Lalchand Rajput has been appointed the interim head coach of the Zimbabwe men’s team.
It’s a short-term gig to start with, running till just beyond the T20 International tri-series at home in early July against Australia and Pakistan. But, if all goes well, it might lead to an extension for the former Mumbai opening batsman, who turned out in two Tests and four ODIs in the mid-1980s.
He has the experience all right, having played the role of cricket manager during India’s glory run at the 2007 World T20 and then guided Afghanistan to Test status as the team’s head coach.
All that nous must come into play as Rajput hopes to guide Zimbabwe to bigger and better, especially after recent events, which included the sacking of the entire support staff following the team’s failure to qualify for the 2019 50-over World Cup.
Excerpts from a chat with Wisden:
How did the Zimbabwe job come to you?
They called me up and showed an interest in me. For now, the deal is for three months. After that, if both parties agree, it will be extended. I am really happy with this, because this is what I was looking for after the job with Afghanistan. Afghanistan did exceptionally well when I was the coach there, so the people in Zimbabwe must have seen something in me that impressed them. But yes, it’s a challenge. Challenges get the best out of me. I think people know me for that.
What is the brief that has been given to you, in terms of goals and targets?
Nothing as such, they want to do well like all teams do. My job is to get the best results, for the team to do well, perform better. For the tri-series against Australia and Pakistan, both strong teams, the first goal is to reach the final. Then we will take it one step at a time.
Given recent events in Zimbabwe, is this the biggest challenge of your career?
Yes, it is. Definitely. I always like challenges. My first job will be to get the players ready for the triangular series. I have not yet met the players; I will go there and slowly find out everything, meet them, understand them, motivate them. There is a lot of talent there, but I need to turn things around quickly and hopefully take them to the next level. The main thing is to get the players together and get them to perform as a unit.
How well do you know Zimbabwe, it’s people and culture?
I have been there, most recently with Afghanistan, when we beat them. I know most of the players as well. So it’s not a new thing for me that way. But the culture there I obviously don’t know, that will be new. But it’s the same as it was when I joined the Afghanistan team. I slowly got to learn everything and then we performed exceptionally well.
You were the cricket manager of the Indian team when they won the World T20 in 2008 – what did you contribute to that victory?
People think I was the team manager; I was not, I was the cricket manager, which is the same as being the coach. The morale in the team was very low. Greg Chappell had just been sacked as the coach and the team had failed to qualify for the second round of the World Cup. I looked at my job as mainly to prepare and motivate the players. Performances will come. And the results were there for everyone to see.
What do you think was your contribution to Afghanistan’s success, and what did you learn from the job?
They are very talented, especially in shorter versions. In coaching you are learning all the time, whether at the junior levels or at the higher levels, you pick up new things all the time. But I had the experience with India. With Afghanistan, they had very simple thoughts – scoring fast; they would score 70s and get out. My job was to help them score centuries, bat long, play for time. They are very passionate about the game. That’s how we achieved Test status. It was quite easy for me, because they really wanted to do well.
Afghanistan are making their Test debut soon – what are your expectations from them?
I am an Indian, so my heart will always be for India, but it’s a very good thing for Afghanistan; it’s what they were eyeing for a long time. Everyone wants to play Test cricket. They are living their dream. It will be emotional. Afghanistan’s time is now, but we will have to wait and see. They have some fantastic spinners, so it will be a good contest. India have to be careful. India must have a fiery pitch for the game. And then time will tell.