West Indies batsmen must start strongly, says Simmons
West Indies coach Phil Simmons said his batsmen must hit the ground running in England to give their impressive pace attack totals to defend.
The tourists are stepping up their preparations for next month's three-Test series with an informal three-day game between squad members that starts on Tuesday.
That will be followed by an 11 v 11 match, more closely mirroring the conditions of a first-class game, in the run-up to the first Test, which starts in Southampton on July 8.
The West Indies attack features Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and captain Jason Holder, with Alzarri Joseph -- tipped by Simmons to be a "big hit" -- also in the squad.
But their batsmen have struggled to build big totals in recent years.
The West Indies beat England 2-1 in the Caribbean last year but have not won a Test series in England since 1988.
Simmons said the batsmen were showing good form in practice and the training matches would help the West Indies decide how they would structure the team.
"We've had occasions when we've toured and only after the first game we start really playing cricket so it's something we're trying to get out of our system and make sure we're ready to go when we get to Southampton," he said.
"Most of the senior batsmen are seasoned players," he added. "Mentally, I think they're tough. I just think we need to continue working on our skills."
Stokes vs Holder
The series will feature a mouthwatering clash between the two top-ranked all-rounders in Test cricket -- West Indies skipper Holder and England vice-captain Ben Stokes.
"The rivalry is always there because I think Ben is the type of person who wants to be number one and Jason is up there," said Simmons.
"They're competitive in all aspects so I think that rivalry is going to be huge for this series."
The West Indies coach said his players had taken about a week to settle into their bio-secure camp at Old Trafford, which will host the second and third Tests.
England are set to enter their own camp in Southampton on Tuesday.
Simmons, a former opening batsman, said the cricketers would show their backing for the Black Lives Matter movement, following the lead of the Premier League.
"We definitely are thinking about things we can do to show our solidarity for the movement," said the coach, who added the Caribbean side would talk with their England counterparts over what action to take.
Simmons said he had experienced racism in league cricket in England, though not at the county level.
"I have encountered it in the leagues," he said. "It's not a nice thing to face, especially in the leagues where you are by yourself sometimes. It affected my wife when I was up there."
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Ishara S. Kodikara