West Indies’ Test record in recent years is grim. They have won only one of their previous 10 series – and that was against Bangladesh – and only two of their last 24 series stretching back to 2004. Indeed, since December 2003, West Indies have played 80 Tests, won just eight – including two against Bangladesh – and lost 45. It is not a record that inspires confidence.
But Sammy believes his side is progressing. While he accepts the results do not show it, he insists there have been encouraging signs in recent Test series. Notably, West Indies pushed India hard in Delhibefore collapsing against Ravi Ashwin in their second innings and succumbing to a five-wicket loss. Similarly, they came to close to upsetting Australia inBridgetown, only for another second innings batting collapse to eventually sentence them to a three-wicket defeat.
“The only thing that has not been happening is the victories,” Sammy told ESPNcricinfo. “We’ve been playing good, competitive cricket against strong sides like India and Australia and all our Tests have been going five days and down to the wire. Not many teams go to India and give India a run for their money, but we did that.
“Coming from where we are right now, we are not going to start winning straight away. We are taking baby steps to the ultimate goal. We are playing well and dominating teams throughout matches.
“The problem is that we keep losing key moments in matches. One bad session keeps costing us. Champion teams seize the moment but we keep having a bad session where we might lose five wickets in an hour. We just need to cut that out. Once we eliminate those bad sessions then we’ll make progress.”
Sammy also reminded England that the sides did not have to look back very far to the last team his side caused an upset. A young West Indies squad travelled to England to play two T20 internationals last September and, having lost the first game by 10 wickets, they hit back with a 25-run win to square the series. West Indies also won the last Test series between the sides in the Caribbean.
“We were a very inexperienced team in September,” Sammy said. “People said we were just on our way to Bangladesh, but we beat England.
“Every team that comes here, the media try and bring them down for England. So we know what to expect. We have to handle the distractions – be they the weather or the press – and concentrate on doing our best on the pitch. People don’t expect much from us, but we know that once we play to our potential we can compete very hard against England. If we can put runs on the board, we back our bowlers to take 20 wickets against England.”
If West Indies are to do that, it is crucial that they have their best attack available to them. As things stand there are slight injury doubts hanging against all three of their leading seamers – Kemar Roach (foot), Ravi Rampaul (neck) and Fidel Edwards (back) – though it looks as if all three should be fine. As Roach, who is eagerly anticipating his first Tests at Lord’s put it: “Everyone wants to be here; there’s nothing going to stop me playing.”
Sammy also said his entire side had been inspired by the documentary Fire in Babylon, which tells the story of West Indies’ domination of Test cricket in the 1970s and 80s. He drew parallels in the challenges facing his team and West Indies team of the early 70s.
“Fire in Babylon is my inspiration,” Sammy said. “I have watched it many times. I knew our history – but to see it again, to hear the passion in the voices of the players – it’s got to make you think about how important what we do is to the people of the Caribbean.
“All of the guys have seen it and been inspired. The guys are aware of how important West Indies cricket is to the fans. They appreciate the history and they carry the legacy. Some never knew about it – they knew the team had been great – but they didn’t understand what previous teams had gone through and what they had to endure. They didn’t understand about the challenges they had to rise above.
“We have different challenges now. We dominated the world for 17 years and conquered all teams. People got used to success. A lot is expected of all West Indies teams since then. It could be a burden – every fast bowler is compared to Ambrose or Walsh and every batsman is compared to Greenidge or Lara – but I prefer to see it as an inspiration. That’s the path we have to follow.
“Everyone in the Caribbean wants West Indies to do well. When we are playing well our brand of cricket is very entertaining. The turnout from the public in our last series – in Tests and ODIs and T20s – we’ve not seen that sort of support for our team in a long while. The reason is that they see the team competing. We’re not winning, but we’re playing with passion and if we do that, the victories should be just around the corner. We’re fighting, we’re showing passion: we understand what we have to do.”
Darren Sammy was talking at the launch expansion of Sport for Life, a cricket-based community education program that hopes to equip young people with life skills and instil in them a love of sport. For more details visit: http://www.sport-for-life.org/caribbean/