Watching West Indian batting is more often like watching an entertaining musical. The focus is on the theatrics on the stage; the fun it generates. Not on the production or the choreography that remains veiled.
The coaches. The big budgets spent in cultivating next-generation talents. Posh cricketing facilities where talents are honed using modern sporting equipment coupled with intellectual mentation; or rather a lack of any of these critical support functions!
That sort of talk doesn’t feature- and won’t even matter- if suppose you were to pick a team of modern Cricket’s most dashing strokemakers, most of which would ironically, hail from the Caribbean.
Yet, in some ways, these limitations (unlike the well-oiled cricketing machinery one finds in cultures like an Australia, England or India) associated with the Caribbean context lend themselves to a very-West Indian way in which their batsmen compete; often lacking in virtuosity of technique but not effectiveness, often seeming inept but never powerless.
Unlike nations where the infrastructure of a high pedigree is sacrosanct in the development of talent, West Indians command attention basis their raw skill; something that can’t be taught in coaching schools.
What’s missing in the DNA of Windies batters- as against the game’s complete batsmen, think of the Rahuls, Khwajas, Amlas, Roots- is a key differentiator, which endears the West Indians to the world.
Few do more with less, succeed in going the extra yard despite the crunch, whether in resources or technicalities quite like West Indies- who secured a terrific second World T20 title despite facing a drought in finances and man-management support.
It’s this remarkable ability to thrive, to make it count despite not seemingly ‘having it all’.
A bit like how Gayle- not the worlds most technically gifted- struck 2 Test triples.
Like how Sammy countered Faulkner through a gun barrel straight-six, instead of resorting to small talk- exactly how Faulkner started it- sending the bowler and with it, Australia’s hopes of a semi-final berth in World T20, 2016, out of the park.
Like how Brathwaite, not someone whom you’d count to save a Test, sent Stokes to the ground and Bishi exclaiming emotionally behind the mic in World T20, 2016.
Precisely how an often ‘in-and-out’ Lendl Simmons stalled India’s hopes, in India, during his dismissive semis outing at the Wankhede.
Exactly how Simmons, at 34, with barely any T20 appearances in the post-2016 period, blasted his way to a career-best 91* proving you don’t need monk-like powers of concentration to make it count.
A recent hammering of Ireland yielded a personal best for Lendl Simmons that outscores two of his famous compatriots, including- Pollard, with 19 and DJ Bravo, 17 more appearances than Simmons, respectively.
That Lendl Simmons has struck more fifties than either of two in T20s speaks of his success at converting starts.
A few weeks back, Lendl Simmons walked down the Trivandrum pitch in the Second T20, his team needing 171 to keep the series alive having lost at Hyderabad earlier. Against Chahar, Bhuvneshwar, Chahal, and Jadeja, Simmons carved 67 from just 45 sending fielders to a ball-hunting spree on way to striking 4 sixes and as many fours. That he remained unbeaten wasn’t the only captivating thing about his success. He had been drafted as an opener.
Few epitomize the verve of doing the audacious with ease quite like Simmons, who’s now 35.
Even fewer constantly chip away despite not hogging the attention that rests with other fancier names in the electrifying age of T20 cricket.
But make no mistake.
For someone who blasted the Irish bowlers out of Nelson (2015 CWC) en route to an 84-ball-102 when Gayle, Samuels, Bravo had already perished doing little, Lendl Simmons has often struck runs comfortably despite evading the limelight.
That he’s struck comfortably over 1100 T20 runs at a better average than Pollard and Brathwaite- at almost 26- is often not paid attention to.
Just like how a game-changing 82 off 51 at the Wankhede- a heart-stopping exhibition of hitting- was lauded for the sixes. That Simmons, having just dealt with a back scuffle, produced a blinder arriving only a few hours prior to India, as a last-minute replacement to Fletcher, didn’t strike many.
Isn’t it brilliant then that despite scoring modestly in the technical “craft” that renders a batsman “complete”, if there’s a Windies bat who’s continued to pull the limited-overs attention – despite having little to do with exemplifying perfection – then it’s this often undersung West Indian?
How brilliant and yet under-acknowledged is it that in times where one cannot think of a T20 minus a West Indian, Cricket leagues- scattered around the world- are constantly vying for the services of this easy-going one who’s not only accumulated struck runs in T20s. Yet, he’s someone who, in his ODI duties, has outscored many a West Indian.
Simmons, with 16 fifties in ODIs has many more than a Pollard, Bravo, Sammy in the format apart from having struck 2 centuries in the format when Russell and Sammy have none.
The West Indies’ success story, often narrowly viewed through the power of men sporting big biceps sporting gaudy frames is about something more: about the power to be counted.
On that count, Lendl Simmons must be lauded for constantly making himself count for an ODI spot particularly in the testing years- particularly last half a decade- where rising influx of talent made it hard for a veteran to cement a spot just as hard it became to battle indifferences of a board that under Cameron appeared increasingly self-vested and insular.
While he had been blasting sixes even before Lewis, Hope and Pooran arrived, it’s not been easy for the scorer of 1958 ODI runs and 23 international fifties to emerge as a regular.
But reinvention is often the key to stand out.
His globe-trotting T20 experience- which took full flight over a quarter for a year back- reads like a stamp of approval of match-winning talent.
The likes of Faf, AB are doing it now in the MSL and BBL. The likes of Renshaw and Carrey are succeeding in it now.
But Simmons achieved T20 ubiquity way before, whether by firing burly sixes for a Peshawar Zalmi or through high scoring turnouts for a Mumbai Indians or Guyana Amazon Warriors.
Before the likes Alzarri Joseph or Shimron Hetmyer even arrived in the IPL, Simmons had already notched up 1,000 plus runs in the league including a century at an enviable average nearing 40.
That Simmons’ DNA is that of the quintessential Windies cricketer; one who can play risky stokes to good effect, clear the ropes often with disdainful ease whether in an MCG or a Saxton Oval makes him a joy to watch.
A batsman in the mold of limited-overs cricket, Lendl Simmons overcame a brief but disappointing Test career by forging strong T20 skills, thus proving that his game was also about adaptability, an aspect that challenges many, most noticeably Pujara who couldn’t make it count in the IPL and a Finch who’s not yet a Test regular.
That said, while he doesn’t embody the flair you’d find in more artsy Calypso batsmen, it shouldn’t be undermined that for someone whose batting produces an awkward shuffle, Simmons hasn’t let that hamper his shot-making: generating power from a high backlift to clear the ropes.
And for as long as he does just what he did against Ireland recently, the fan will bat for this mighty son of the West Indies.