might need quieter words of encouragement or direction. It’s important that everyone is getting what they need and knows their role. That way you get a happy team and one more likely to perform to its potential.”
So what is the potential for the West Indies? “We’ve shown signs that we can perform. Obviously the [ODI] World Cup in England didn’t go as planned but we have some great young talent. We need to nurture them. If we could surround that talent with some more experienced guys, we could continue developing, and then – well, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be successful. We’ve done it before.”
Daren Sammy was born in Micoud, St Lucia, on 20 December 1983, one of three sons of Johannes and Clara Sammy. Growing up, the batting legend Brian Lara and fast-bowling great Curtly Ambrose were among his idols.
“I remember watching cricket as a boy with my dad,” he says. “I used to love to watch Lara bat. Once he is batting I’m glued – I’m not moving, not eating lunch, nothing. If he gets out, though, that’s it – I want everyone else to get out so I can watch Ambrose and Walsh bowling.”
Sammy achieved his dream of playing alongside Lara when making his West Indies ODI debut during the 2004 Champions Trophy. But though he was inspired by these luminaries of the West Indian game, more powerful motivators were found closer to home. “Growing up in St Lucia, with no St Lucians on the team for so many years, I wanted to change that; it became a goal for me to be the first.”
Yet Sammy also saw in cricket an opportunity for a better life for him and his family, and it was the experience of another small islander that brought that home. “When Junior Murray became the first Grenadian to play test cricket for the West Indies in 1993, I was ten years old,” says Sammy. The feat, and its aftermath, left a big mark on an impressionable young mind.
“When I saw what the Grenadian government did for him – giving him land and a house, a car, free gas, everything – I said to my schoolmates, imagine what they would do for the first St Lucian? Coming from a low-income family and watching my parents toiling hard to make ends meet, I wanted to be the one to make a difference in their lives. Cricket was a passion, yes, but it also became a way to move forward in life, and that really flicked a switch in me. With that focus, I was able to move past my peers.”
Sammy has clocked up more than 230 representative games for the West Indies across all formats. He has a test century and five-wicket hauls to his name, has twice captained T20 World Cup-winning sides, won the 2004 Champions trophy, and is the only active player to have a stadium named after him. It’s fair to say that he has carved out an exemplary career and, though this has come through dedication and industry on his part, he’s quick to recognise those who have helped along the way, and equally keen to give back where he can.
This includes giving back to his parents, of whom he speaks with great love and affection, particularly his mum, Clara. “Of all the things I’ve done, my greatest joy is the way my mum looks at me,” he says. “My mum is my biggest supporter, and you can tell how proud she is. My hashtag is always #ClarasBoy, and most times I play cricket now I play with ‘Clara’s Boy’ written on my shirt.
“My mum raised us to be content with what we had at home, and not to be jealous of others. Growing up, we didn’t see ourselves as poor, and because of that we walked tall. I get my work ethic from my parents.”
Sammy promised his dad that he would buy him a minibus with his first West Indies pay cheque, and it was a promise fulfilled. He also helped others down the years, including youngsters in his own community. As time went on, he wanted to formalise this philanthropy.
“The more I played and the more I saw the need of young people, I thought maybe I could put some structure in place. In 2016, everything just happened. We won the T20 World Cup and I was sitting at home with friends talking about winning. I wanted to help develop future champions – that was the conversation.”
First the Daren Sammy Foundation was formed; then, two years later, the Daren Sammy Cricket Academy followed. The Foundation is built on Sammy’s deeply held belief in the power of education. “The first thing you want as a parent is a good education for your child,” he says. “If you educate the mind, you give that person the chance to lift themselves out of whatever circumstances they might be in.”
Sammy wanted to help underprivileged children by taking away the financial burden of schooling from their parents. “Each year we select students from poorer backgrounds and give them scholarships, which take care of educational expenses such as school fees and textbooks. This covers secondary school, which lasts five years. It started in 2016 with ten students; this year we have 15 new starters; next year I want that number to be 20.” He adds proudly: “This year I also had my first graduate, who got a certificate in IT.”
Sammy is a father of four, but the children of his foundation are his ‘other kids’. “When I call the parents and tell them their child has been selected, the reaction is truly something else,” he says. “They’re so excited and grateful. It gives me great joy to provide an opportunity and to give back to people who need it.”
There is also an award of a laptop for the top student each year. This year’s winner provided inspiration for the great cricketer himself. “The boy who won comes from a really poor family. The situation in which he’s living, to be able to block all of those challenges and to focus on your schoolwork and get your grades, it’s an amazing story. That really inspires and motivates me.”
