Coach Phil Simmons talks about the direction the team needs to take, and the problem of not having the best group of players representing the region in all formats.
“The harmony the West Indies players build is because of the camaraderie they share from playing for West Indies and the common fight they have together, which is that they are not treated well” © AFP
Ian Bishop said West Indies making it to the final was beyond his “wildest dreams”. Were you more confident?
Yes, I have been, especially since we had the small camp in Dubai, where I sat down with the guys, heard them talk and [saw] their passion about wanting to win the tournament. The way [Dwayne] Bravo, the captain [Darren Sammy] and Chris [Gayle] were talking about winning the tournament just summed up for me that we are going to go far in the World T20.
What does it take to get West Indies players together for the big events when some of them do not turn out for the team for years in between?
It is the passion of playing for West Indies. They all still want to play for West Indies as much as they can. It is unfortunate how things are, in that they don’t play as much, but when they are together, they want to do well for West Indies.
On the eve of the tournament I told them how far we can go in the tournament. I always stress that I am a winner and I want to win, and then I open it up. The captain spoke about his passion to win the tournament for the second time. Bravo spoke. I remember Marlon Samuels saying, “Let’s go and take what is ours.”
You had just two T20Is with the West Indies side before this tournament began. The team had only eight T20I matches between the last World T20 and this one. How do you work with a group like that?
Two T20Is in a year when other teams are playing ten and 12 is definitely not enough. But the nice thing about the guys is they are a closed unit, and we saw that about two or three days into the Dubai camp. They were working well with each other and I did not have much work to do.
The harmony they build is because of two things: the camaraderie they share from playing for West Indies; and the common fight they have together. That “we against them” feeling.
From the moment they have won the World T20, the players have elaborated on problems they faced going into the tournament – the jerseys not being ready, playing without caps, the WICB asking the selectors to be ready for a player strike over the match-fee dispute. How did you handle the situation?
I knew there was no threat of a strike. I spoke to the captain. I spoke to Bravo. I spoke to Chris. They told me we are going to play, but we need to get some answers. So I was not stressed.
As for the other parts, about clothes, I only got involved when the manager [Rawl Lewis] went to India and started spending two-three hours at the factory, into the middle of the night, to get the men’s and women’s clothes sorted. It is only when Rawl started to have these problems it became such a big stress.
“In order for us to not be scrambling to qualify for the next World Cup, we need to be playing our best team and winning and moving up the table”
Is it true that you asked each of the senior players to adopt a junior player and groom him during the World T20?
The point made to the senior players was that if we are going to win this tournament, it depends on how the junior players perform and not the seasoned T20 players, who have been playing around the world. So it was about how the junior players who have just come in [to the squad] – [Carlos] Brathwaite, Ashley Nurse, who have not been playing too much of T20 cricket – perform.
From early in the camp, Bravo was working heavily with Jerome Taylor and Carlos on their bowling. Stuart Williams was pushing on how the guys hit. It was not something that had to be said. The onus was taken up by all the senior players. I made note of one of the younger players commenting, “Boy, the camp was nice because of how much the senior players shared.”
Were there learning points for you? You don’t have much coaching experience in T20s.
It was a very interesting tournament for me. I have always been able to get people to step up and push themselves. But understanding what I have to do to get them to push themselves was the big learning part for me.
It is a case where I have my own ideas of T20 cricket, [but it was also about] pulling Chris Gayle aside, getting his ideas, talking to Bravo and Sammy and getting their ideas, then put things together and know what we had to do. A lot of it was down to them and how they won with their own hands.
Can you talk about your journey so far?
(Laughs) The journey started off nicely, but it has been rough, particularly since just after August [last year]. It is particularly rough, in that the fact that the direction I visualise for West Indies men’s senior team to be successful seems to be contrary to others,
However, just before the start of of the T20 World Cup I put together a “Moving Forward” plan and submitted it to the board, as I had promised I would do during the last board meeting, in August last year. I have not heard anything back from them as yet, but hopefully there will be a productive discussion where can arrive at some common goals.
When you are looking at our cricket, there is a certain way to develop this cricket, there is a certain way for us to go to be successful, and if it is not going to go that way, well then, we are going to continue struggling.
All the other things – people coming at you, and not backing you, I can deal with those things, but just the fact that it is West Indies cricket we are dealing with and I want West Indies cricket to move forward – so hopefully lines of communication will open up, otherwise it can be particularly difficult.
What were the main things you asked for in the first meeting when you took over?
