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Simmons will relish pitting wits against old Ireland pals

By Ian Callender

It always promised to be an exciting three weeks of cricket once Ireland's trip to India to play Afghanistan, their only serious challengers at Associate level, was confirmed but it became a must-watch series last month when Phil Simmons was appointed consultant coach to the Afghans.

Simmons, the former West Indies all-rounder - and still holder of the most economical figures in a one-day international - remains Ireland's most successful coach in an eight-year stay which only ended after the 2015 World Cup because his home board came calling to take over as their coach. It was the one job he could not turn down.

Fast forward 18 months and despite guiding the West Indies to World Twenty20 glory, a major fall-out between Simmons and the board led to his sacking.

In January, Simmons was invited to travel to Dubai for the inaugural Desert T20 tournament and although not directly involved with any of the eight teams, immediately afterwards Afghanistan offered him the post of consultant coach.

"I had watched a couple of Afghanistan's practice sessions as I had done with all the teams but they asked me what my commitments were for the next few months. I'm mainly involved with the bowlers but I'm there as a general consultant, basically the assistant coach," said Simmons.

Although not on the selection committee, he is consulted before the final 11 is confirmed and, of course, he will know quite a lot about the players his team will be facing this month, starting with the first of three Twenty20 internationals tomorrow.

"Yes, I know them all and can talk about them but it's up to the players to execute (the plans). It doesn't matter what I say, they have to go out and perform. We'll see how they do," he said.

Simmons makes Afghanistan favourites to come out on top in the shortest format but doesn't know what to expect in the five one-day internationals and Intercontinental match which follow.

"Having beaten them twice in the UAE in January, they are favourites in the T20s, but the other two formats are hard to call," he added.

"Ireland have the likes of Ed Joyce coming in to strengthen the batting and those games should be close. Afghanistan are currently ahead of Ireland in white ball cricket because the rankings say so but there has been no talk comparing themselves with Ireland."

So how will he feel about coming up against a team he knows so well. He can already compare coaching Afghanistan this week with facing West Indies when he was in charge of Ireland.

"I have learned how to deal with that, it's what I have to do. I'm still friends with everyone - a few good buddies are coming out to India with a touring party from Ireland - but it's a case of working with the team I'm with. I know all the people in Ireland and will still be friends on April 1. It's a case of doing my job.

And as for his next job, significantly, Simmons did not rule out a return to Ireland.

"I don't think too far ahead. I'm only thinking about this month and what's next. I'm happy in this job, I didn't want to go anywhere big, this consultancy is good for me and by the time we sit down in April we'll know where we want to go," he said.

"I am going to the Caribbean with Afghanistan in June (Simmons organised the trip) when we will play West Indies in five ODIs and two T20s.

"My only fixed contract is in the Caribbean Premier League with St Kitts. After that (ends in August) I'm a free agent again."

For now though, after four and a half months off, "I am enjoying coaching again".

And this time it really is a series he cannot lose. Impressive Ireland performances will, surely, give him a secret satisfaction.

Belfast Telegraph

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