There have been problems aplenty plaguing Zimbabwe cricket and one of the biggest of them has been the perennial financial crisis. Earlier this month the Zimbabwe players had demanded a clarity from the Board on the payment of their dues. According to a report in Cricbuzz, the players haven't been paid their salaries for the past two months and are owed match fees since the Sri Lanka tour in July 2017. The is so much unrest that the players are even ready to throw the triangular series involving Pakistan and Australia at home (in July) in "serious jeopardy".
Amidst the off-field storm, India's Lalchand Rajput will take over the reins of Zimbabwe cricket team as the interim head coach. While one of the toughest challenges facing the former Afghanistan coach is convincing the players to get onto the field, Rajput says that his job will be to get the team working as a cohesive unit.
"It will be a tough task (Getting the players to play and keeping them together) because they have to run their families which is very important," Rajput told Firstpost. "But I am sure they will sort it out because when somebody plays for the country, you have to keep aside some problems. I am sure these players are very passionate to play for their country. My job is to get them united, get a cohesive unit and make sure that we play to our potential."
Rajput was appointed on a three-month deal in place of Heath Streak who was sacked along with the entire coaching staff in March after Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. The former India opener was approached by Zimbabwe Cricket for the job and he had no hesitation in taking up the job.
"I just got a call from Faisal Hasnain, (the then) managing director of Zimbabwe Cricket. He just called me up and said, 'Hey Lalchand, we are looking for a head coach, are you interested?' I said yes, definitely, because if I could be of any help to a team then why not? I said let me try for an interim period. This is the series (Triangular series involving Pakistan and Australia) where even I can know the players and their mindset. That's how it all happened, so I took up the challenge."
Rajput's stint with Afghanistan was an impressive one. In his 15-month tenure, Afghanistan achieved a win percentage of 61 across all formats. They won six out of 10 limited-overs series and managed to draw their first ever ODI series in West Indies. Rajput has had successful stints as a coach earlier in the past too with India winning the inaugural World T20 at his helm. There are similar expectations riding on his shoulders this time too.
"Their expectation was, just the way I turned around Afghanistan if I can do the same to Zimbabwe. When we (Afghanistan) went to Zimbabwe, we beat them in their own backyard so that was the biggest achievement for us as well so maybe they must have looked at my coaching credentials and thought that he is the guy who can really make a difference to our team. I have taken up challenges with the Indian team as well. After the (Disappointing) World Cup 2007 when Greg Chappell was sacked, I was given the charge of the team and we won the (Inaugural) World T20 and then we went to Australia and won the CB series as well, so it was a challenge for me and winning the World T20 has made a lot of difference to the Indian players and IPL as well. Because we won the World T20, the IPL came into existence. And then I took up Afghanistan, when I joined Afghanistan, people were saying, 'Afghanistan ka cricket kya hai? (What is Afghanistan cricket?)' Are they really good at it? But now people are talking about Afghanistan because I was there for one and a half years and we scripted a turnaround and a change so hopefully I can make a difference in Zimbabwe cricket."
Rajput admitted that this will be one of the toughest challenges of his coaching career. Back in March Zimbabwe Cricket sacked captain, coach and the entire coaching staff, earlier this year bowling coach Makhaya Ntini parted ways with Zimbabwe cricket and in May 2016, head coach Dave Whatmore was shown the door. In the current climate with so much instability around, it would have been a difficult decision to take up the job. But it's all about facing new challenges for Rajput.
"I like challenges, I want challenges and challenge gets the best out of me. When I joined Afghanistan, there was not much support staff, there was only one assistant. Slowly we got a video analyst, bowling coach and fielding coach so things moulded well. I am not worried about the past, my focus is very clear, I want to make a difference wherever I go."
Zimababwe have endured tough time not only off the field but on it too. They failed to qualify for the 2019 World Cup and that has had an impact on the team. Rajput says his job is to breathe positivity into the side.
"I am sure they have a very good bunch of cricketers. I am not concerned about what's going on in their board. I am only concerned about the team's performances. As a unit, they are a very good one. It just needs a little bit of confidence booster plus re-oiling of the players' mindset that they have to do well because they have not qualified for the World Cup for the first time, which was the biggest setback for them. I have got to take them out from that frame of mind and be positive in the coming series. My job is very simple, I have to try and make sure that they take it one game at a time, look positive and make sure that they try and win the game."
Rajput is not looking too far ahead in his new job at the moment.
"The goal is to be in the final (of the Tri-series). That's the first thing. I don't want to jump. I will take one game at a time, the first thing is to qualify for the final and then we will take forward from there. One step at a time, because if you take 3, you may fall down," he signed off.
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