West Indies coach Phil Simmons has challenged Jason Holder to “get on top” in his battle with fellow captain and all-rounder Ben Stokes this week.
When Holder’s men line up against Stokes’ England on Wednesday at the Ageas Bowl, the first major international cricket anywhere in the world since March 2, the duo will be firmly in the spotlight.
Not only do both men play vital roles with bat and ball, each regularly stands in the slip cordon and now, following Stokes’ temporary promotion as a replacement for father-to-be Joe Root, they will go head-to-head as leaders too.
Anticipating the coming clash between the duo, Simmons said: “I think that it’s going to be a toss-up between these two all-rounders and hopefully Jason can do what’s necessary to get on top of Ben in this first Test.
“Jason has played enough Test cricket now to know what he’s working on and, mentally, he’s where he wants to be.
“I think Ben is one of them who leads from the front. That’s to be shown by all his exploits before in cricket and we will have to make sure that we get on to him very early, because he likes to do what is necessary for his team.
“Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad and people like that are around so there’s a lot of experience to help him on the field if he comes a cropper.”
Both captains will lead teams that wear the ‘Black Lives Matter’ symbol on their collars, a show of unity agreed by the respective boards and approved by the International Cricket Council.
The tourists have been in discussion around making their own additional gesture by taking a knee before the match, but Simmons says a final decision has yet to be settled.
“Whether we are we going to take a knee or not, we will make a decision tonight as to what we will do on the day,” he said. “But we will definitely be doing something, we’ve already had the logo put on the collar of our shirts so that’s a start.
“It means a hell of a lot to all the players and all the stuff on the tour. But it doesn’t take the Black Lives Matter situation to bring us together as a team.
“I think all the teams that I’ve been with, we’ve been fairly united in the struggle that we have to go out there and win Test matches.
“There’s rivalry between our islands all the time, but as far as I am concerned 97 per cent of the time that I’ve been with a West Indies team, whether playing or coaching, we’ve been together as a unit, as a team.”
There was one notable example of internal discord last week, with reports on ESPN Cricinfo that Barbados Cricket Association president Conde Riley had written to Cricket West Indies calling for Simmons’ removal.
The issue related to Simmons’ departure from the team’s secure bubble in Manchester – to attend his father-in-law’s funeral – a trip which he had sought and received permission for.
“Not much surprises me in life anymore,” said Simmons. “It has not had any impact on us as a squad preparing for the game. It was sad to go to a funeral, and my father-in-law was very close to me. It’s just sad.”
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