THE West Indies have been roundly condemned for their woeful performance at the T20 World Cup in Australia, but one man that ought to be spared the brickbats is their coach Phil Simmons (pictured), definitely one of the best in the business in world cricket today.
In Zimbabwe – a country he has great affinity for to this day and a place he made lots of lifelong friends – Big Phil, as we called him here, will always have a special place in many people’s hearts in these parts.
18 years and five international jobs as coach, Simmons announced last week that he will be leaving his fifth gig before end of year, the first casualty of what has been a forgettable campaign for the record two-time T20 World Cup champions.
It is hard to believe that it has been close to two decades since one of the best cricket coaches on the planet today launched his coaching career in Zimbabwe when the African country’s national board hired the giant Trinidadian as the third coach of the thriving CFX National Academy in 2003.
Just two years after his playing career was over, the former West Indies big-hitting batsman showed his coaching talents early and the cricketing minds in the Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) administration knew instantly that they had imported something special from the Caribbean.
The players, too – in fact every one of them who passed through Phil’s hands during his time in Zimbabwe– speak with high regard of the man’s impact in their careers.
The full 14-man CFX Academy squad of 2003, under Simmons’ tutelage, was: Stuart Matsikenyeri, Kudzayi Taibu, Erick Chauluka, Ryan Bennett, Stanley Chioza, Adiel Kugotsi, Greg Strydom, Dylan de Beer, Gavin Ewing, Anthony Ireland, Johnson Marumisa, Charles Coventry, Norman Mukondiwa.
Six of them – Matsikenyeri, Strydom, Ewing, Ireland, Marumisa and Coventry – became Zimbabwe internationals with varying success.
Of those who did not go on to play for Zimbabwe, two or three really should have. Certainly Kudzi Taibu, a delightful batsman who also bowled both spin and medium pace effectively. Then the dynamic wicketkeeper De Beer as well as the all-rounder Mukondiwa.
But Kudzi, young brother of Zimbabwe’s first black captain Tatenda Taibu, lost his direction somewhere in life and was never able to recover in spite of the efforts of a great deal of well-meaning people within Zimbabwean cricket.
De Beer, who played club cricket for Alexandra Sports Club in Harare and made three first-class appearances for Manicaland, quietly disappeared from the scene with his bags of promise while the all-round Mukondiwa ended up enjoying a relatively successful international career with Zimbabwe’s rugby team, captaining the Sables on one occasion as stand-in skipper.
Charmed by Simmons’ work with the CFX Academy, ZC asked the former Windies star to travel to Bangladesh as Zimbabwe’s technical advisor for the 2004 Under-19 World Cup, where the youthful African side, inspired by fast bowler Tinashe Panyangara, stunned Australia by seven wickets in a pool match.
Simmons was appointed Zimbabwe’s senior team coach the same year, a huge leap from the academy. But Zimbabwean cricket was at that time experiencing political turmoil in the game and Simmons, one of the antagonists, paid the price and was fired by the board in 2005 as the fighting took a nasty turn.
But in Shona there is a saying that goes “kukava datya kuriyambutsa,” literally meaning that when one kicks a frog spitefully, they instead only succeed in getting it over the line (or stream), its intended destination anyway.
Simmons soared following his politically-motivated sacking by Zimbabwe. He was successful with Ireland first then Afghanistan, guiding them to the verge of Test cricket, which both nations attained in 2017.
And in the first of his two spells as coach of his native West Indies, Simmons delivered a T20 World Cup title in 2016 in a fruitful tenure in charge of the Caribbean outfit.
West Indies beat Zimbabwe in the first round of the ongoing World Cup over a week ago, but not enough to avoid an early exit from the tournament.
Instead, it is Zimbabwe who have remained in Australia, and on Thursday the Chevrons continued their unbelievable run of form after a sensational Super 12 win over Pakistan, one of the World Cup’s early favourites.
There were familiar faces in the opposition when West Indies defeated Zimbabwe in Australia in this World Cup. They were Zimbabwe’s captain Craig Ervine and batsman Sean Williams, who were part of the Under-19 World Cup squad in 2004, as well as the Chevrons’ current team manager Dilip Chouhan, who held a similar position with the youth side 18 years ago. Then Zimbabwe’s assistant coach Stuart Matsikenyeri, who was in the CFX Academy class of 2003 under Simmons.
Quite the amiable fellow, Phil definitely wouldn’t have missed the opportunity of enjoying a good laugh with the Zimbabwe camp, on recollection of amusing past experiences.
Simmons leaves the West Indies post following the year-ending two-Test match series in Australia, but hopefully not for too long.
There will be widespread interest, no doubt, for the signature of a man who started his journey right here in Zimbabwe.