Simmons excited about testing times
Wed, Jan 25, 2012 4:39 PM
The announcement yesterday of Ireland's ambition to play Test cricket within a decade were met with almost universal approval and encouragement, rather than ridicule and scorn which would have been the case only a handful of years ago.
The cricketing revolution on the island started in 2002 with the appointment of Adi Birrell as national coach, and since 2007 his pioneering work has been carried on by Trinidadian Phil Simmons.
The 48 year old former international, who played 26 Tests and 143 ODI's for the West Indies from 1988-99, penned a new two-year deal with Cricket Ireland yesterday, to take him to the end of the World Cup Qualifying phase.
Following a bedding-in period, Simmons has been instrumental as Ireland's standing in world cricket has taken off.
During his five-year reign there have been notable wins over Full Members England, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, as Ireland have played in three successive world tournaments in the 20- and 50-over formats of the game.
Along the way there has also been almost total domination at Associate level, winning the second and third of Ireland's three Intercontinental Cups, the ICC Trophy, and Division One of the World Cricket League.
With his services being highly sought after in cricketing circles, Simmons explained why he has committed to Ireland for at least a further two years. "I was happy to sign the deal because I feel we have some unfinished business," he said. "Although we've achieved quite a bit in my tenure, there is still so much more to come from this team.
"It's obviously an exciting time for Irish cricket and the plans we have now for the future will stand us in good stead. The expanded contract system [23 players will be paid by Cricket Ireland this year] will give the players some security and let the guys who aren't in the first team at the moment know they are very much in our plans. Everyone has seen the improvement in our centrally contracted players, playing a pivotal role in our success.
Simmons is targeting a climb up the rankings in the coming years, and is hopeful of securing more games against top opposition. "I can see this team being ready for Test cricket in five years - sooner if the ICC adopt a two division Test league," he said.
"We keep improving and we have shown that we learn quickly, so the more we play against teams higher than us the more we learn.
What differences had Simmons noticed since he took over at the helm? "The main thing would be how the company is run now, with the improvement in quantity and quality of staff, and the contracting of players. There is greater awareness of cricket in all circles, but the growing recognition and participation in traditionally strong GAA areas.
"I'd be confident the coming years will see Ireland having the semi or full professional provincial league up and running. and maybe being able to contract our young players full time so there is no need to go to the counties."
Simmons has enjoyed his time in Ireland comparing the locals attitude to life and sport as being very similar to that of his native Trinidad: "It's amazing just how similar both nationalities are. There's the friendliness and at times laid back attitude. I have been able to do my job without much hassle, and much recognition - until of course 'that win' over England.
"That win was undoubtedly the high point of my career and I feel was a watershed in Irish cricket. It gave us an incredible amount of exposure but more importantly it gave the players belief that they could compete with anyone, on any stage at any time."
As to his coaching style, how had that changed during his time here? "I'm definitely more relaxed now in how things are carried out. I always try and be myself and be consistent - that is one attribute a good coach must have.
"What's been pleasing for me in that time has been the emergence of youngsters like Paul Stirling and George Dockrell, who have proved themselves at the highest level. Also seeing John Mooney work so hard to make himself a permanent fixture in the team. My pet hate is players who don't give it 100 per cent and train and work hard - that's something you could never accuse John Boy of.
"The most pleasing aspect of coaching is the sense of accomplishment when players work on something which then comes off during a match situation - that gives you such a buzz," said Simmons.