By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published September 19, 2016
West Indies head coach Phil Simmons was sacked by the WICB last week. Was the decision to sever ties out of “spite” and because of Simmons’ past outbursts? Or, was it based on the team’s performance during his tenure?
Like with every marriage, there are stages of romance, disillusionment, and (im)maturity. Oftentimes, at the onset of every marriage, the passion and pie-in-the-sky expectations of a future together for newlyweds can be intoxicating as they are overtaken with love. Slowly those feelings migrate to realisation as the tipsiness of love weakens and sunlight disinfectant reveals the true colours of the individuals they have wed. Instantly, this brings on a soberness, which often results in a matured or immature response or end.
Almost a year to date I penned an article titled, “The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same”, which looked at the subtle and glaring changes that have occurred over the past two years in West Indies cricket . The majority of these changes centred around the October 2014 abandoned tour of India, which I described in another piece as a “stench … perfusing every aspect of West Indies cricket”.
A year later, journalists, fans, and even prime ministers are fuming over another change in West Indies cricket – the firing of West Indies head coach, Phil Simmons. To be honest, many have castigated the decision, labelling it as another example of the West Indies Cricket Board’s spiteful and rank behaviour (in Jamaica we say ‘renk’ behaviour).
However, are these aspersions fair? Was Simmons sacking warranted? Had he done enough to keep his job? Should he have been given more time to yield better results? Or, was this another example of those outspoken on the deficiencies involving West Indies cricket being hurriedly tossed aside?
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and Phil Simmons got married last year, shortly towards the end of the ICC ODI World Cup in March. Optimism filled the air when he (Simmons) was appointed head coach of the West Indies team. Simmons, a former son of the West Indies maroon and white, had built a solid reputation for developing players and forging a winning mentality with his teams. Many believed that the WICB had made a logical decision, and I for one shared those sentiments. Frankly, I was over the moon re: the nuptials. This was a union in which the WICB needed Simmons more than how Simmons needed the WICB.
The Simmons-WICB honeymoon period saw the West Indies team draw a Test series against England, 1-1, in April through May of last year. Thereafter, heavy and thrashing defeats to Australia, in June 2015, caused an abrupt end to all the fraught romance and optimism. Seemingly, Simmons quickly realised the predicament he had found himself in – he was guiding a young team, short of quality, consistency, and experience, and it was all up to him to turn it around.
A few months later, in September last year, Jason Holder, the newly appointed Test captain, Clive Lloyd, the then chairman of selectors, and Simmons all questioned the West Indian team selection process – publicly. Simmons hinted at interferences – from outside of the selection panel – when they attempted to select the best available West Indies players. On the face of it, Holder, Lloyd, and Simmons had one plan and the WICB and the other selectors had another.
Simmons’ outspokenness was the first sign that this marriage was on the rocks and that both parties needed urgent counselling, or they would be heading towards a divorce. Subsequently, a minor separation occurred with the WICB suspending Simmons for his comments, until Simmons made a public apology and accepted the board’s letter of reprimand. Due to the suspension, Simmons missed the tour of Sri Lanka, and West Indies’ heavy and thrashing defeats in Tests continued upon his return with the tour of Australia.
Similar to Simmons’ predecessor, Ottis Gibson, another former son of West Indies cricket, the acrimonious end to the Simmons marriage to the WICB was perspicuously written on the proverbial wall. Both parties lived in the same house called West Indies cricket, but like with many strained relationships, the communication became non-existent. Simmons alluded to this earlier this year when he spoke of his taut relationship with the hierarchy of the board. Simmons was back in the house, but the marriage was figuratively over and broken beyond repair. They lived together for the time being – one hoped it would linger until the players (kids) fully developed and matured, at least.
The West Indies team repeated history when they won the T20 World Cup in March this year. They lifted the trophy amidst or despite the seemingly bad blood between the players/coach and the board. Simmons predecessor, Gibson, had done the same in 2012 and it was not enough to save his job in 2014. T20I captain Darren Sammy lashed out at the board during the closing ceremony of the 2016 T20 World Cup, waving the dirty laundry of West Indies for all to see. Sammy has since been axed from the team as the captain and a player, with reasons proffered that hint that the axing was performance based. Many think otherwise.
Table 1. West Indies batting and bowling averages in the three formats of the game (Tests, ODI & T20) during specific periods from October 2004 – September 2016.
(Oct 2004 – Feb 2010)
(Feb 2010 – Aug 2014)
|Phil Simmons##(Mar 2015 – Sep 2016)||25.44||49.75||25.93||34.39||27.55||25.66|
# – The October 2004-Feburary 2010 period includes the trio of Australian coaches: Bennett King, David Moore, John Dyson, and interim head coach David Williams.
## – The Phil Simmons period excludes the Sri Lankan tour when he was suspended.
* Higher batting averages are better
**Lower bowling averages are better
All emotions aside, Simmons was brought in by the WICB mainly to lift the performance of the West Indies team in the longer formats, that is, in Tests and ODIs. Their performances in T20Is had them par with the best teams in the world. Performance-wise, West Indies has regressed in Tests and ODIs statistically in both batting and bowling when compared to Gibson’s tenure. Similarly, on the results side, in both formats under Simmons, West Indies have recorded losing records with them registering one win, seven losses and four draws in 12 Tests, while in seven ODIs, they have recorded three wins and four losses.
Simmons’ advocates will declare that in this ill-fated marriage, Simmons has not had the best players to work with in order to yield the best team performance and results. The team is young, inexperienced, and short on stamina and needs time. This may be true. For the past two years, since that abandoned Indian tour, the West Indies teams have been rebuilding constantly. However, the WICB including its president, Dave Cameron, and others are not the virtues of patience. They want a quick fix and an immediate turn in West Indies’ fortunes like what we have seen in Test cricket with Pakistan, who are now the number one team in the world.
Simmons may have been victimised for his outbursts, and truthfully, he could have been given more time. However, the WICB is desperate for results – now – and has made the logical decision of a divorce in this strained marriage. As WICB CEO Michael Muirhead claimed, their visions did not “align” due to “differences in culture and strategic approach”. Therefore, I guess it was either Simmons was going to be fired or asked to resign (We all know what happened). Regrettably, Simmons is just another casualty that we fans must accept in the WICB’s newfound maturity or immaturity (depending on how you view it). I know I have come to accept this. As a result, I engage in fewer quarrels and get fewer headaches. I suggest you do the same.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning freelance sportswriter whose articles have been published by ESPN Cricinfo, Western Mirror, The Jamaica Observer, Trinidad Express, Essentially Sports and others.
This blog article was also published in the Western Mirror on September 19, 2016.