From Robson Sharuko in HOBART, Australia
TEN years after his acrimonious departure from his role as Zimbabwe cricket coach, Phil Simmons could engineer his former team’s exit from the ICC World Cup 2015 tournament if his Irish giant-killers strike another huge blow against the big boys at the Blundstone Arena tomorrow. The former West Indies explosive all-rounder had a nightmarish spell as Zimbabwe coach in 2004 and 2005 and left after a spectacular fall-out with the game’s authorities that received widespread international media coverage.
And, 10 years after that bitter divorce, the big man from Trinidad and Tobago could send the Zimbabweans reeling out of this World Cup should his Irish giant-killers recover from the nightmare of their mauling at the hands of South Africa, in their last game, and down another heavyweight tomorrow.
For all that he went through in Zimbabwe, including a threat to be deported, Simmons doesn’t appear to carry any grudges and when he was told by his team’s media manager yesterday that there were Zimbabwean journalists who wanted to interview him, he was quick to say yes.
He has certainly done well, in the past eight years, to repair his profile as an international coach after finding the Irish, whom he joined after the 2007 World Cup, better partners in taking his career forward than the Zimbabweans.
Of course, the Zimbabwe team of 2004 and 2005 had its fair share of problems, with most of the white players having rebelled against the cricket authorities, and Simmons found himself with the big task of trying to steer a stricken ship that had long hit stormy waters.
Ten years later, it’s a different, clearly stronger, refreshingly united and clearly happier Zimbabwe cricket team that is flying the country’s flag in the trenches of warfare around the world in endless battles for superiority in this game.
And Aussie coach, Dav Whatmore, is now in charge and there are many seasoned observers who believe that, in the past few months since he took over, they have seen remarkable change although one win in four World Cup games appears to betray that optimism.
Whatmore, certainly, can’t be the one to blame because he only took over in December and arrived at a time when morale had sunk rock-bottom following a depressing tour of Bangladesh where both the Tests and ODI matches ended in whitewash defeats.
But international coaches are hired to win matches and while Simmons had a lot of sympathisers who felt that he was swimming against a strong tide during his time as Zimbabwe coach, the fact remains that the results were miserable.
Tomorrow, he leads his Irish giant-killers against some of his former players knowing that a victory could hand them a ticket into the quarter-finals and, crucially, end Zimbabwe’s World Cup and rendering the Chevrons tie against India virtually academic.
Interestingly, Simmons says he has seen some positive changes in the Zimbabwe team at this World Cup show.
“They (Zimbabwe) seem to be enjoying their cricket a lot more and those are the things I look at because I know all the guys from when I was there and they seem to be enjoying their cricket a lot more, which I’m glad to see, because they want to play cricket,” he told The Herald yesterday.
“That’s what they wanted to do all these years and, for whatever reason, they had been stopped, but they are enjoying it now and that’s important.”
Simmons took a select number of his players in a two-hour net session on a bitterly cold day here in Hobart where swirling winds, coming in from the River Derwent, made this day feel like a spring English morning than a summer Southern Hemisphere day.
There is no doubt that he badly wants to win tomorrow’s match and he even has that arrogance to say his team can beat any side and when he comes into the World Cup, his mission is to try and win the tournament, even though the odds of that happening are as long as Everton winning this year’s English Premiership title.
“The benchmark for any success in the World Cup is to win it and so you come here thinking you have a chance of winning the World Cup and, so, if you don’t think that, then you are wasting your time,” Simmons said.
“So, we have come here with that benchmark (winning the World Cup), you know at the end of it, on the plane back home we can decide where we got to was (either) good enough for us or wasn’t.
“And, so you know, we set up that benchmark before because you want to reach the skies and so you look at it, as we gonna prepare for each game, to try and win and if that takes us to the final and win the tournament then that’s good.
“And, if it doesn’t, then we reassess next time.”
Maybe when your men have chased more than 300 to beat the West Indies, in their first match, you get this feeling that they can beat anyone but, then, the humbling 201-run defeat at the hands of South Africa should have been a brutal reality check.
“I don’t think there is much pressure from the last game, I think we were outclassed and we know that, we just have to bounce back. It’s not hard to bounce back because we prepare the same way we prepared the other games,” said Simmons.
“Maybe, some things we didn’t execute well (against South Africa) but it’s the same preparations we gonna have for the games coming.
“I think in this game (against Zimbabwe), more than the others we have played, it’s who does best on the day, because they are playing well so far in the tournament and we have played well and so it’s who executes better on the day and that’s where everything is gonna be won.
“We target every game, I think that’s how we look at it now that every game we play, we have a 50 percent chance of winning and if we do the right things before the game, we have more chances of winning and so we prepare for each game as it is and before the World Cup we never targeted any game.
“We just said, look, we just wanna prepare and win each game and we gonna prepare properly for each game.
“And so there was no targeting one country or another.”
There are weaknesses in his team, their attack leaked more than 700 runs in two matches against the West Indies and the South Africans and, to his credit, Simmons concedes that they don’t have the finest bowling act around.
“I think the batting is a lot stronger (than at the last World Cup) because it’s more or less the same batters, but more experienced,” he said.