Phil Simmons has been suspended with immediate effect as West Indies coach, two days after he expressed his unhappiness with the ODI squad selected for the Sri Lanka tour. Simmons was caught unawares by the decision, which was communicated to him in an email from WICB chief executive Michael Muirhead, as he was in the UK preparing to join the squad in London on their way to Sri Lanka.
Simmons will now not travel with the team, and former West Indies fast bowler Eldine Baptiste, who is also a national selector, will take up the position of interim coach for the tour of Sri Lanka. The series, which begins on October 14, is the new Test captain Jason Holder’s first assignment.
“The West Indies Cricket Board has learnt of the comments from head coach of the West Indies team Phil Simmons in the print and electronic media which appear to question the legitimacy of the selection process of the one-day international squad for the tour of Sri Lanka. As a result, the management of the WICB has taken action to suspend the head coach, pending an investigation into the issue,” the board said in a statement. “The head coach will not now travel with the team on the tour of Sri Lanka.”
Though West Indies’ limited-overs squads for the tour had not been announced, Simmons revealed that “interference from outside” at a selection meeting on September 23 had kept all-rounders Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard out of the ODI side.
Simmons said that he, as coach, and chairman of selectors Clive Lloyd had voted for their inclusion, but were outnumbered 3-2 despite Holder also wanting Bravo and Pollard in the team.
“I think it’s disappointing from the fact that I haven’t got the best 50-over ODI squad that we can select in the Caribbean,” Simmons had said at a media conference, at the conclusion of the West Indies training camp at the 3Ws Oval in Bridgetown.
“The chairman, Mr Lloyd, he came and he gave an exceptional speech saying that he thinks it is time they are back in the squad and he gave exceptional reasons for them being back in the squad. Unfortunately, when we went into the selection [meeting] we lost it 3-2. Him and myself – the captain [Holder] doesn’t have a vote in this – but the captain also gave his views as to why they need to be back.”
Bravo and Pollard have not been considered for ODI selection since they were dropped for the series in South Africa in January this year, and their omission from the World Cup squad generated plenty of debate. At the time Lloyd had said he had spoken to the two players and explained to them that the selection panel wanted to move on and give youngsters more chances.
West Indies coach Phil Simmons has openly expressed his disappointment and outrage at not getting the “best 50-over ODI squad” for the Sri Lanka tour.
The West Indies Cricket Board is yet to announce the ODI squad, but Simmons blamed “interference from outside” at a selection meeting on September 23, where experienced all-rounders Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard were left out. Bravo and Pollard have not been considered for ODI selection since they were dropped for the series in South Africa in January this year.
What annoyed Simmons the most was elements outside the selection panel, although he would not identify who forced the final vote. “That’s not the disappointing fact. The disappointing fact is that you can lose 3-2 in a vote-off but there is too much interference from outside in the selection of the ODI squad and it’s disappointing for me to know that in any aspect of life … [people would use] their position to get people into a squad; or in this case, get people left out of a squad. It is wrong and I don’t like it and that is my beef with the selection of the ODI team.”
Simmons was blunt about the interference and called it unprofessional: “I don’t think that it [selection] was done as professionally as it should be done, [there was] too much interference from outside and in this case, I even go as far as saying maybe influence because of the reasons that were given for them being out.
“It’s disappointing for me … because we want to have our best squad. The chairman put it to us that we need to have our best squad and it’s not so, so I’m disappointed about that squad.”
Simmons, a former West Indies opener, took over as West Indies coach immediately after the World Cup in March. Simmons was a popular coach in Ireland previously and had earned recognition for his work ethic and the ability to instill a positive attitude in the players. His signature was immediately evident in the home series against England and Australia, where West Indies put up spirited performances – drawing the Test series 1-1 against England and losing 2-0 against Australia.
In the past few months, Simmons has sought an audience with senior players like Bravo, Pollard, Sunil Narine to gauge their desire to play for West Indies. According to Simmons, Bravo and Pollard were happy to work with him and told him they were available to play in the limited-overs format. Pollard has never played Test cricket, and Bravo retired from Tests earlier this year.