We have to understand that we are eighth [in Tests] and ninth [in ODIs] on the rankings table. And we have always been at the top in T20 cricket. If we were to always play our best teams in those two formats [T20s and ODIs], then we would be at the top in those two formats. Then our Test cricket can take its time and develop itself. But for now, when you are low down, it is hard to sell your product.
“The point made to the senior players was that if we are going to win this tournament, it depends on how the junior players perform” .
Are you saying the priority should be limited-overs cricket?
Let us say we have the 16 players who just won the T20 World Cup, along with Dwayne Smith, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, and so on, who were not there. So we have about 20 international limited-overs players. If we play our best team in the two formats [ODIs and T20Is], we will be at the top of the two formats. There is no doubt about that. Everybody around the world talks about that. While we are at the top of those two formats, our Test cricket will be stepping up and up.
You must have had a road map as to where you want to be after a year. Are you somewhat closer to the goal that you had set for yourself?
The World T20 crown was always part of it, but the disappointment right now is not being able to try and win the Champions Trophy next year. That was part of my steps. If we won this T20 trophy then you put your focus on the Champions Trophy next. When you win that, you have two years to work with and develop those 15, 16, 17 players to play in the World Cup in 2019. While all this was happening, we would be building the Test team. It’s a full development.
Do you reckon with all that has happened in the past six months, you will get the best squads for future series, including the tri-series (involving Australia and South Africa) and the scheduled India tour? Will they include those who played in the World T20?
There has been talk already that players who did not come back and play in the Super50 [domestic List A competition] won’t be selected [for the tri-series]. But you are talking about seven or eight of the best players in the world.
If you are not going to select them, then the other two teams coming into this tri-series are going to be smiling, because the challenge of playing against West Indies at home without Gayle, Sammy, [Andre] Russell, Bravo, [Lendl] Simmons seems easier. We have seen what all of them can do in the World T20 and we have seen what they can do in 50-over cricket.
In order for us to not be scrambling to qualify for the next World Cup, we need to be winning and moving up the table. By September next year we [would] have gone up the table and entered an area where we don’t have to fight pre-tournament.
“There is a big hard line on the fact that these guys don’t play ten four-day games in order to be selected for Test cricket. And I can’t see any of these guys play ten four-day games without a contract from the WICB”
What is Clive Lloyd’s selection panel or the WICB telling you? Are they going to relax the condition about playing in the regional tournaments?
The panel has not spoken of late on this. The CEO [Michael Muirhead] had put out a statement, I don’t know how long back, saying that these guys are not going to be selected if they don’t play in the Super50, outlining that that is the board’s policy, so going forward perhaps that is another area we can review.
Are you happy with the 15 Test players who were offered retainers in January? Did you have a say in the shortlist?
The list is done by the selectors. I don’t really comment about the list.
Earlier this year, in Australia, you said: “It’s enjoyable to see Andre Russell bowling at 140 clicks, and Bravo hitting three or four sixes, and Chris back in it. It is frustrating that we don’t have them here playing the Test series.” How much have things changed now?
With all that is going on now, it is not going to change, because there is a big hard line on the fact that these guys don’t stay home and play ten four-day games in order to be selected for Test cricket. And it is not going to change because I can’t see any of these guys play ten four-day games without a contract from the WICB.
What is the relationship you share with Richard Pybus, the WICB director of cricket?
Relationship is a difficult word. He communicates via emails but he has not spoken to me since the suspension. It’s sad because this is not about him or me, this is about West Indies cricket. There has not even been any personal or team congratulatory message on the World Cup win.
What is the relationship you have with the WICB president?
It is the same thing. It was good when I first came in. I would get the occasional text message and I earned a big hug when we won the Test match in Barbados [against England], but since my suspension there has been no communication, not verbal nor written, and again no congratulatory message.
Simmons to Samuels: “Whoever it is you wanted to fight with, whoever it is you wanted prove things to, you have answered them. You don’t need to do any more” .
Is it difficult to keep your chin up and motivate yourself since you are the captain of the ship, so to speak?
For me it is not difficult because the ship is West Indies cricket. The ship is not the president or the director of cricket or Phil Simmons. West Indies cricket means more to me than anything else.
Especially working with the younger players, getting them to understand what they have to do at the international level, keeps my head up all the time. My professionalism also helps me to continually to put in my best in my job.
What did you learn from the Australia tour, your first major overseas assignment?
