West Indies coach Phil Simmons has joined the chorus of those singing an unhappy tune about their relationship with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
Speaking in an interview with ESPNcricinfo, he said his journey as coach started off nicely but has been rough since last August. Simmons was suspended from his job last year after statements to the media about outside interference in team selection, and his revelations about the voting split of the selectors who chose the team for last October’s tour of Sri Lanka.
“It is particularly rough, in that the fact that the direction I visualise for West Indies men’s senior team to be successful seems to be contrary to others. However, just before the start of the T20 World Cup I put together a ‘Moving Forward’ plan and submitted it to the board, as I had promised I would do during the last board meeting, in August last year. I have not heard anything back from them as yet, but hopefully there will be a productive discussion where [we] can arrive at some common goals.
“When you are looking at our cricket, there is a certain way to develop this cricket, there is a certain way for us to go to be successful, and if it is not going to go that way, well then, we are going to continue struggling. All the other things –– people coming at you, and not backing you, I can deal with those things, but just the fact that it is West Indies cricket we are dealing with and I want West Indies cricket to move forward –– so hopefully lines of communication will open up, otherwise it can be particularly difficult,” he said.
Simmons suggested that he did not have the best of relationships with either WICB president Dave Cameron or director of cricket, Richard Pybus. Quizzed on his relationship with Pybus, he said: “Relationship is a difficult word. He communicates via emails but he has not spoken to me since the suspension. It’s sad because this is not about him or me, this is about West Indies cricket. There has not even been any personal or team congratulatory message on the World Cup win.”
And it was not much better with Cameron.
“It is the same thing. It was good when I first came in. I would get the occasional text message and I earned a big hug when we won the Test match in Barbados [against England], but since my suspension there has been no communication, not verbal nor written, and again no congratulatory message.”
However, the former Trinidad and Tobago and West Indies batsman, who also successfully coached Ireland, said his actual job as coach within that environment was not a difficult one.
“For me it is not difficult because the ship is West Indies cricket. The ship is not the president or the director of cricket or Phil Simmons. West Indies cricket means more to me than anything else. Especially working with the younger players, getting them to understand what they have to do at the international level, keeps my head up all the time. My professionalism also helps me to continually put in my best in my job,” he said.
Simmons explained that his immediate challenge was being able to get the best team on the park in all three formats. He said the Caribbean was buzzing now and the more the West Indies won, the more people would want to play cricket and to get back into cricket.
“For me, the real challenge is to get people to understand that this is the direction West Indies cricket should be taking. If I don’t get people to understand that, then I don’t know what is next,” he said.
With the imminent home tri-series involving West Indies, South Africa and Australia, and the WICB’s ruling that only players who participated in the regional Super50 will be eligible for selection, Simmons expressed fears that the region’s best team might not take to the field. He said that perhaps the rule could be reviewed.
“There has been talk already that players who did not come back and play in the Super50 won’t be. But you are talking about seven or eight of the best players in the world. If you are not going to select them, then the other two teams coming into this tri-series are going to be smiling, because the challenge of playing against West Indies at home without Gayle, Sammy, [Andre] Russell, Bravo, [Lendl] Simmons seems easier. We have seen what all of them can do in the World T20 and we have seen what they can do in 50-over cricket. In order for us to not be scrambling to qualify for the next World Cup, we need to be winning and moving up the table. By September next year we [would] have gone up the table and entered an area where we don’t have to fight pre-tournament,” he said.
Simmons stated he had got no recent word from the selection panel on whether the rule might be relaxed for the tri-series.
“The panel has not spoken of late on this. The CEO [Michael Muirhead] had put out a statement, I don’t know how long back, saying that these guys are not going to be selected if they don’t play in the Super50, outlining that that is the board’s policy, so going forward perhaps that is another area we can review,” he added.
Simmons also said he didn’t envisaged some of the region’s top internationals playing Test cricket with the WICB insisting they play the regional four-day tournament to be eligible.
“With all that is going on now, it is not going to change, because there is a big hard line on the fact that these guys don’t stay home and play ten four-day games in order to be selected for Test cricket. And it is not going to change because I can’t see any of these guys playing ten four-day games without a contract from the WICB,” he said.