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Simmons for the win

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Lendl_Simmons_Mumbai_Indians_IPL_West_Indies_CricketLendl Simmons is no doubt fresh in the minds of many Indians, not fondly though, as he guided West Indies to a win in the 2016 T20 World Cup semi-final against India. Although he was given quite a few chances, he made it count in style as West Indies won not just that game but ended as eventual Champions.

Back then, Lendl Simmons was moved from the comfort of his couch to the difficult conditions in India, taking 2 different flights and flying over continents. The rest is history. 

He also saw it as an opportunity to prepare for the IPL season that was set to begin just a few days from then. 

After being out of the setup due to poor form, Simmons replaced the injured Andre Fletcher. But the way he turned things around and emerged as an international hero was remarkable.

Turn the clocks and yet again, Simmons was moved from the comfort (or discomfort) of the bench into the playing XI for the Mumbai Indians’ away game against the in-form Delhi Daredevils. And yet again, he pounced on to the opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. 

After a few initial jitters, Simmons started to get his timing right and took the bowlers to the cleaners. He was equally comfortable playing on the front foot, over cover and across the square, as he was playing on the back foot, easily tackling the short, attacking stuff from Delhi pace quartet of Kagiso Rabada, Zaheer Khan, Pat Cummins and Mohammed Shami. 

Simmons used the long handle to good effect and ended up with a flamboyant knock of 66 off 43 deliveries, featuring five fours and four sixes. His batting also let Pollard in the game and the partnership flourished, almost taking the game away from Delhi.

The Mumbai Indians bowlers backed their batsmen’s effort and handed Delhi a record defeat. Simmons was adjudged the Man of the Match and emerged as a hero in his first game of the campaign.

In hindsight, it looked like a brilliant move by the selectors. Despite a few good knocks, Jos Buttler couldn’t get going. While he struck at a Strike Rate over 150, his average was down at around 27, something not expected from the main opener of the team on top of the leaderboard. 

Last season was worse for the Englishman as he struggled to come to terms with Indian conditions and the slower bowlers, being made to bat in the middle order. His average was even worse; close to 23 and his Strike Rate dropped to around 138. Realising he could score better against the faster bowlers and with fielding restrictions on, he was made to open the innings. This did pay dividends to a certain extent, though it wasn’t obviously worth it. Simmons on the contrary, has a career average in the IPL of 48 and though his strike rate is lower, it is still decent at around 130.     

 

Looking at the larger perspective, in the context of the season, the move to bring him back was extremely tactical. With a lot of players leaving around now and in the coming week, Buttler being one of them, Mumbai Indians were quick to realize that Simmons was going to be their man to lead the batting at the top of the order. This was especially true considering their determination to use Rohit in the middle order to steady the ship. 

Now digging deeper, the Mumbai Indians couldn’t have chosen a better game for Simmons to get into the middle and come to terms with this season of the IPL. The Delhi wicket was full of runs, the ball was coming well onto the bat, the Delhi attack consisted of more pacers, and all combined, would prove to be an ideal setting and test for Simmons moving into the business end of the tournament.

Mumbai has just three games to go post the Delhi game with the first being against Sunrisers Hyderabad. The Hyderabad wicket has been very varied and has played slow or two paced at times. Throwing Simmons into deep waters at the start wouldn’t have been ideal and they would have ideally wanted him to have had a game under his belt, and get some confidence going before getting acclimatized to the settings of the venue for the finals.

The other two games come against Punjab and Kolkata. While the Punjab game wouldn’t have been an ideal test or preparation, the Kolkata game would have come in really late. Add to the fact that playing at Hyderabad once before the finals was important (in case Mumbai made it thus far). It was imperative and good thinking on the management’s part to go ahead with Simmons.

All in all, a great move by the Mumbai Indians and what less can one expect when it consists of the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Mahela Jayawardene, who read the game better than anyone else.

 

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