Current West Indies coach Phil Simmons is a lucky man.
Replying to Sri Lanka’s 386 all out in the First Test in Galle last month, Kraigg Brathwaite’s West Indies reached a precarious 100 for 6 in their first innings. And then, chasing 348 for victory, they found themselves at a precipitous 18 for 6.
Massive defeat beckoned.
But like the seventh wicket pair of Kyle Mayers (45) and Jason Holder (36) early on Day Three, Nkrumah Bonner (68 n.o.) and Joshua da Silva (54) defied Dimuth Karunaratne’s bowlers to add exactly 100 runs on Days Four and Five.
So the eventual margin of defeat was only 186 runs. Embarrassment but not humiliation. Fortunately for the 58-year-old Simmons.
So far, ‘Reds’ Perreira and Tony McWatt have not repeated a second time their already repeated, immediately-post-World Cup call for the coach to be fired. Forthwith.
Out with the old, in with the new.
But Simmons isn’t yet out of the woods. There is a Second Test. And despite his team showing fight and enjoying parity at the end of Day Three, skipper Brathwaite can have scant reason for optimism given his—and his coach’s!—win/loss record.
Perreira and McWatt argue that Simmons’ 14-win, 17-loss T20 record and his four-win, two-loss ODI record as coach are reasons enough to get rid of him. After all, doesn’t the old adage say coaches win matches? Oops! That’s catches, not coaches. Somebody should tell the pair of gentlemen writers.
Coaches, they need to be told, don’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears. A coach is only as good as his players allow him to be. So it is completely unfair to expect that, even with the shithongs the selectors sent him to the UAE with, Simmons should have succeeded in salvaging something from the World Cup.
Against the world’s best, mind you!
As with Roger Harper, however, I think there may be a case to be made for replacing Simmons. It’s not a strong case but it’s not so weak as to be unworthy of scrutiny, I submit, in the court of public opinion.
The star witness is former West Indies captain Daren Sammy, who led the WI to victory in two T20 World Cups in 2012 and 2016. On TV during the recently concluded tournament in the UAE, he gave us all an interesting insight into how the former WI opener operates as a coach.
Sammy contended that, when the assignment is a Test match, Simmons is very much in charge. In the T20 arena, however, he says, the coach does tend to give the senior players—he offered no names—a pretty free hand in running the show.
The coach is, I imagine, paid to call the shots, not to have someone else call the shots for him. Even if that someone has—or those someones have—a thousand-plus T20 games and more than a dozen titles to boot under their belt.
But Tony and ‘Reds’ never cited Sammy’s claim in support of their recommendation that Simmons be sacked immediately as part of wholesale changes in the personnel serving West Indies cricket. As with the selectors and the captain, the pair felt no real need to explain where Simmons has gone wrong except to cite his win/loss record.
Did four World Cup losses and one last-gasp win tip the scales so heavily against the incumbent that, in the wake of the World Cup, his incumbency did not just come up for question but it is an open-and-shut case?
Out with the old!
During the 2021 international season when we were whipping Australia and Sri Lanka and not being disgraced—even if beaten—by Pakistan and South Africa, Simmons’ competence was no issue. Suddenly, his team having lost to the best in the world, he simply couldn’t cut it as coach? Should we take that analysis seriously?!
There is another factor which, I think, may be adduced in a case against Simmons. It’s not the coach’s lack of competence but his possible lack of confidence. Moral authority, if you will.
The case cannot, however, be made properly without a set of information which I doubt is easily available.
Neither Simmons’ unflattering Test record (1,002 runs in 26 Tests at an average of 22.26) nor his modest ODI figures (3, 675 runs in 143 matches at an average of 28.93) really tell us what we need to know.
How many times, I ask, can Simmons be said to have, while representing the West Indies, given his hand away?
How many times did he get out the same way, caught in the arc between the wicket-keeper and backward-point?
Was Simmons a safety-first Shivnarine Chanderpaul? A judicious, Jimmy Adams, you-might-get-me-out-but-brother-yuh-have-to-come-good type?
Was he a dashing Dwayne Smith? A rambunctious Ricardo Powell? Or a Jermaine Blackwood, it-only-have-room-fuh-one-manrat-in-dis-hole-today-bro-so-is-either-you-or-me type?
We’re in the realm, I know, of speculation. Still, might those answers not be material to how Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer, for example, perceive their head coach?
So armed, I submit, with the empirical data about the manner of his dismissals, one might take a very different view of Sammy’s claim about who is really in charge when the ball is not red. In that arena, the bugbear is consistency and the current tendency is to commit suicide on the altar of six-seeking.
Someone needs to say authoritatively that the buck stops here. Does Simmons? Can Simmons?
Because, truth be told, who’s going to listen to Monty what’s-his-name?
For the moment anyway, despite the pathetic World Cup performance, despite the catastrophic batting collapses and embarrassing 187-run cutarse in Sri Lanka, Simmons remains as coach, his contract under no immediate threat.
The contracts of Roger Harper and co have been extended to the end of the year. And unimpressive win/loss ratio notwithstanding, Kieron Pollard, facing no challenge to his position as white ball captain, will again be at the helm of the team for the six-match engagement in Pakistan in mid-month.
Such changes as have been made are all easily explained. Which is, of course, the way serious, responsible organisations operate.
Dave Cameron, fortunately for us all, is history. His successor, an eminently thoughtful, even-handed manager, has already responded to Reds’ and Tony’s repeated reactionary recommendations, without, of course, identifying them.
“There will be no knee-jerk reaction to the performance of the team in the World Cup,” Ricky Skerritt has said. “Not while I remain in charge.”
Serious, responsible journalists don’t operate that way either. Least of all, old ones.
Responsible journalism requires pause, measure, restraint. It rejects both extremes: the cynicism of ‘we does win, dem does lorse’ and the indefensibility of the position articulated by then TTFA President Peter O’Çonnor in 1989 that it is the responsibility of the media to support the national (in the instant case, regional) team, no matter what.
Tony and Reds’ two fire-all-ah-dem-tail pieces reminded me of a comment then TV6 journalist Joshua Seemungal made on a Media Monitor column I wrote a few years ago.
Old men like me, Seemungal suggested dismissively, write merely ‘to remain relevant’.
The two old writers say they number the old journalist Tony Cozier among their friends, I did not. But I knew his work well. Certainly well enough to agree that, after reading the pair’s pieces, he might well have been amused. Beyond a smile. To the point of laughter even.
But with or at?
There’s the rub!
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