We were murdered early on, but I enjoyed the fact that I could see there was improvement in the thought of what we had to do as players. In the second Test match, there was a big fight. For a long while we have not scored over 300 runs in an innings against the top nations, so it was good to see us doing it couple of times in the last two matches. For a long time we have not batted for 80-100 overs [in an innings].
It is little things like that where you have to start with the Test team. You could see a lot of younger players started to understand what Test cricket is about. It was exceptional see how young [Darren] Bravo and Kraigg Brathwaite batted, and it was exciting when Carlos Braithwaite made his debut [in Melbourne]. These were things to take from Australia.
There seems to be a lack of leaders performing and leading successfully for long periods of time. Denesh Ramdin, Darren Bravo, even Samuels, have been around for a while but have never taken up the mantle convincingly.
When we came back from Australia, I thought: why have Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Joe Root gone so quickly up to the top of Test cricket? And you look at who they all played with when they came into Test cricket: Kohli had [Rahul] Dravid, [Sachin] Tendulkar around him. Williamson had Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor. Root had Alastair Cook and other senior players around him.
I don’t know if we realise how massive these senior players are. When Kraigg Brathwaite and Kieran Powell came in, they both had Chris Gayle there in the dressing room. That helped them develop quicker, by talking and playing and practising with guys like that.
We take longer to develop because we don’t have a lot of senior players in the team who will guide the younger guys. Kraigg Brathwaite is still developing as a Test cricketer; Bravo, the same thing, even though both have played quite a few Test matches.
When we were playing, even the likes of the great Courtney Walsh and Sir Curtly Ambrose had the benefit of [drawing on] the experience of the late Malcolm Marshall, [Michael] Holding and [Joel] Garner to groom us. I had the likes of the greats [Gordon] Greenidge and [Desmond] Haynes on the field and in the dressing room. It was essential to our learning and development.
Can you explain the difference between Samuels in Australia and Samuels in India?
Marlon played really well against England when I came in. He struggled in Sri Lanka and Australia, but he has just turned the corner a little. The World T20 lifted him a lot because he has had a lot of success in it in the past. He said also that some comments lifted him in the World T20.
“I would get the occasional text message from the [board] president, but since my suspension there has been no communication, not verbal nor written, and again no congratulatory message”
You rushed towards Samuels and held him as he went about shouting angrily immediately after West Indies beat England in the World T20 final. What did you say to him?
I just tried to hold him and say, “You have answered them. Whoever it is you wanted to fight with, whoever it is you wanted prove things to, you have answered them. You don’t need to do any more.”
Have you spoken to Gayle about his desire to play Test cricket?
Chris had his back surgery [last year]. Based on what I have seen in the World T20, he is getting stronger. I am sure he will be fully fit soon and he can play Test cricket. But the statement has been made that you have to stay home and play ten four-day games in order to be selected for Test cricket. Chris has not retired from anything.
Have you asked him whether he intends to play Test cricket in the time he has remaining as a player?
Chris wants to play everything. He wants to play every format of the game for West Indies. That is a huge thing that I have learned – that these guys want to play every format for West Indies.
Clearly then the perception that some of them don’t want to play Test cricket is wrong?
It is just a perception. These guys want to play international cricket for West Indies and they want to see West Indies successful at the international level.
Should West Indies schedule more T20Is to capitalise on the strength of their team in the format?
I sat down in December and saw teams having six T20Is before the World T20. We, along with Bangladesh and possibly Zimbabwe, were the only teams not to have enough T20I matches. I tried to get some more because we needed to play, but none was forthcoming. So we had little help in preparation and had to just make do.
It is a no-brainer to capitalise on our T20 strength. It is like we are able to hit sixes but we are trying to win games with singles. You need to use what is your strength.
West Indies cricket’s strength is limited-overs cricket and we need to be able to be at the top of the two formats and sell that thing in order for our company to grow. But I believe we see things differently. So again, looking forward maybe this is something we can work on and either agree to disagree or find a compromise.
Do you fear for West Indies cricket?
Everybody who has put on the maroon cap and the maroon blazer feels for West Indies cricket. We have won few trophies, but we have a long way to go.
What are the challenges ahead of you?
The immediate challenge is being able to get the best team on the park in all formats. The Caribbean is buzzing now. The more we win, the more people will want to play cricket and want to get back into cricket.
For me, the real challenge is to get people to understand that this is the direction West Indies cricket should be taking. If I don’t get people to understand that, then I don’t know what is next.
First Published On Cricinfo.