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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Darren Sammy to receive honorary citizenship and Nishan-e-Pakistan

What connects Fidel Castro, Shah of Iran, Queen Elizabeth II, Joseph Tito, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, King Birendra, Aga Khan, Morarji Desai, Nelson Mandela ?

.. .. this not so much heralded Cricketer was  Vice-captain in an under-strength side that became Bangladesh's first away series victims in Tests, and then was appointed captain after the contract dispute that led to that losing, under-strength side taking the field wasn't resolved. Perhaps their Board thought him to be a perfect ‘yes-man’! – this West Indian however rose up and the  Beausejour Cricket Ground in St Lucia was renamed after him as __________ National Cricket Stadium, following West Indies' dramatic World Twenty20 title win in India.

No prize for guessing .. it is Darren Sammy.  Darren Julius Garvey Sammy was born in St Lucia in the year WI lost the WC for the first time, having won it in the inaugural year 1975 and repeating it in 1979.  He made his debut against England at Manchester in 2007 and played his last test at Hamilton in Dec 2013.  His ODI debut was earlier in 2004 and his last match was a couple of years later at 2015. In between he was an IPL star too and excelled in T20 format having lifted their team to win World title.  He made his T20I debut in 2007 and played till 2017.

The euphoria that swept through the cricketing Caribbean following men's team's victory snatched from the jaws of defeat in the World T20 final in Kolkata was spoilt  by the heated, long-running debate over the future of the West Indies board. The two were simultaneously linked at the presentation formalities by captain Darren Sammy's impassioned denunciation of the WICB as he received the trophy for the second time in three tournaments. Dwayne Bravo's subsequent descriptions of the WICB as "the most unprofessional board in the world" and of board president Dave Cameron as "immature", "small-minded" and "arrogant" added fuel to the fire.  

Board VP Nanthan termed Sammy's reproach "irrelevant, demeaning, insulting and unfortunate". A few days later, perhaps mindful of Sammy's widespread popularity, he claimed he wasn't really criticising him as they always had a father-and-son relationship. As Cameron was making his unsolicited apology and dispatching his tweet, the St Lucia government was preparing for the return of their two nationals from the champion team, Sammy and opener Johnson Charles. The culmination was the renaming of the Beausejour Stadium, venue for international cricket, the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium. The size of celebrating crowds left no doubt over Sammy's status in his native island.

So it mostly was throughout the 11 territories, from Guyana in the south to Jamaica in the north, whose common passion for over 100 years has been the game that unites them and for which they have been universally recognised for excellence and the exciting brand of their play. Some of the West Indies legends during the glorious period between 1976 and 1995, Sir Viv Richards and Sir Andy Roberts the most prominent, sided with Sammy.

Then came his downfall.  Darren Sammy  announced his retirement from Test cricket after losing the captaincy. His decision came just hours after the WICB announced that wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin was replacing Sammy as captain of the Test side for the upcoming three-Test series against New Zealand. Sammy was the first player from St Lucia to represent the West Indies Test side, making his debut as a 23-year-old in 2007 against England at Old Trafford. He took 7 for 66 in the second innings of a 60-run loss to the home side, the best bowling figures at Old Trafford since Malcolm Marshall claimed 7 for 22 in 1988. After having played only eight Tests, he was made captain of the Test side taking over from Chris Gayle in Oct 2010 after Gayle turned down a WICB central contract. Sammy fought off plenty of criticism throughout his reign during which West Indies won eight, lost 12 and drew 10 of the Tests he captained.

His leaving Test cricket was  at a time when his Twenty20 career was near its peak. After leading West Indies to the World T20 title in 2012, he led them to the semifinals in 2014 on the back of some impressive finishing displays, none more than against Australia when he scored 34 not out off 13 balls in a final-over six-wicket win… .. now he is in news.

The names that you read at the start were some of the recipients of ‘Nishan-e-Pakistan’, the highest of civil awards and decorations given by the Government of Pakistan for the highest degree of service to the country and nation of Pakistan. The award was established in  1957. It is stated that the  Nishan-e-Pakistan, is a highly restricted and most prestigious award and is only conferred for the merit and distinguished services to the country, international community, and foreign relations.

Darren Sammy has played a major role in the return of top-flight cricket to Pakistan, and the country has decided to express its gratitude in style, by extending an honorary citizenship to the former West Indies captain. Arif Alvi, the Pakistan president, has signed off on the same, and Sammy will also receive the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the country's top civilian award, on March 23 in Islamabad. The idea of the honorary citizenship was initiated by Javed Afridi, the owner of Peshawar Zalmi, the team Sammy has represented since the start of the PSL in 2016. The PCB followed up on it with the federal government in light of Sammy's "invaluable contribution to cricket in Pakistan".

St Lucian Sammy, 36, has been Zalmi's premier marquee player from the beginning of the PSL. Ahead of the second edition, Shahid Afridi, who led the team in the first season, stepped down and handed the reins to Sammy, and he has led them since - they won the title in 2017 and were the losing finalists in 2018 and 2019.  More than that, though, it's Sammy's support to the Pakistan cause that has endeared him to people in the country. He was the first to agree to tour Pakistan when the PCB wanted to bring the PSL final to the country. Then, when an ICC World XI was lined up tour Pakistan for three T20Is in September 2017, Sammy - a part of that squad - spoke to the other tourists as part of a security briefing.

Darren Sammy perhaps has been honoured more by Pakistan than by his own country.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar
22nd Feb 2020.

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