Simmons relishing West Indies challenge
Phil Simmons is relishing a return to the Caribbean, where he will attempt to guide Ireland to the latter stages of the World Twenty20 tournament after their success at the Qualifiers. Simmons, 46, was born in Trinidad and played 26 Tests and 143 one-dayers for the West Indies, taking up the position of Ireland's head coach after the 2007 World Cup.
"It's just brilliant to be leading a team at a World Cup in the West Indies," said Simmons. "I know how proud and delighted I am, but that's nothing compared to the joy of the team. You only had to look at their reaction after we beat the Dutch to know how much it meant to the guys. I wasn't in charge in 2007, so it'll be good to be back on home soil and in charge of an international team on the world stage."
Ireland have maintained consistent performances in recent times despite a number of high profile retirements and injuries, having lost players of the ilk of Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce to England, and with Boyd Rankin - who is also on England's radar after being included in the ECB's England Performance Programme - sidelined since January with a stress fracture to his right foot.
"We keep losing players, but we can replace them," argued Simmons. "You only have to look at how George Dockrell has taken to international cricket after we lost Kyle [McCallan] and Regan West. He's been just brilliant, and it's incredible to think that he's just 17 years old - he's a real natural. We keep producing young players and that's great for Irish cricket."
In the weeks preceding the World Twenty20 Ireland will travel to Jamaica for the Cricket Festival Series, during which they will play Jamaica in a four-day encounter, before switching to one-day mode with a 50 over and twenty20 game.
They then will take on the West Indies in an ODI, before finishing off with a further three twenty20 internationals against the side who they will face in Guyana when the World Twenty20 starts on April 30. The contest will be an interesting one for the coaches of the two teams - Ottis Gibson recently took up the role for the West Indies - as they played nine ODIs together for the West Indies in the mid-1990s.
The Cricket Festival Series is a follow up to a cultural and sporting exchange agreement signed in 2008 by Cricket Ireland and the Jamaica Cricket Association. "There will be a lot of innovation specifically designed to drive spectator support," said JCA president Paul Campbell. "There's going to be whole lot of excitement, hype and it's going to be a carnival."
"Cricket Ireland is excited to be embarking upon this series of matches in the Caribbean against Jamaica and the West Indies," added Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom. "Having qualified for the World Twenty20 Cup in the Caribbean, playing against teams of this calibre is exactly what Ireland needs to do in order to both continue its upward curve on the field, and to gain experience of overseas conditions. We are indebted to the Jamaica Cricket Association, whose foresight brought about this opportunity."
Following the series against West Indies, Ireland will head to America to continue their preparations for the World Twenty20 tournament. As they finished second in the qualifying tournament, they will be based in Guyana in the same group as England and West Indies.