Simmons puts faith in struggling West Indies batters, adds voice for better pitches

The coach is hopeful of surfaces more conducive to run-scoring against India in Trinidad

Deivarayan Muthu
West Indies' head coach Phil Simmons has said that batting out 50 overs is their top priority as they rebuild for next year's ODI World Cup. Since the 2019 World Cup, West Indies have played out 50 overs just six times in 39 innings, and have lost nine of their 13 ODI series since that tournament, including a series defeat against Ireland at home earlier this year.
"The main thing is how we bat our 50 overs…we have to bat 50 overs and put our innings together and partnerships together," Simmons said two days out of the ODI series opener against India in Port-of-Spain. "Somebody has to be looking to score a hundred and hold the team together. Batting-wise that is it."
Simmons, however, isn't overly concerned by the bowling attack, which couldn't bowl out Bangladesh once in the most recent three-match ODI series in Guyana, and the fielding.
"The bowling and the fielding has been improving daily," he said. "We rank ourselves very highly on the fielding. The bowling, we had couple of games on those wickets where people might say we should've gotten more wickets but the wicket got better every time we fielded because they had put out the second roller on it and it had dried out from earlier in the day.
"So, the bowlers have been doing well and we have to continue restricting and getting wickets - that's the only way we can keep totals low and continue to win games."
Despite the repeated batting failures, Simmons showed faith in the current group and put down some of their struggles against Bangladesh earlier this month to the subcontinent-style spin-friendly pitches at the Providence. Captain Nicholas Pooran was also critical of the surfaces after West Indies were swept 3-0 by Bangladesh.
"I can't look past the batters here yet," Simmons said. "I think you judge people on good wickets. We had good performances in Netherlands and good performances in Pakistan. You come [home] and you get indifferent wickets where guys have to fight for runs and we agree that we should've fought a little harder, but I can't come down [on them]. Let's see what happens. These wickets [at Queen's Park Oval] look really good and let's see how they play and we can judge them from this."
Simmons expects a better batting performance from West Indies on what he believes will be a truer pitch in Port-of-Spain. Simmons said that he has already seen signs of improvement from the batters during West Indies' two training sessions at the Queen's Park Oval so far. The pitch for the game, however, could still be a bit of an unknown quantity as the venue has not hosted an international game since August 2019.
"The first difference is that the surface here [in Port-of-Spain] looks like some work has been put into it," Simmons said. "It has been prepared and it looks good. That is all you can go to…they are true wickets that we're going to play these three games on and it looked really good the last couple of days we've been there, so [we will] wait and see how they play on Friday.
"You expect a better batting performance. I think we don't really want to make any excuses and in the last game we showed what we should've shown in the first two games…I'm not hiding the fact that they were bad cricket wickets on the whole, but I expect different here. The wicket has looked good and yes it [India] is a stronger bowling team but we expect a better batting performance."
Simmons also called for better-prepared pitches across the region if West Indies are to produce quality batters and bowlers in the future. He echoed former captain Kieron Pollard's comments from last year, when he termed the Barbados pitches "absolutely ridiculous".
"You have to let them [groundstaff across the Caribbean] know [about the sub-standard pitches]," Simmons said. "It's not nice, it's something that we've to work on throughout the Caribbean because the better wickets we get for our young players to grow up on, the better batsmen we get, the better fast bowlers and spinners we get. So, yes, it's a conversation we have all the time."
Allrounder Keemo Paul didn't bowl in the third ODI against Bangladesh last week after sustaining a hamstring injury. Paul had suffered multiple injuries in the last couple of years and around that point he even doubted whether he would return to international cricket.
Simmons was pleased with Paul's rehab although he said that the decision on his potential inclusion would only be taken on the eve of the first match against India.
"He has looked really well," Simmons said. "He's been going through his paces with the physio and the S&C [strength & conditioning coach] in the last couple of days we've been here. He looked really well today, but we can only make a decision tomorrow when we see again if he's ready for the game, but he has progressed really well."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo