London: Darren Sammy will look to put the knowledge of Lord's gained from his time as an MCC Young Cricketer to good use when he captains the West Indies in the first Test against England at the "spiritual place of cricket" starting Thursday. The 28-year-old all-rounder spent three seasons, from 2003-2005, on the Lord's groundstaff programme which has helped nurture generations of future professional cricketers, including England legends Denis Compton and Ian Botham as well as Australia's Mark Waugh and New Zealand's Martin Crowe.
Sammy, speaking at Lord's on Wednesday on the eve of the first Test, said his time at Lord's had been pivotal to his progress. "I tell people that coming to England really changed the direction of my career. The coach here, Clive Radley [the former Middlesex and England batsman], the work he did with me, it exposed me to a whole new professional attitude towards cricket and I think that's something that has stuck with me."
Sammy is not the only player in the squad with youthful memories of Lord's. "Darren Bravo, he came here as a teenager for Trinidad and they told him he couldn't go on the grass and when everybody wasn't looking he took some grass and put it in his pocket. He said he was going to plant it in his back yard and call it 'Lord's'," Sammy recalled. "But by the time he got to the Caribbean all the grass was brown."
Something all visiting players are especially keen to do at Lord's is get their name on the dressing room honours boards that record all those who've taken five wickets and/or scored a century in a Test innings on the ground. "Kemar Roach said he's going to be the first one, Ravi Rampaul said it's going to be him and I myself think it's going to be me as well," Sammy said. "There's a lot of inspiration that can be taken from Lord's, it's the spiritual place of cricket, so hopefully magical things can happen for us."
West Indies arrive at Lord's with a record of just two wins in their last 30 Tests and are without several leading players, including opener Chris Gayle because of the lure of the lucrative Indian Premier League, disputes with the West Indies Cricket Board or, in some cases, a combination of the two. However, Sammy insisted: "There's no frustration. Everybody's free to do whatever they want."
What was frustrating for Sammy was the way West Indies let things slip during a 2-0 defeat in a recent three-match series at home to Australia. "We keep finding ourselves in winning positions and some way we keep letting it go," he said. "When you are playing against a champion team, they find a way to win, so we need to have that way when we are on top. We've been competing and pushing teams down to the wire. If you look at the last series, a 2-0 scoreline doesn't reflect the way we played and hopefully we can eliminate these things in this series here."
A Test batting average of 19.09 and bowling average of 30.89 have led many to question Sammy's place in the side as an all-rounder. But the medium-pacer and hard-hitting batsman said: "I come across that every day. When I bowl my job is to keep pressure on and that's what I do, go at 2.6 runs per over. Hopefully I can get some wickets in between and create pressure so the man bowling at the other end can get wickets as well. I am the captain, I just do what I do. Whenever I leave, whoever is captain, as long as the team go out and perform and show that fight, that never-say-die attitude that gets victories, then I'll be happy."