Phil Simmons could be forgiven for phoning his old friends at Ireland and asking if his former job was still available. Less than a month into his new role as West Indies head coach, the sheer enormity of his task has become apparent.
It is not that his team lacks talent. It is not that they lack the will to win or the stomach for the fight. It is that regional cricket in the Caribbean has declined to such an extent – and is played on such rotten pitches – that the gap between it and international cricket has become a chasm.
Simmons’ job, then, is not just to coach a team, not just to improve a squad of players, but to cut through the politics and self-interest and apathy to improve cricket across the Caribbean. It is a colossal task and will surely feel, at times, like herding cats.
But he is not the sort to be easily discouraged. Far from it. While he admits to having been “startled” by the “reckless” batting on the final day in Grenada, he is “very encouraged” that West Indies have recorded four centuries in the two Tests and that three of them have been scored by players aged 23 or younger.
His challenge is to help the team extend their good play from one session to three a day. And to do that, he feels the standard of regional cricket must improve.
“The thing is, our young players are learning international cricket on the international stage,” Simmons said. “And that’s not ideal.
“When you play county cricket, the level is close enough to Test cricket. And when I think back to my days – and I hate to do that – I learned a lot in regional cricket. But I don’t think there’s a lot to be learned at that level now. So it’s when you come up here that you start learning.
“You can get away with reckless batting in our four-day game. It seems to be the normal thing to do. But you don’t get many bad balls and you have to bat for longer when you play international cricket. And if Bishoo bowled 50 overs in our four-day cricket, he would take 20 wickets.
“I saw a 50-over game a while ago. The standard of the wicket was terrible. Terrible. That is the first part of my job. Not the international team. The biggest part of my job is getting the proper coaching set-up, the proper fitness set-ups, the proper wickets in our regional cricket right around the Caribbean.
“We have to address these things. I don’t know how yet, but we’ll find a way. That’s the only way we’ll produce better cricketers.”
Simmons has decided to take a ‘glass half full’ attitude to West Indies’ performances in the series to date. So while he could have been infuriated by aspects of the batting in Grenada or the bowling in Antigua, he has instead seen the largely untapped potential in his side.
“I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen,” Simmons said. “We had two hours of negligence on the last day in Grenada and we lost the game. It was a reckless period. It just needed a couple of guys to bat for another half-hour or so and we would have saved the game.
“I’d like to see us play two or three sessions consistently. We’ve played well in one, been bad in the next, then come back in the one after that. But we’ve not played consistently well for three sessions.
“We just need our young players to understand that how they play must be determined by what the teams needs and what the scoreboard reads.
“But they don’t do that because of the level of our first-class cricket, so they have to learn here that, if the score is 40 for 4, you might have to bat for two sessions and come back the next day to get your big score. The mindset has to change. They have to realise you have to bat for longer.”
Jermaine Blackwood exemplifies the issue. While he made an impressive century in the first innings in Antigua, he has been dismissed in both second innings in remarkably reckless fashion: once coming down the pitch and attempting to slog over the leg side and once caught at mid-off as he tried to drive Chris Jordan over the top. For a side looking to save a Test, they were odd shots.
“He didn’t assess the situation properly,” Simmons said. “He assessed it properly in the first innings of the match. He still played his shots, he still hit over the top off the fast bowlers, but he did it in the right situation. In Grenada he didn’t. But he’s in his what? Fifth Test? It will take him some time to learn.
“You hear people talk about how bad this is, or how bad that is. But when you’re in the camp, it’s not all as bad as people say. But there has been nothing as startling as the way we batted on the last morning in Grenada. There is learning to be done.”
(Taken from ESPN Sports Media Ltd.)