Phil Simmons on Windies cricket: ‘The cut runs deep’

Phil Simmons, the former Caribbean opener and a handy seamer, admits, “The past was great but the present is distressing.”

New role: Phil Simmons is now the coach of the Afghanistan team. Photo: S. Dinakar

He sees portraits of the West Indian cricket greats on the walls of the Sri Ramachandra’s Centre for Sports Science (CSS) and winces. “The past was great but the present is distressing,” he told Sportstar here on Thursday.

The former Caribbean opener and a handy seamer, Phil Simmons, has a new role these days. He is the coach of the Afghanistan team. The side is training at the CSS here and Simmons is on the job. “Afghanistan has quality spinners, there is some talent in pace with Dawlat Zardan leading the pack, but some works needs to be done in batting for the longer format.”

In this context, Simmons said, “It would be very helpful if Afghanistan is allowed by the BCCI to play in the Ranji Trophy. This will particularly help in the development of batsmen. The standard of four-day cricket in Afghanistan needs improvement.”

Rising ‘from the dead’

Simmons, now 55, was a marauding strokemaker until he suffered a debilitating head injury; he stopped breathing for a few moments and underwent an emergency surgery. Simmons recalled, “It was a tour game in England in 1988 and I was hit by this nasty short ball from David Lawrence. There was some internal bleeding in the brain. Actually, I came back from the dead.”

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He called Philip Hughes’ death, after being hit by a short-pitched delivery in 2014, “very unfortunate,” but added the helmets, which covered greater area around the neck, were a lot more secure now. Those who saw Simmons’ brilliance with the bat in his early days maintain he was never quite the same batsman again and the mental scars remained. But then, Simmons developed as a clever seam bowler.

‘Menacing bowlers’

Interestingly, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose were his best mates in the West Indian team. “I spent a lot of time with them. They were menacing bowlers on the field, but wanted to live, laugh and enjoy life outside the field.”

Vivian Richards (in picture) was the most destructive batsman Phil Simmons had seen. Photo: S. Subramanium

 

And Vivian Richards was the most destructive batsman he had seen. “Whether it was sheer pace or spin, he could simply decimate attacks. I have never seen anything like that before or after. He has that presence about him and desperately wanted the West Indies to do well.”

‘Frightening’

The West Indies had a battery of fast bowlers then but the paceman who posed a distinct threat to life and limb, according to Simmons, was Sylvester Clarke. “He did not play a lot for the West Indies. Clarke had a short run-up used his shoulders, achieved disconcerting bounce.”

Simmons recalled, “I have never seen a quicker or a more hostile spell than what Clarke bowled at Clive Lloyd in a Benson & Hedges quarterfinal match at the Oval. It was frightening.”

‘Complete package’

Simmons rated Virat Kohli the best batsman across formats in contemporary cricket and Jasprit Bumrah, India’s most incisive paceman. “He’s got pace, swing, bowls the yorker and the slower ball, gets bounce, he’s a complete package.”

Probe him further about the state of the Windies cricket now and Simmons replies, “It really hurts. The cut runs deep.”