The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iím grateful UCBSA didnít sack me: Eric Simons
- ĎThe World Cup came six months too early in my careerí

Dhaka: Eric Simons has seen the good and the bad days during his short tenure as South Africa coach. He took over from Graham Ford at a very critical juncture in South African cricket and has been trying to give a new dimension to the side.

The World Cup will remain his biggest disappointment but he has vowed not to look back. Simons spoke to The Telegraph last evening.

The following are excerpts

Q Does the World Cup failure still linger'

A Yeah it does. You canít forget it in a hurry. It will linger for a long time. But thatís the way sport is. Youíve got to learn to live with it. Weíve analysed it as a team and the UCBSA itself has said what was right and what went wrong.

Whether the pressure of playing at home played a big part

Thatís one of the major reasons. But the pressure is always going to be there. For instance, India were under enormous pressure but still made it to the final. Itís a question of how you handle it. Unfortunately, we didnít do well. As a coach, I feel the playersí personalities changed as the tournament drew near. We never played to our potential.

How big a blow was it psychologically'

It was a setback especially for the guys who have retired. They missed their chance to win the World Cup on home ground. But with a new-look side we can hopefully move on from here.

What the loss meant to him personally'

Iíve played cricket for a long time with Western Province. You learn what sport is. There are no guarantees for success. You can only give it your best shot. If you take it too seriously beyond that, it will affect your self-respect. There were many things in the build-up to the tournament that we thought we did wrong, both as a team and within the UCBSA itself. I donít have any less confidence within myself as a coach or as a person. Obviously youíve got to learn and change but, more importantly, youíve got to believe in yourself. I do believe that I do things right and Iíll be successful. Unfortunately, the World Cup probably came six months too early in my career.

Whether the UCBSA decision to retain him as coach surprised him

My association with the team was only for a short while. I wouldnít say Iím lucky but the UCBSA discussed it and decided to retain me. I would say I am grateful they didnít sack me. I still believe I can improve the performance and am glad the UCBSA gave me another opportunity.

Do you believe the team lacks ruthlessness'

You need to be ruthless to be successful. We were ruthless in the Sri Lanka and Pakistan series. Unfortunately, the World Cup came along and the occasion proved too big. We have to strive to be absolutely ruthless. We need to win more regularly from close situations and be ruthless in weak situations. Thatís the hallmark of a good side.

Was the new set of ideas that came with the change in captaincy needed'

I donít want to comment because thatís for the selectors and UCBSA to decide. Iím not a selector and that was not my decision either. I think there has been a natural change because of the change in personnel. Jonty Rhodes, Allan Donald are gone, Gary Kirsten will not play ODIs and weíve a few youngsters playing key roles.

Have you noticed any change in the team after Graeme Smith took over'

Thereís definitely more enthusiasm and a certain freshness in the side. Thatís exciting for me and the team. Hopefully they will show something different on the field. Thereís more freedom now and the players trust their talent.

How do you sum up Shaun Pollockís reign'

I think Shaun was a very successful captain. I think his record shows that. He took over at a very difficult time in South Africa cricket. One evening you werenít captain, next morning you wake up to the news that youíll have to lead the side. Thatís very tough for anyone. But he handled it with great dignity, integrity and whatís exemplary is the way he is supporting Graeme now. Heís been great in his role as a senior player. That probably is the best part of him.

Will being relieved of the captaincy allow Pollock to perform better now'

I donít think captaincy was ever a burden on Shaun. I believe he enjoyed it. Sometimes it happens that the captain tends to hold themselves back. Maybe with Graeme in charge, youíll find Shaun playing a bigger role both with the bat and the ball. His batting has been under-rated over the years. Just a walk down to fine-leg with a relaxed mind will do him more good.

Do you agree with Barry Richards that Shaunís moves had become predictable during the World Cup'

I havenít been around long enough to say Shaun had become predictable. He was new to me as well. Maybe Barry watched him for a longer period.

Whether Bob Woolmer was right in saying Graeme is too young to lead

Bob Woolmer doesnít know Graeme Smith. I donít think heís ever met him. It was unfair to make a statement like that. All I can say is that Graeme is not an ordinary 22-year-old. He is older than his age and a very special person. He is a natural leader. He combines strong character with humility. Heís a humble person and knows exactly what he wants in life. Thatís the hallmark of a good leader.

How do you intend planning for the next World Cup'

Iím not sure what my future is. I came into coaching by default. I never planned to be a coach. My contract ends with UCBSA in June next year. Iím not sure whether Iíll be involved till 2007 but weíve got to learn lessons from the past and work towards that. I think the plan has to be well co-ordinated. What Iíve discovered at this level is that even small things make a difference. Ultimately, it has got to be a unified plan ó involving all cricketing structures in South Africa.

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