Simmons rubbishes ‘victimisation’ claims after Powell-Smith swap

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West Indies coach Phil Simmons and Cricket West Indies have both rubbished reports of Odean Smith being ‘victimised’, after the allrounder was benched in favour of Rovman Powell for the third T20I against England.

While Simmons said that those on the outside who wanted “preach about victimisation” needed “to look within themselves”, CWI president Ricky Skerritt put out a statement calling the allegations “a malicious attack on the credibility of the West Indies Captain, designed to sow division within our team”.

The statements came in response to a voice note that was sent to mediapersons after the third ODI. While it’s not yet clear who sent the voice note, the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday reported that it was “a regional cricket commentator” and that it said the West Indies Players’ Association was “very upset over the treatment of Smith” while alleging that a high-level meeting was planned at CWI to clear issues within the team.

Rovman Powell became the third West Indian to score a century in T20 International (Photo: Getty Images)

Simmons dismissed the allegation outright in a press conference on Friday, January 28, the day after West Indies won the third T20I to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

“For me, that can’t happen when I’m here,” Simmons said. “You don’t victimise anyone. You don’t try to pull down anyone. You try to make players a better person first of all, and a better cricketer afterwards. In my coaching career and even in my playing career, you look to help the man next to you. And that’s one thing I’ve been preaching in this team, and in all the teams that I’ve dealt with. So, there is no such thing as victimisation here and there will be none as long as I’m around.”

Smith had played the first two T20Is of the five-match series. He bowled one over in the first T20I and was not called on to bowl in the second. While batting, he wasn’t needed in the first T20I in a nine-wicket win and made 7 in the second T20I. In the third, West Indies strengthened their batting by replacing Smith with Powell, who went on to smash 107 off 53 balls in a high-scoring win.

Flashback! Odean Smith and Romario Shepherd put together a shot-filled 58-run ninth-wicket stand in just 4.3 overs against Ireland (Photo: CWI Media)

“I think you’re going down the wrong line with this,” Simmons continued. “Let me explain something to you, and I’m saying it again. We need to stop this foolishness that we’re going on with. We sit down and we look at the best team for the day. And if Odean wasn’t in the best team for the day, it is because we thought that Rovman was better suited for yesterday.

“All those who want to sit out there and preach about victimisation, I think they need to look within themselves. There’s no victimisation in selection in West Indies cricket, and there’s no victimisation in this team in playing anyone. So we need to start stepping away from that and letting the people who are pushing this know that that’s not happening. I’m not going to be answering any more questions about things like that.”

The CWI statement backed up Simmons’ words. “Contrary to the unsubstantiated statements, containing unfounded and mischievous allegations, CWI is satisfied that there is no discord between the Team Captain and any member of the West Indies team,” it read.

It also had strong words of condemnation from Skerritt. “I view this as a malicious attack on the credibility of the West Indies Captain, designed to sow division within our team that has just recorded three very impressive T20I performances against very strong opponents, including two outstanding wins and one heroic comeback to get within one run of victory. This clear attempt by well-known mischief makers to discredit the Captain and to derail the Team’s momentum in the ongoing Betway T20I Series should not be tolerated or encouraged.”

Simmons and CWI found support from the recently retired Dwayne Bravo, who tweeted that he “woke up to see the same individuals who don’t care about the cricket trying to push a victimization narrative”.

West Indies white-ball captain Kieron Pollard (Photo by Randy Brooks/AFP)

After the win in the third T20I on Wednesday, Kieron Pollard had said that it was important to “take the ego out” when it came to team selections and praised the team management for getting the right balance.

“It vindicated the team selection, obviously. It was a good game of cricket. We batted first, and we batted well, kudos to Rovman. He came in having been out for the first two games and took his chance. We have a versatile team. Sometimes you have to take the ego out of it and give the opportunity to the guys who have the form and the confidence, that’s what we did today. So kudos to the management team and to the players who went out and played a fantastic game.”

In his press conference, when speaking on Smith’s role in the set-up, Simmons had praised his ability but pointed out that given the number of all-round options West Indies had, there would be situations where his skills would not be needed.

“Well we all know his role in the side. He’s a bowler who bowls quick and he can hit the ball out of the ground,” Simmons said.

“In the games where he didn’t bowl, it’s a situation like that – we have seven bowlers, and unfortunately in those games he didn’t bowl. It’s just the run of the game on the day. We needed a batsman to come in yesterday, and we made that choice. Because of course Jason (Holder) and (Sheldon) Cottrell are your main bowlers at the top there, and (Romario) Shepherd has shown both with bat and ball that he’s doing well, and we wanted him to continue. That’s just the situation of him being left out and Powell coming in.”

Smith has played three ODIs and seven T20Is for West Indies so far. He came to prominence during CPL 2021, with his hard-hitting batting and ability to touch 140kph. (ESPNcricinfo)

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