Phil Simmons    Getty Images
Phil Simmons Getty Images

Phil Simmons insists that leading Afghanistan to the 2019 World Cup and not exacting revenge over his West Indies compatriots is his only priority when the 10-team qualifying tournament gets underway on Sunday. Simmons, who played 26 Tests and 143 ODIs for the West Indies from 1987 to 1999, was sacked as coach of the Caribbean side in 2016, just five months after leading them to the World T20 title in India. His sacking had been preceded by a suspension the previous year for publicly criticising the West Indies selection policy.

Simmons, 54, took over the reins of Afghanistan in December and his mission to get the newly-minted Test team to a second successive World Cup in England and Wales next year. Afghanistan take on Scotland in their opening match at Bulawayo on Sunday with Simmons playing down his team’s status as one of the favourites to reach the finals.”I am not putting the ‘favourites’ tag on me. We have just come here to play cricket, we need to play proper cricket and win this tournament,” said Simmons who has plenty of ‘inside knowledge’ of his opponents in the three-week qualifying event.

As well as West Indies, the former all-rounder has coached hosts Zimbabwe and enjoyed a successful eight-year spell in charge of Ireland with whom he reached two World Cups. Afghanistan are in Group B with Zimbabwe, Scotland, Nepal and Hong Kong. The West Indies, world champions in 1975 and 1979 but forced to qualify this time around, are in Group A with the Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates.

Three teams from each pool go through to the Super Sixes, where Afghanistan and the West Indies could meet, with the top two sides at the end of the process booking their spots at the 2019 World Cup.

“I am one of those who wants to win all the time, and I think these guys are the same,” added Simmons.”So, the more we will win, the easier it will get for us in the Super Six stage. You win the Super Six stage, you are in the World Cup as well as in the final. That s how we look at it.

The West Indies have endured a torrid few days in Zimbabwe, already losing to Afghanistan in a rain-affected warm-up and then getting bowled out for a paltry 115 by the UAE before left-arm spinner Nikita Miller claimed five wickets to save West Indies’ embarrassment. West Indies will face the UAE again on Tuesday in their tournament opener.”It is not going to be making 300 plus and then bowling teams out. It is going to be working out how to get to 180 to 220 and then deciding how to get the 10 wickets,” said West Indies’ Australian coach Stuart Law.

“To be honest, the wickets (in the warm-up matches) weren t as conducive as we want to play and so just have to come up with different ways to go about it. We do target 300-plus as we found in New Zealand, that s probably a benchmark score these days in One-Day Internationals. Here, we have to lower that target just to make sure we are safe to play better cricket or make better decisions out in the middle and get the job done.”

Law, who played one Test and 54 ODIs for Australia from 1994 to 1999, said the experience of Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels and Miller will be key.”You can t buy experience on a shelf. You need these guys in these tough conditions to stand up as well and guide the youngsters through the difficult periods.”