Developing future stars
The launch of a cricket academy was a natural progression for Sammy, and one that again reflects personal experience. “Coming from a low-income family, getting cricket gear and financial support was always a struggle. There were a few people who looked after me; they made it possible for me to go to the MCC Young Cricketers at Lords as a young player.
That was the first time I was exposed to a professional set up, and from there I took off. The following year I got called up for the West Indies. So the idea of the academy is basically passing on what was done for me.”
Sammy’s academy selects the top 15 St Lucian U15 cricketers and then exposes them to a cricket set-up of international standard. “We have coaches who devote their time, we study mental strength, physical fitness, technical and tactical aspects of the game, show them what it takes to be a professional. We put them in nice hotels, because that is what international players experience. We show them what can be achieved if they remain focused and disciplined and believe in themselves. But even if they don’t make it as cricketers they will have been taught some life lessons. You need discipline in every aspect of your life.”
The annual camps currently last up to ten days, but Sammy is looking to increase this in the future, finances permitting.
Sammy is a charismatic yet down-to-earth star, and his story is an inspirational one that resonates on a human level. Because he is so approachable, people connect with him. Staying humble is a familiar refrain of the famous, but often it is only words. Not with Sammy. As we talk he’s happy to laugh at himself and show vulnerability – he admits to crying during movies and being a nervous flyer; he’s also enthusiastic to talk of his enduring love for his “superwoman” wife, Cathy.
More than two million social media followers bear testament to his global popularity. He is now leveraging that popularity by launching his own brand and the trademarks Daren Sammy™ and 88 Special™. The details of what this will mean moving forward are not set in stone but are likely to include fashion and perfume lines and other endorsement opportunities, partnerships and a media platform (www.darensammy88.com) where fans can access exclusive content.
Clothes and fashion are a seamless fit for Sammy, who is known for his sense of style – though that wasn’t always the case. He laughs as he recalls an incident when he was attending the MCC Young Cricketers programme at Lord’s. “I went there to focus on cricket, but a couple of weekends before it finished some of the boys insisted we go out. So I got dressed and met up with them. Now, back in the Caribbean, baggy jeans were in style. Well, mine were baaaaggggeeee! I was dressed in a pair that could’ve fit two of the others inside! They take one look at me and they’re just shaking their heads. I tell them it’s the Caribbean style. But they say: you’re in England now, mate! They made me go back and change. I don’t think I’ve ever worn anything so baggy again.”
Sammy is now renowned as a snappy dresser, taking his cues from the many countries and cultures he has been exposed to throughout his career. It was on one of these trips that he came to a crossroads.
“Over the years, people have said I dress well and that I should launch a brand. One day I was going through my Instagram, thinking maybe I should do it. But then I had this feeling in my stomach. The truth is that I was so comfortable in where I was in life, I was living my dream every day, and I thought: why change that?
“I go out and speak to kids about imagining what they want to do, that if they believe it they can achieve it – yet here I was, afraid to get out of my comfort zone. And it hit me: change can be scary, but what is scarier is not evolving or progressing. So I called my wife and talked to her. And on the same day a colleague, brand strategist Hanna Fitz, called me out of the blue to talk about launching my brand. Well, that was it. It’s a challenge and I’m super excited about it. For the first time in my life I’m doing something that is not cricket. The cricket field has always been my place of power, but this is a new chapter for me. It’s all about stepping into the unknown and being positive.”
So what is Brand Sammy? “It is about empowerment; passion, pride, happiness, success; all these things are in every one of us. We should always remember how powerful we are on the inside. I want Caribbean kids to dream big. I want to inspire kids to be whatever they want to be in life – to believe in themselves.”
And what about his legacy? “Everything I do now is not really for me,” he says. “I want to leave a legacy for my family, for my kids. I want to be an example to them, so they know that their dad, went out there and gave it his all.”
You sense Sammy has already achieved this. You also sense there are still many more chapters to be written in the life of this inspirational St Lucian.
5 career highs
1 Captaining West Indies to a 4-wicket win over England in the T20 World Cup Final, 3 April 2016, Kolkata, India
2 Captaining West Indies to a 36-run win over Sri Lanka in the T20 World Cup Final, 7 October 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka
3 Taking 7 for 66 on Test debut against England, 7-11 Jun, 2007, Old Trafford, Manchester
4 Scoring his maiden Test century (106) in May 2012 against England
5 Making his highest ODI score (84) in front of hometown fans in St Lucia. Sammy reached 50 in 20 deliveries – a West Indies record till March 2019 when Chris Gayle hit 50 in 19 balls