Discipline and pride will be the key to West Indies’ revival, according to their new head coach, Phil Simmons.
Simmons is facing a tough baptism in his new role. Having only joined up with the side a week ago, he admits he knows few of the players intimately and has had little time to prepare ahead of the Test series against England beginning in Antigua on Monday.
But he feels he has the support of the West Indies Cricket Board and is confident that, given hard work, he can help the team rise from their position as No. 8 rated Test team to a place in the top three.
“It’s been well documented that we’re not in a good place as far as cricket is concerned,” Simmons admitted. “We need to get back in that good place.
“It’s been frustrating [to witness West Indies’ decline]. It would be for anyone who has represented West Indies. It’s been disappointing to see the way we’ve played.
“I know we’re not in the best of places right now
“But it’s something special to coach your own country. And once we get to that level of doing everything professionally I think the talent will come through.”
A lack of talent is, in Simmons’ view, the least of West Indies’ problems. He remains convinced that the region continues to produce hugely naturally talented cricketers but that there is a failure to develop them.
“Talent has never been the problem,” he said. “There’s always been talent coming through. It’s what we do with that talent between 18 or 19 and 24 or 25. We’ve got to address that. That doesn’t mean the national team; it means the teams below that.”
And that’s where discipline and pride come in. Simmons intends to instil a new work ethic within all levels of West Indies cricket and to ensure the players know they are representing the hopes of people throughout the region and beyond.
“It’s a lot about discipline,” Simmons said. “Whatever you do – bowl, bat or field – discipline comes through.
“And pride comes into it. Life is about pride. Anything you do, you have to do it with pride and do it to the best of your ability.
“At our best we represented five-million people but we enjoyed what we did on the field. We knew we represented the Caribbean people and people from afar but we made sure we enjoyed it.
“My coaching philosophy is: practise hard; play easy. We have to be doing things a lot harder in practice. And that will make things easier when we get on the field.
“Guys have to be given a benchmark every time. If I’m 19 and I can do A, B and C, by the time I’m 22, I should be able to do D, E and F to be an international cricketer and get to the top three in the world, which is where you should want to be.
“We have to get the team to understand more of what professionalism means. Once we get to that level of doing everything professionally I think the talent will come through.”
Among those talented players are the uncapped Bajans, Carlos Brathwaite, a seamer, and Shai Hope, a wicketkeeper-batsman who recently made a double-century in domestic cricket. Simmons is impressed by both.
“I think young Hope is technically sound,” Simmons said. “To score a double-hundred at any level, you have to be technically sound. He showed in the practice game that he can bat for a longer period of time. That’s a big thing with young cricketers now; some of them just want to go out and play shots. But he showed he had the temperament.
“Braithwaite just bowled like a Test bowler in the practice game. His line and lengths troubled the batsmen.”
Progress may take time, though, and Simmons urged supporters not to judge his success too early or simply on the first few results.
“It’s about getting a system in place and making sure it works properly,” he said. “So it’s not about winning a Test series v England or Australia.
“I was eight years at Ireland and I don’t think everything was finished. It’s about putting a system in place so that, five or 10 years from now we’re back where we want to be.
“And that we stay there. The system must last. It has to keep going no matter who comes after me.”