ICC Media Release
Grace Road is a place which holds many happy memories for Phil Simmons. The strapping Trinidadian all-rounder smashed 261 on his first-class debut for Leicestershire there in 1994, the start of a fruitful time for him in English 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 ICC Intercontinental Cup (22-25 May) 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 ICC Cricket World Cup (CWC).
'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,' he said.
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 ICC World Cricket League Division 1 in Nairobi .
On the way home from that they stopped off in Abu Dhabi for a crucial ICC 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 ICC CWC 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 (44). '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.
'The players will be up for this in a big way. As defending champions we will be anxious to retain the title and also they will want to win it for Adrian because he is the one who led them to this stage. He deserves a big performance from the team and this is a good chance for us to build on the success of the World Cup.'
Simmons admits that since taking over he 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. 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 qualified for this final by topping Group A, beating the UAE and Namibia along the way as well as drawing with Scotland in a rain-affected match in Aberdeen . The team 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 young Civil Service wicket-keeper Gary Wilson, who was a central part of Ireland 's ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup squad in Sri Lanka in 2006, and Rankin's place will be taken by 27-year-old South African-born all-rounder Thinus Fourie.
'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.'
The new format in the ICC Intercontinental Cup means sides play a minimum of three four-day matches in this tournament. This increases to seven four-day matches in 2007 and 2008 when the event will be a full round-robin and global format.
That compares to a minimum of just two three-day matches per year under the previous structure which, until the semi-finals, was regionally based rather than global.
The ICC Intercontinental Cup began in 2004 to give the leading players from Associate sides the chance to improve by exposing them to a longer form of the game.
Ireland: Trent Johnston (captain), Jeremy Bray, William Porterfield, Eoin Morgan, Kevin O'Brien, Gary Wilson, Peter Gillespie, Andrew White, Kyle McCallan, David Langford-Smith, Thinus Fourie, Kenny Carroll, Roger Whelan. Coach: Phil Simmons.