Intercontinental Cup final, Grace Road

Simmons back on familiar turf

James Fitzgerald

May 17, 2007

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Ireland's cricket adventure now turns to the Intercontinental Cup final © Getty Images
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Grace Road is a place which holds many happy memories for Phil Simmons. He smashed 261 on his first-class debut for Leicestershire there in 1994, the start of a fruitful time for him in county cricket that helped to forge many friendships and made him a favourite with the Leicester faithful.

So it is understandable that he is heading back there next week for the final of the Intercontinental Cup full of optimism that the team he now coaches, Ireland, can retain the title and secure the first piece of silverware of the brand-new Simmons era.

"Grace Road is like my second home after the Caribbean," said Simmons, who took over the reins from previous national coach Adrian Birrell following Ireland's fairytale trip to the West Indies for the recent World Cup.

"When I heard we were to play the final there I was a very happy man. I know the ground really well. I am very comfortable there and I will try to pass on that feeling to the players when we get there. There could not be a better venue for this match as far as I'm concerned."

It has been a busy time for the Ireland team this year, playing almost non-stop since January. After a warm-up tour to Eastern Province, South Africa, they headed straight to the World Cricket League Division 1 in Nairobi. On the way home from that they stopped off in Abu Dhabi for a crucial Intercontinental Cup match, beating the United Arab Emirates in Sheikh Zayed Stadium to secure qualification for next week's final. Then, after a brief break, they embarked on their World Cup odyssey that lasted nearly two months.

"There is a lot of tiredness involved at the moment but they'll be up for this match. No question about that," said Simmons. "I think the fact it is a four-day game will help. It is a little easier on the body playing the longer form of the game as opposed to the constant barrage of ODIs.

There is a lot of tiredness involved at the moment but they'll be up for this match. No question about that

Since taking over Simmons has tapped into Birrell's knowledge and experience. "He did most of his helping me when we were in the Caribbean and now he is trying to make a new beginning and step back from things," he said. "But he has made it clear that he is always on the end of a phone and I have made that call a couple of times. He has been a great help to me."

Ireland will face Canada in next week's final, a team that Simmons admits he does not know a lot about. "I have not seen much of Canada. We played them in a World Cup warm-up match [in Trinidad] and bowled them out for 115 but the Intercontinental Cup is a different story. It's very different to one-day cricket. We have no set plan as yet but when we get to Leicester on Sunday we will look at what we need to do."

Simmons will be without a number of players for this match, including wicketkeeper-batsman Niall O'Brien and opening bowler Boyd Rankin, due to commitments with their English county teams, and all-rounder Andre Botha, due to a finger injury.

O'Brien will be replaced by Gary Wilson, who was a central part of Ireland's Uunder-19 World Cup squad in Sri Lanka in 2006, and Rankin's place will be taken by 27-year-old Thinus Fourie, a South Africa born allrounder. Simmons admits that the amateur nature if Irish cricket is causing him a few problems.

"I have struggled a little bit with the fact that I can't have players available to me as much as I want but I have come to terms with that now and I have every confidence in the players coming into the team. They have been involved in the squad recently so I know they will fit right in.

"Andre is a big loss to us. He bats and bowls very well and it's always going to be a disappointment to lose someone of his ability but there is nothing we can do about it and it gives the chance to someone else to show what they can do."

James Fitzgerald is ICC Communications Officer

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