West Indies must hit the ground running, says Simmons

- Head Coach underscores importance of a positive start

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By Akeem Greene

West Indies Head Coach Phil Simmons wants his players to the hit ground running at full throttle in the first Test starting Wednesday, in order to exploit England’s inexperienced top order and start ahead in the defence of the prized Wisden Trophy.

On the 2017 tour to England, West Indies batted twice in the first Test and failed to surpass 170 runs in either innings, eventually losing by an innings and 203 runs.

Next match at Headingly, they got out of blocks with twin hundreds from Shai Hope and a near-miss of similar from Kraigg Brathwaite, which sealed a memorable five-wicket triumph.

In the final Test, West Indies suffered another batting meltdown and lost by nine wickets.

Returning to England’s squad from that series are just James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes. The prolific Joe Root will miss this Test due to the birth of his second child.

Simmons is adamant the lack of experience in England’s batting group does not necessarily mean advantage West Indies, but it is a big opportunity for West Indies to get the favoured result in the first Test

“We focused on that to make sure we don’t go behind as easily we did the last series [in England] and to have to try and catch up again. The young batters may come in and be hungry so we got to make sure we put as much pressure on them,” the coach stated at Sunday’s virtual press briefing.

Stokes, who deputises for Root, will move up to the captaincy role for this Test and the coach felt it should be an exciting battle between him and Jason Holder, the top-two ranked Test all-rounders.

West Indies captain Jason Holder laughs during a nets session at Ageas Bowl on July 06, 2020 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images for ECB)

However, despite Stokes’ lack of captaincy experience, Simmons felt England’s seasoned players will be of immense value.

“I don’t know if we can exploit; I think Ben is one who leads from the front and that has been shown in all his exploits in cricket. We have to make sure we get unto him very early because he likes to do what is necessary for his team…it is going to be a toss-up between these two and hopefully, Jason can do what is necessary to get on top of Ben.”

Holder scored seven runs and got one wicket in the two practice matches, but had been under a slight injury cloud with an ankle niggle.

However, Simmons indicated there is no concern on the captain’s lean returns since he in the best space mentally and physically.

“No concern, Jason has played enough Test cricket now and he knows what he is working on and mentally he is where he wants to be. He might not have scored a lot of runs in the warm-up matches in Manchester, but he has been hitting the ball well.”

The Head Coach further earmarked young and menacing pacer, Alzarri Joseph, as one who holds key to the outcome of the series.

On England’s tour to the Caribbean in 2019, Joseph took 10 wickets – second to Kemar Roach who had 18 – at an average of 23.80.

“Alzarri has a lot to do with the outcome of this series because we know Kemar, Shannon [Gabriel] and Jason are our top bowlers, but Alzarri has been bowling so well I think he will have a lot to do with the outcome of the series.”

Regarding selection, Simmons indicated they will opt for players in the 15-man squad for the first Test after which the 10 reserves could be in contention.

More so, no definitive decision has been made on the starting XI since they are awaiting to make a final assessment on pitch closer to match day.

“We are close enough, let’s see what they do with the wicket, it has a bit of grass but let’s see what they do with the wicket, it might be one change here or there.”

West Indies Test Squad: Jason Holder (captain), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Chemar Holder, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach.

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