The batsman talks about why he can’t see a future for himself in the West Indies side as long as selection depends on playing domestic cricket
“The past is history.” So proclaims Lendl Simmons’ status on WhatsApp. It is the mantra of a man who wants to look forward in life, not moan.
Yet Simmons cannot help but feel aggrieved. He, like Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell, was not considered eligible for selection in West Indies’ ongoing ODI tri-series against Australia and South Africa. All those players did not play in this year’s West Indies domestic 50-over tournament, instead playing in the Big Bash.
“It’s just foolish,” Simmons says. “We are available to play but we are not being picked. It’s just a stupid rule that they have. Unless that rule changes, no one will play for the West Indies, because I don’t think anyone is going to give up franchise cricket to play regional cricket when the fees are not suitable enough. A lot of other teams’ players don’t play in their domestic [competitions] but still play for their country. This is not the same for us, but such is life.”
While wishing West Indies well, Simmons warns that “we could embarrass ourselves because Australia and South Africa are not coming here with their A teams. They are coming here with their full teams.”
Simmons was gripped by anger two months ago as well. When he came out to bat in the semi-final of the World T20, with West Indies 19 for 2 after three overs, in pursuit of 193, Simmons was riled by Virat Kohli.
“When he fielded, he said something to me, and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to show you you’re not the only good batsman,'” Simmons says. He also reckons Kohli kept throwing the ball to his end to try and get under his skin. “That’s the way he is. He’s very arrogant, he’s very aggressive when he fields, and when he bats as well. He’s just a very aggressive person.
“Those things motivate our players and it certainly motivated me. That really urged me to bat the way I did – to show him that he’s not the only one who can do it. That played a big role.”
So too did simple fortune. Simmons was twice caught off a no-ball, and reprieved a third time when a catch off a legitimate delivery was overturned when Ravindra Jadeja was shown to be touching the boundary rope when he took it. “Every cricketer has his day and you just need to cash in when it is your day,” Simmons says. “I took full opportunity of that to bat until the end. It was mind-blowing doing that with all those people supporting India and being very loud. It was the highlight of my career.”
Kohli might have reflected on the impact of his words as Simmons thumped five sixes into the Wankhede, en route to a 51-ball 82 not out. “When India chase, one of their top batsmen bats deep – that was my role, batting in the middle overs, especially because I play spin well. I know they didn’t have any good death bowlers, so with Russell, Bravo and Sammy to come once we passed the middle overs, those guys could always come out and finish.”
It was left to Russell to score the winning runs, dispatching a full toss – from Kohli, of all people – into the Mumbai night sky. And when Carlos Braithwaite’s four towering sixes clinched the final, Simmons had gone from watching the World T20 at home, having originally not been selected because he was not fully fit, to being a world champion in the space of a week.
It proved an expensive triumph. Simmons played at “85%” in the World T20, aggravating the problems with his lower back that had originally led him to miss the tournament. His back ultimately forced him to fly home after one IPL game. “But I think it was worth it – putting the West Indies back on the map by winning the World Cup again. It was a big achievement for the Caribbean. It meant a whole lot. We knew that everyone in the Caribbean was watching the final. We desperately needed that, because we know there’s a lot of politics in cricket right now – a lot going against the players right now.”
Simmons suggests that his cousin, West Indies’ coach Phil, shares his frustration, “but there’s not much he can do”.
Having won two of the last three World T20 crowns – Simmons was not selected in 2012 – West Indies are shaping up as international cricket’s first dominant T20 side. Bravo has even suggested they could be as successful in the format as the Test side was in the 1980s.
“It’s calypso cricket,” Simmons says of the West Indies’ success. “It’s because of the way we play our cricket – we are aggressive, very sprightly, and that’s how we are. We’re not good at Test cricket right now, but T20 is right up our alley.”
Even a golden duck in the final could not dilute the memory of his innings, a distillation of the T20 qualities that have earned him attention from franchises the world over.
India has seen the best of him: Simmons has 1038 runs at 47.18 for Mumbai Indians. But he is also enthused about the Caribbean Premier League. It “pays well” and, for the first time ever, means leading players from foreign shores play domestic cricket in the West Indies, testing and improving Caribbean players without deals in other T20 leagues.
Simmons is unashamed about the path he has chosen. Injuries have rendered him unable to play Tests – he never even scored a half-century during an eight-match career that ended five years ago – and he has not played an ODI, or even a List A match, since the World Cup. That will not change until either he or the West Indies Cricket Board change their minds about playing in the Nagico Super50. Neither seems likely.
“Yes, I enjoy playing for Trinidad and I want to play for the West Indies, but people also have families that they need to feed and a life that they need to build,” Simmons says. He will continue to be a flag bearer for the age of the itinerant T20 player – a sign of the things and, he reckons, a shape of the future of West Indies’ best players too.
“Franchise cricket is a very good thing. People can travel around the world and play cricket. You get paid well for your services, and people want our services,” he says.
“Franchise cricket is the avenue for players to earn a living. Not everyone gets retained for the West Indies, and anyway our retainer is not sufficient to say you can live off this for three to four years.”
It was ever thus. West Indies have always relied on foreign leagues – traditionally county and club cricket in England – to fund their players. Garry Sobers once almost missed an international to play an English club match, because it was more lucrative. The T20 globetrotting of Simmons and Co is new. But it is also entirely in keeping with West Indies’ past.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts