SIX WEEKS after the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) suspended him as head coach for “inappropriately commenting” on the selection of the ODI squad for the tour of Sri Lanka, Phil Simmons finally laid out his case last week.
In the interim, he was engaged in composing the apology demanded of him by the WICB for his angry words in an interview with the media while the WICB itself had been distracted by its unrelated, complex confrontation with the Caribbean Community governments (Caricom) sub-committee on cricket over the conclusions of the latest review committee on its governance.
In the spill-over of his mounting frustration in the post he took up last March, Simmons, also one of the five selectors, spoke of “people (who) would use their position to get people into a squad or…get people left out of a squad.”
In a lengthy and detailed statement presented to the WICB’s chief executive officer Michael Muirhead, Simmons left no doubt he was referring to the two most powerful men in West Indies cricket at present, board president Dave Cameron and director of cricket Richard Pybus, the Englishman who was hired in October 2013 after brief international stints in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
His account, accompanied by copies of relevant e-mails, followed the WICB’s decision to reinstate him for the current tour of Australia. The postscript was that it would “immediately investigate” his charges after which it would take ‘the necessary and appropriate action.”
A copy of his statement has been made available to me by a trusted source.
Simmons was appointed head coach last March after eight successful years with Ireland, the strongest of the ICC’s associates. He thus avoided the turbulence that ensued after the premature withdrawal of the West Indies team from the tour of India in October; he was then plotting Ireland’s campaign for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand where they began with victory over the team he would soon return to.
As the WICB itself will sit in judgment of his defence, it is likely to be an exercise in futility. He resumes with three Tests against one of the game’s powerhouses while the status quo remains. How long he lasts, or is allowed to last, is open to question.
It is a state of affairs that had its origins in the difficult, inevitably contentious decision to omit Shivnarine Chanderpaul from the two Tests against Australia last June, effectively ending the reliable left-hander’s career after 162 Tests.
It continued through to the choice of a preliminary squad of 22 for the eventually aborted tour of Zimbabwe in August and came to a head when he and chairman Clive Lloyd were outvoted by the three other selectors over their preference for the return of Dwayne Bravo and Keiron Pollard for the three ODIs in Sri Lanka.
In May, the selection panel made its call on Chanderpaul whose guaranteed reliability had deserted him in his previous six Tests in which he averaged 16.
Simmons revealed that Cameron and vice-president Emmanuel Nanthan pressed the selectors to reverse their position when they met on May 22 as the WICB “needed to honour” him. By then, Lloyd had written Chanderpaul, advising him of his omission and thanking him for his service to West Indies cricket.
Simmons described Lloyd as “irritated” when Cameron called to tell him Chanderpaul was being flown in from Guyana the next morning to join the preparation camp, insisting that he should be picked for the Australia Tests. The selectors stuck to their guns.
It was Simmons’ first experience of the interference he later charged undermined the selection process.
The next conflict came in the naming of the 22 from whom the final 15 would be chosen for the ultimately cancelled ODIs in Zimbabwe in August. Bravo, ODI captain in India when the tour was aborted, and Pollard were among them.
In a July 2 e-mail to the selectors, Pybus opposed their inclusion.
“Bearing in mind they have played no one-day cricket since then (the India tour), I am not sure what justifies them being back on the selection board,” he contended. “My concern is that the players you left out originally for reasons to do with lack of loyalty and commitment to WI cricket come back in.”
He acknowledged that he had repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, urged the board to sanction “those responsible” for the India debacle. Pybus was direct in his criticism of the recall of Bravo and Pollard.
“We can always defend reasoning to the board and press when there is consistent logic to decisions,” he e-mailed. “If you flip flop on your position, you are going to lose credibility as a panel.”
His position was bolstered by Cameron in a teleconference call on July 7 also involving Nanthan, Muirhead and the selectors. It was called by Pybus who explained its purpose to the selectors.
“We need to be clear on the strategic direction that you as a panel are taking the squad because you are reconstituting the same side that walked out in India and I believe the Pres and the CEO need to be party so that we can understand the potential risk to the organisation,” he wrote. “The India strike brought the organization to its knees and the brink of bankruptcy.”
As it was from the start, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) held the WICB ultimately responsible while a task force set up to review reasons for the debacle blamed the WICB, the players and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) equally.
According to Simmons, Cameron declared during the teleconference that since Bravo had retired from four-day cricket, he saw no value in picking him for Tests or ODIs. It was a position he deemed should apply to all those who no longer played the WICB’s first-class Professional Cricket League (PCL). Their only avenue would be T20s.
Simmons reported the president as protesting that Bravo and Pollard “walking past him was disrespectful” and asserting that he needed “a statement of commitment” from such players before he could consider them. Neither the selectors nor the full board of directors was mentioned in this regard.
In an e-mail the same day to Pybus, his fellow selectors and captain Jason Holder, Simmons said that when he took up his position he asked for “the chance to have the best squad available for each format of the game.”
“We would lay out the road forward and see who wants to walk the road with us,” he explained. “We have selected our Test team from the players who wanted to play Test cricket and laid out that road so now we are selecting our ODI team from players who want to play ODI cricket and doing the same.”
Too long away from the intrigue and constant confrontations between board and players that downgraded the West Indies from No.1 to the depths of the ICC rankings in Tests and ODIs in his absence, the former West Indies opening batman’s expectation was unrealistic.
Shaken by the official attitude towards him as head coach, he should find the WICB’s verdict to his detailed defence, instructive.
His nine months back home in the Caribbean have been in stark contrast to his lengthy stay in Ireland where he was held in high esteem for his uninhibited success with the national team.
He needs all the resilience he can muster, along with the support of the players, to somehow overcome the problems he has had to deal with and eventually emulate for his national team what he achieved for Ireland.