West Indies star batsman Lendl Simmons says that the best is yet to come from the St. Kitts & Nevis Patriots in this year’s Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL) and his team are primed to challenge for silverware in the fourth instalment of the biggest party in sport.
Simmons, 31, has stepped up his rehabilitation in recent weeks from the lower back injury which has curtailed his on-field involvement since the ICC World T20 triumph in India.
With the CPL scheduled to take place between 29 June – 7 August, and the opening game now just 23 days away, the Port of Spain born batsman believes that the Patriots squad are well-placed to bring the coveted title back to St. Kitts & Nevis for the first time.
Speaking exclusively to www.cplt20.com, Simmons said that he was relishing the opportunity to play in a tournament which will this year once more attract the cream of international talent to the Caribbean and, for the first time, mainland USA.
“The CPL is a special tournament, one of the best franchise competitions in world cricket, and I think this is going to be even better this year”, the former Guyana Amazon Warriors star declared ahead of the Patriots’ opening game against his former team on Thursday, 30 June.
“Physically I feel as though my back is getting stronger each day and I can’t wait to get back playing because it can be frustrating watching on from the sidelines. But I have stepped up my rehab recently and I’m looking forward to getting 100 percent fit.
“We have a good, well-balanced team this year and there’s a lot of experienced and promising players on paper. But it’s about how we perform and I think we can lean on the experience of the likes of Faf (du Plessis) and Brad Hodge, who have played a lot of T20 cricket, to bring the squad together and create a strong environment.
“Faf is an outstanding player, a world-class talent who will relish the captaincy this year. What I like about Faf is that he reads the game well and bats intelligently according to each situation. There’s a lot of responsibility attached to being captain, because we have a passionate St. Kitts & Nevis public who will want to see the team progress. But he’ll be used to that having led the Proteas at international level.
“It’s great to see the West Indies Under-19 players get more of a chance this year and I’m sure Alzarri Joseph will relish the chance to compete for a place and learn off the senior players in our squad. With young players you have to be patient and allow them the chance to make mistakes because that’s the way we all learned when we were trying to establish ourselves. I’m sure he’ll be excited to take his chance and impress.
“The onus will be on all of us as a collective to add to that mix, myself included. We know that if we can put our heads together and play some attacking and smart cricket from the off, we can create problems for the other teams.”
Simmons’ career stats in the shortest format of the game speaks for itself. In 168 first-class T20 games to date (including 68 for the West Indies), he boasts a strike-rate of 115.95 and averages 31.36 with the bat in a career where he has also featured in the IPL with Mumbai Indians and Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League.
A match-winning 82 not out in the ICC World T20 semi-final against hosts India helped steer his side to the finals. “To win the World T20 was a huge accomplishment and a very proud moment for me to be a part of. It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
“You could say that the semi (final) was my day. And the final was Carlos Brathwaite’s! But I think the big thing about the West Indies was that we weren’t overly reliant on any one player. Every single player contributed throughout the tournament and it was a dream come true.”
His career average in the CPL, meanwhile, is even better at 41.20 over 29 games to date, making him one of the most consistent batsmen heading into this year’s competition.
“T20 is a format that I love playing in,” Simmons admits. “You only have 120 balls to make an impression, so you can’t waste any time. As a top-order batsman I see my role as helping to set the tone at the start of the innings; being positive and trying to give the middle order the platform to attack late on in the innings.
“When a team gets a good powerplay (at the start of an innings), it gives you the confidence to launch. But cricket is like any sport. It’s about working towards a game-plan, and if you execute that effectively then you’ll invariably succeed.”
Of all the developments in the close season, Simmons is most excited about the upcoming leg of matches in Central Broward Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, between 28-31 July, where the Patriots will face Trinbago Knight Riders in back-to-back fixtures.
He sees the staging of matches in the USA as a big opportunity for CPL as it bids to grow its profile internationally.
“Moving these matches to Florida is a big thing for me. Players will be tested in a totally different environment and chatting to some of the West Indies boys, there’s a lot of excitement already. There are lots of people from the Caribbean and Asia living in the USA who will be coming out to see the likes of the (Chris) Gayles and the (Kieron) Pollards. And we know that TKR will be very strong as they have some serious talent in their ranks as well in the likes of (Dwayne) Bravo, (Brendon) McCullum, and Sunil (Narine).
“To be a part of this historic departure is huge for CPL and I applaud it. I know the players are keen to really showcase the tournament and give the American public some top quality cricket.”