MUMBAI (TIP): “It could have been a different ball game if I were out.” Lendl Simmons called it as he saw it. One line question, one line answer. The reference was, of course, the two reprieves he got during his match-winning innings of 82 off 51 balls against India in the second semi-final of the ICC World Twenty20. Ones that MS Dhoni termed as “very disappointing” and which should haunt India for some time to come.
Playing his first international innings since West Indies were eliminated from the ODI World Cup in the quarter-finals on March 21, 2015, and having only reached India a few days ago as replacement for the injured Andre Fletcher, the 31-year-old Simmons chose the cauldron of the tournament semi-final, against the pre-tournament favourites India, to produce what could be his defining international performance.
But it needed some generous slices of luck. Chasing 193, West Indies lost Chris Gayle for five and Marlon Samuels for eight to be 19/2 after three overs. Simmons walked in No 4 and had Johnson Charles for company. The pair went on to forge the defining partnership of the chase, worth 97 in 67 balls, with Charles scoring a key 52. Simmons, much to Dhoni’s disappointment, was given lives on three occasions. It is harsh to term the third one a chance, but the first two were serious blunders.
On 18, Simmons flashed a cut at an inviting delivery from R Ashwin. At short third man, Jasprit Bumrah dived and caught the ball low as he fell forward. It was a superb catch from the man identified last week by Dhoni as one of India’s weakest fielders. The Wankhede erupted. Simmons was almost down to the boundary line when he was called back, for the TV replays showed that Ashwin had over-stepped. Chance No 1 for Simmons, in his first match of the tournament.
Simmons was on 50 when his second reprieve came. Hardik Pandya bowled a full toss that Simmons slapped straight to Ashwin at cover to cue more Indian celebrations. But then the umpires called for a replay and sure enough, the TV showed that Pandya had overstepped by a big margin. The result was a free hit, which Simmons wound up for and swung over deep midwicket for six. He was living a charmed life, and by this stage you got the feeling he was going to run away with the lottery.
The 18th over stared with West Indies needing 32 runs from 18 balls. Bumrah bowled three dot balls which left Simmons under pressure to make the next three count. On the fourth, he heaved hard at a slower ball and send it towards wide long-on. Ravindra Jadeja ran around to his left and got hands to it, but as he tipped over the boundary line he lobbed the ball back up for Kohli to complete the catch. It looked a superb effort, but then replays showed that one of Jadeja’s feet had touched the boundary line just after he caught the ball. Six was signalled.
Simmons’ seventh and final four closed out the over, and Andre Russell finished the chase by smacking two sixes and two fours in the span of five balls. This was, as Simmons put it, his day. His attacking methods left India on the defensive – in particular, his cutting and pulling were eye-catching -and an ability to nudge the good deliveries for singles meant that Simmons didn’t get bogged down. He backed himself to deliver, and did so with an innings that sends West Indies to meet England in Sunday’s final at Eden Gardens bristling with confidence.
“When I went out to bat I had a clear mind of what I wanted to do because we had a target to chase,” said Simmons. “But before the game I was a bit nervous. I was under a bit of pressure as the guys said I came here for a job. But in all it was good. We had a target to chase and we got there. Today was my day. Every cricketer has his day and today was mine. I had a bit of luck on my side and I rode my luck and things went the way I wanted it. Seeing this is my home ground as well, I know the conditions, think I read it well.” (PTI)