NO coach in the history of Zimbabwean cricket would have been aggrieved after getting fired more than West Indian Phil Simmons who was dismissed in 2005.
Kevin Mapasure in Hobart Australia
Simmons probably faced the toughest challenge than any other coach in that post from 2004-2005, having to raise a new team after the mass exodus of experienced cricket players over acrimonious administrative differences.
Almost 10 years after he was dismissed as Zimbabwe national team coach Simmons will tomorrow seek a win for his team Ireland that would seal Zimbabwe’s fate at this World Cup. The Chevrons have won just one match so far and a win could catapult the West Indies into the quarterfinals, as Simmons comes face to face with a nation that left him emotionally scarred.
Simmons is not making it obvious, however, that there is extra motivation for him than just the two points and a potential quarterfinal berth Ireland could seal by winning their Group B contest against Zimbabwe at the Bellerive Oval here in Tasmania at 5.30am Zimbabwe time.
It will not be the first time Simmons has faced Zimbabwe since his dismissal in 2005, having toured Zimbabwe with Ireland in September 2010 when his team lost 2-1 in a three-match ODI series.
But then the stakes were not as high as they are now, and a win for either side will leave a lasting impression.
With much said about Ireland developing impressively to the extent they could replace Zimbabwe in the elite Test group, there are several sub-plots to this Group B tie.
It might not rate as highly as your Australia-New Zealand tie, or a South Africa-India clash, but in its own special way this could be the match to watch and may end up epitomising the competition.
If there is any match Zimbabwean cricket supporters feel their team cannot afford to lose it is that against Ireland. In many ways, from the Simmons issue to questions over Test status, to mention but two, this is a score-settling contest.
Zimbabwe have another chance to put to bed any murmurs of Irish superiority while the latter have the opportunity to strengthen their case for Test status. Two points are at stake and for Zimbabwe, despite all the promise and hype, a defeat against Ireland would render this World Cup a disappointing outing.
If Zimbabwe lose this match, few will remember how their batting against South Africa thrilled the world in their forlorn chase of a total above 300. Few would also remember the spirited chase against the West Indies after the Caribbean country had racked 373 runs on a day Chris Gayle sent records tumbling.
Both teams are quite comfortable in the match conditions; Zimbabwe’s exposure to the lights has been minimal, but so has Ireland’s.
Both teams feel they have good batting line-ups even though Zimbabwe will seek an improvement on their last outing in which they failed to chase 236.
Zimbabwe’s concern with their bowling is how they will execute the last 10 overs while Simmons feels his bowling line-up is not as good as that of 2011.
The ingredients are there for this match to rival the breathtaking Australia-New Zealand clash in terms of competitiveness and excitement because so much rests on victory for both teams than in any other match at this World Cup so far.
Zimbabwe senior batsmen Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza in particular will feel this is the match they can finally lead from the front with the blade and inspire a win.
Ireland have the experience of the O’Brien brothers Niall and Kevin in their batting line-up and expect much from captain William Porterfield.
Simmons feels the two teams are balanced. “This is the only match so far where I think it’s about who executes better on the day,” said Simmons. “Both teams have been playing some good cricket so for this match it’s more about who turns up on the day.”
On the other hand Zimbabwe selector on tour Givemore Makoni believes the Chevrons are a better side and should win this match.
“They (Ireland) have been doing well, but we are a better side and we have to show that on Saturday (tomorrow).”
Zimbabwe have lost captain Elton Chigumbura to injury, but Taylor comfortably slots into that role.
Coach Dave Whatmore will probably ask for more of the same from his frontline bowlers after their top performance against Pakistan.
He will however demand that they be a lot tighter in the final 10 overs, and improve on the fielding.
Yesterday the team had a fielding practice with Walter Chawaguta, and they feel it’s an area they will need to improve on if two points and bragging rights are to be won.