Perth. Lalchand Rajput forgot the exact date but remembers it was in July 2018 when the former India opener took over as the head coach of the Zimbabwe men’s team and the next day the five-match ODI series against Pakistan began. . The first ODI against Pakistan was played on 13 July 2018. Rajput told that a day before the match, Zimbabwe Cricket informed me that Sean Irwin, Craig Williams, Sikandar Raza and Brendan Taylor have been out due to an ongoing salary dispute with the board. I was surprised. “Zimbabwe Cricket’s managing director Givmor Makoni told me that we cannot cancel the series. We got an inexperienced side and in the first match we got 100 runs (107 runs) and then in the third match we were all out for around 50 (67 runs). After that happened I knew I had to stop for things to turn around.” The former Indian batsman said, “We failed to qualify for the 2019 ODI World Cup and then got suspended. It was the worst phase so I am proud of this transformation in just four years.” No one could be happier than Rajput. Rajput said, “My dream was to see him qualify for the T20 World Cup in Australia. It’s icing on the cake and I’m proud of my boys.”
When India won the first T20 World Cup title in 2007, its coach was also Rajput. Rajput was with the team till the qualifiers but he wanted to be with his family during Diwali and hence returned. With the departure of players such as Neil Johnson, Flower brothers Andy and Grant, Murray Goodwin, Paul Strang, Henry Olonga and Heath Streak, Zimbabwe’s cricket has been as successful as never before. Be it administrative incompetence or blame it on the deterioration in the quality of players or low wages, Zimbabwe’s cricket went from bad to worse. The government then suspended the cricket board and the International Cricket Council (ICC) suspended Zimbabwe from international cricket for six months. The situation has improved on the administrative front. Meanwhile, the players and Rajput were paid directly by the ICC for their services. Star batsman Sikandar Raza has scored five ODI hundreds in 2022 alone while his only century in the 50-over format before the current season was in 2015. On Wednesday, Raza took three wickets with his off-spin and changed the course of the match to give the team a one-run victory. Rajput said, “Sikander is a passionate boy. He is flourishing at the age of 36 as of late. I remember when I took office a few years ago, I asked him, “How many matches have you won Zimbabwe.” He said, “He hadn’t scored a century in a long time. He was scoring runs around 40 and sometimes half-centuries to secure his place in the team.
Rajput, a former Test opener, then brought Mumbai’s style to Raza and apart from him, had a heartfelt conversation with senior players like Williams, Irvine and captain Regis Chakabwa. “I told them that there is no point in playing for Zimbabwe if you seniors don’t come forward and take more responsibility in winning matches,” Rajput said. Would prefer to choose and not think about the consequences. It worked because his mindset changed. But things changed when the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) officials wanted him to come to Kabul to prepare the Under-19 national team for the Junior World Cup. “I told him specifically that I would never go to Kabul. So as soon as he insisted, I resigned. It was covered by the media and then within a week Makoni called me and offered me the job of head coach.