“There was no agreement reached [with the players]. I can’t go and say, ‘Oi, you’re selected’. I had a chat with every one of them saying ‘This is the way I think things should be done, are you happy with the way I’m going to do things.’ And everyone to a [man] was happy with the way things were going to run, happy with the captain, happy with everything that was to move forward,” Simmons said. “So once they had bought into our philosophy as to the captain and myself then it’s about selection. I can’t go and tell them, ‘Hey, you’re in the squad’ so I think that’s all I could have done.”
Meanwhile Grenada’s Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, who is also the chairman of the CARICOM sub-committee on cricket governance, has expressed “grave concern” over the comments of West Indies coach Phil Simmons about outside influences robbing him of the best possible ODI squad for next month’s tour of Sri Lanka.
Mitchell recommended it was time for “Project West Indies cricket”, which would encourage unity, openness and co-operation from the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) administrators to ensure Simmons and the selectors were given the autonomy to do their jobs.
“The head coach’s comments about the selection of the West Indies one-day team to tour Sri Lanka are highly disturbing,” Mitchell wrote in an open letter to the WICB on Sunday.
According to Mitchell, all the leaders involved – captain, coach, selectors – needed the support of the WICB and no intrusion, if West Indies cricket had to regain its lost glory.
“The team is now at an important crossroads, and it will require wisdom and good leadership to chart and follow the right path. It will therefore take the skill, motivation and priorities of the men who lead and the players who follow, to restore the team to world prominence. To that end, the leadership unit must receive the full and unequivocal support and cooperation of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), and the backing of an independent selection panel, that is free of interference, fear, or favour.”
Mitchell said one reason his political party was elected to power in Grenada in 2013 was because it placed the interests of the country before any personal agendas. That was part of the manifesto called Project Grenada that Mitchell said had proved successful.
“We need a similar “Project West Indies cricket” approach if the team is to be successful. The entire cricketing organization should be fighting battles on the field against opposing teams, and not with each other in boardrooms and offices,” Mitchell said. “I believe that if Simmons is given the right tools to do his job, the liberty to make critical cricket decisions, the autonomy to create learning environments in which young players can grow and prosper, and the freedom to field the best teams, West Indies cricket will flourish.”
Mitchell also highlighted that Simmons, in the short time he has been coach – he took over after the World Cup in March – had already managed to sit with national players across the Caribbean and help them understand and buy into his vision.
“Already the head coach and his coaching team have taken a great step forward by gaining the trust, respect and loyalty of the West Indies players. These are things that administrators and other West Indies coaches struggled with and failed to achieve during the last fifteen years.”
A disgruntled players’ fraternity up in arms against a divided WICB and a revolving door of coaches and captains have been some of the factors responsible for West Indies cricket not only sliding down the rankings table but also losing face and respect in world cricket.
Dave Cameron, the WICB president, who was elected for a second term recently, has tried hard to gain the players’ confidence and win over his opponents within the board, but has been severely criticised throughout his tenure. Nothing signified this more clearly than West Indies’ aborted tour of India last October.
Bravo, who was the ODI captain on that tour, led the pullout with one ODI, one T20 and three Tests pending, due to a protracted disagreement between the players, the WICB and the West Indies Players’ Association over the payment structure specified by the players’ revised contracts.
Calling the episode a “monumental disaster”, the BCCI demanded $41.97m as damages from the WICB. Since then Cameron has received a lot of flak with critics, former players and CARICOM officials blaming him for the embarrassment caused to West Indies cricket due to the pullout.
Ralph Gonsalaves, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister and Mitchell’s associate on the CARICOM committee, accused Cameron of “dishonouring” his word after Bravo and Pollard were first dropped from the ODI squad. Gonsalves said Cameron had assured him at an earlier meeting that none of the India 14 would be “victimised” and the squads for South Africa tour would be picked on merit.
Mitchell’s remedy for the WICB is to be more inclusive. “A sports organization needs good management and administration to function at its best, but it cannot win battles on the field without sensible, coordinated and innovative leadership at every level throughout its ranks. The organisation must not be divided unto itself.”
Mitchell even quoted Pope Francis, who, in his speech at the United Nations earlier this week, “reminded the world about the dangers of polarisation, anger, hatred, resentment, exclusion and adversarial attitudes, and the benefits of inclusion, kindness, unity, cooperation and common purpose. We sincerely hope that his words were heard and heeded by our cricket administrators.”