By RON FANFAIR
Ireland’s cricket coach Phil Simmons enjoys coming to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
As a player, he slammed a century at SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) in August 1999 to help a World XI, led by Courtney Walsh, register a four-wicket win over an Asian side in a 50-overs exhibition contest.
The former Trinidad & Tobago and West Indies all-rounder’s Irish team defeated Canada by six wickets in a four-day Intercontinental Cup fixture and shared the two-match One-Day International series two weeks ago.
Off the pitch, Simmons was able to spend some quality time with several family members who reside here and his mother and aunt who were visiting from T & T.
“I have not seen my mom since last April, so it was good to see her again and other relatives,” he said. “I seldom get the opportunity to go to Trinidad, so it means a lot and I am grateful every time I get a chance to reconnect with my family.”
Simmons, 47, is also thankful to be alive.
Batting without a helmet in fading light, he was struck in the head by former England fast bowler David Lawrence at Bristol during the West Indies’ 1988 tour match against Gloucestershire.
“Instead of waiting for an ambulance, I was placed in a car and rushed to nearby Frenchay Hospital which is one of the best neurosurgery intuitions in Europe,” he said. “I told the doctor that something wasn’t right and that was when I lost consciousness. It was not until about a year later when I was trying to explain to some family members what happened that my wife took me aside and told me that my heart had actually stopped beating for a short while.”
With the aid of neurosurgeon Dr. Nigel Rawlinson who he credits with saving his life and with whom he has remained in contact, Simmons fully recovered and donned a helmet which might have saved him from another serious injury when he was hit while trying to hook Barbadian fast bowler Emmerson Jordan.
The attacking opening batsman, useful medium pacer and excellent slip catcher, Simmons averaged just 22.26 in 26 Tests and 28.93 in 143 One-Day Internationals in an 11-year West Indies career highlighted by a record bowling performance in 1992 in Pakistan when he took four wickets for three runs off 10 overs, eight of which were maidens.
The world-best economical bowling accomplishment that still stands eclipsed India’s Bishen Bedi’s 12-8-6-1 set against East Africa in the 1975 World Cup.
Simmons, whose younger cousin Lendl has represented the West Indies in three Tests, enjoyed better success at the first-class level, averaging 35.61 with the bat and 28.68 with the ball in 207 games, and he led Leicestershire in 1996 to its second county championship victory, scoring 1244 runs and claiming 56 wickets and 35 catches, feats that earned him the Professional Cricketers Association Player of the Year award and a Wisden Cricketer of the Year honour in 1997.
He said he was inspired to take up coaching during his final season at Leicester in 1998.
“Tim Boon (he’s the Leicestershire coach) was in charge of the coaching courses and he encouraged me to do them,” said Simmons who also played club cricket in South Africa. “I took him up and was successful in the courses I took. Looking back, I made the right choice and I enjoy coaching, especially when players are eager to learn.”
Shortly after retiring in 2002, Simmons coached T & T for two seasons before landing a job with the Zimbabwe Academy on the recommendation of former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd. His 2004 appointment as the senior team coach ended abruptly when his contract was terminated just 12 months into his three-year contract.
“There were two people at the top of Zimbabwe cricket who could not handle the fact that I made my own decisions as far as the team was concerned,” he said. “They tried to interfere with team selection and a few other cricket related things and when they realized I would not allow that to happen, they had to find a way to get rid of me.”
Simmons, whose London-based lawyers are still trying to recoup money for the remaining two years of the contract, will return to Zimbabwe next week for the first time since he was sacked. The Irish will meet the home side in an Intercontinental Cup match and three One-Day Internationals.
“I am going there with the Irish to do a job and I am not going to allow other things to get in the way,” was Simmons response when asked if he’s hesitant to go back to the African country.
With Simmons at the helm since 2007, the Irish won four tournaments in nine months and qualified for next year’s World Cup in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Despite the success, Simmons – whose contract expires next year – yearns to return to the Caribbean.
“My heart is always in the West Indies and when the time is right, I would like to go back there and be involved in the game in some way,” said Simmons whose English-born wife Jacent and their three children live in London.
Simmons denied applying for the West Indies head coaching job. He however said he was interested in coaching Canada a few years ago and had approached late International Cricket Council (ICC) High Performance manager Bob Woolmer.