<
>

Phil Simmons: 'It doesn't take Black Lives Matter to bring us together as a team'

Phil Simmons, West Indies' head coach PA Images via Getty Images

Phil Simmons, West Indies' head coach, has said that his players will decide by Monday night whether to take a knee in support of Black Lives Matter before the start of the first Test against England, but stressed that the issues that have been brought to prominence by the global movement were ones that "motivate us all the time".

Simmons, who last month revealed that he had been the target of racist abuse during his days in English league cricket in the late 1980s, said that the decision to incorporate the BLM logo on the collar of the West Indies Test shirts - a move since followed by the England squad - was just a "start". He also insisted that the recent political interference that followed his attendance of a family funeral would not detract from the team's focus on defending the Wisden Trophy, and bidding for a first series win in England since 1988.

"We've spoken about it a bit," Simmons said of BLM. "It means a hell of a lot to all the players and all the staff on the tour. But it's not just about now, it's about life on the whole, and I think we as a group don't need to say this is going to motivate us. It motivates us all the time, it's been a natural part of life."

While West Indies' expanded squad has put on a united front during their bio-secure build-up to the series at Emirates Old Trafford, that sense of regional unity was dented last week when Conde Riley, the president of Barbados Cricket Association, called for the sacking of Simmons, a Trinidadian, after he had been given permission to leave the team environment to attend his father-in-law's funeral.

And while Simmons described Riley's criticisms of his actions as "sad", adding that "not much surprises me in life anymore", he denied that the controversy had had any impact on the wider squad's preparations, or that the overarching message of BLM was required to help keep his players focused on what is at stake in the coming weeks.

ALSO READ: 'Kemar Roach is a genuine great' - Courtney Walsh

"I think there's rivalry between the islands all the time," Simmons said. "But as far as I am concerned, 97% of the time that I've been with a West Indies team, whether playing or coaching, we've been together as a unit, as a team.

"So it doesn't take the Black Lives situation to bring us together as a team. All the teams that have been with, we've been fairly united in the struggle that we have, to go out there and win Test matches. It doesn't matter what we've been against, we have to go out and win Test matches, and that's what we've got into these guys here."

Wednesday's Test at the Ageas Bowl will be the first to have taken place since the global lockdown in March, and Simmons said that the ECB deserved huge credit for devising a "blueprint for how cricket can move forward" in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, adding that several aspects of the team's preparations in recent weeks would be worth retaining when "life gets back to what we consider normal".

In particular, Simmons said he was "extremely happy" with the use of an extended squad for West Indies' two warm-ups at Old Trafford. The matches left a few issues unresolved, not least the form of West Indies' batsmen in general and their captain Jason Holder in particular, who has been short of both runs and overs since arriving in England.

But with Shannon Gabriel proving his fitness following an ankle injury, West Indies will go into the Tests with a full complement of fast bowlers, all of whom are gunning to repeat their feats in the Caribbean 18 months ago, when England were outgunned in the first two Tests of the series in Barbados and Antigua.

"It's an exciting group of fast bowlers and the reserve group has made for an exciting four weeks for us as coaches," Simmons said. "We know that Kemar [Roach], Shannon and Jason are our top bowlers but [Alzarri] Joseph has been bowling so well that I think that he will have a lot to do with the outcome of this series.

"I'm not concerned about the batting," Simmons added. "The batsmen have worked very hard on getting to where they are now, and all that it takes now is for their mindset to be right for the Test match.

"The key thing for us is that we play proper cricket in all three facets of the game. We keep talking about the batting, and the bowling has been strong, but we must field well and catch well also to give ourselves that chance. Our frame of mind is that we have to play well in all three facets of the game in order to beat England."

Holder appeared to be nursing an ankle injury in the early weeks of the tour, but Simmons insisted there was "no concern" about his captain - a player who is currently ranked as the No. 1 allrounder in Test cricket, ahead of Ben Stokes at No. 2, the man who will also be his opposite number as he stands in for Joe Root in the first Test.

"Jason has played enough Test cricket now to know what he's working on and, mentally, he's where he wants to be," Simmons said. "He might not have scored runs up in Manchester, but he's been hitting the ball well."

Of Stokes' lack of experience as captain - he has never before led a team in his professional career - Simmons warned that it might not be an issue that his side would be able to exploit.

"I think that it's going to be a toss-up between these two allrounders and hopefully Jason can do what's necessary to get on top of Ben in this first Test," he said. "Ben is one of them who leads from the front. That's been shown by all his exploits before in cricket, [so] we will have to make sure that we get on to him very early, because he likes to do what is necessary for his team.

"You have to be careful how you use an advantage because, with Root not being there, you have some youngster who wants to make a name for himself. And sometimes that's even harder than the players you know, so you have to be very careful about saying that it's an advantage.

"Ben has not had that time [as captain] but they've had a successful team for a while, and that helps," he added. "With the experience that he has behind him - Jimmy [Anderson] and Broad and people like that, there's a lot of experience to help him on the field if he comes a cropper. But it's hard to really say if that's a big advantage."