FOR the first time in his four-year reign, Lalchand Rajput came under intense scrutiny in front of Zimbabwe’s cricket Press corps, and he was clearly not prepared to accept blame for his team’s scandalous decline.
Following Zimbabwe’s whitewash defeat to Afghanistan in three ODIs, the African team’s under-fire Indian coach blamed everything but himself – from Covid-19, to supposed lack of game-time, to absence of some players.
But pressured by the relentless reporters, who grilled the 60-year-old gaffer in the player’s pavilion of Harare Sports Club in a no-holds-barred Press conference on Thursday, Rajput quickly realised he had to face some hard truths over his horrendous spell in charge of Zimbabwe.
It was put to him that the pandemic had affected everyone in world sport, one way or the other, and that his team’s free-fall had not exactly started when one or two of his key Zimbabwe players were absent.
Somewhat cornered, Rajput came short of blaming his team, questioning the “mindset” of the players in a thinly-veiled excuse that his tactics were not being properly executed by his charges.
“That hunger is still not there, because, you know, I come from India and we are hungry,” Rajput told the reporters when asked about the mentality of his Zimbabwe players.
“We (in India) are hungry to win every game. We hate losing, to be very honest.”
“But if you look at it, we are not getting the full team sometimes. If you look at Namibia (Zimbabwe lost 3-2 in a T20I series in Bulawayo last month), we never had all our players. We went to Abu Dhabi last time and Craig (Ervine, Zimbabwe’s limited-overs captain), was injured. We are always missing three to four players at some stage or the other. So even in this game against Afghanistan, we are missing Sean Williams, we are missing Richard Ngarava, we are missing Wellington Masakadza. Against Namibia, we missed Ryan Burl with Covid, Craig with Covid, and we missed (Tadiwanashe) Marumani with injury. This is not controllable, you know. But there is no excuse for that. The players have to be hungrier, they have to hate losing. That’s simple, if you start hating losing, automatically you start winning.”
With the clean-sweep over Zimbabwe, Afghanistan inched closer towards automatic qualification for the 2023 Cricket World Cup in India. The Afghans are now second on the 13-team ICC World Cup Super League with 10 wins in 12 matches.
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, remain second from bottom on a measly 35 points.
As for Rajput, the Chevrons coach was further asked on Thursday – all things being equal – if he considers himself to be the right person to lead the team into the future.
Again, the former India batsman seemed to lay everything at the players’ door.
“You see, it’s the mindset, to be honest,” Rajput retorted. “Because as coaches, we have a certain amount of things we can do. But it’s the mindset of the players who have to go and play in the middle. And in the middle, the more they play, the better they become. So simple, that’s why we talk about game time and when we get into those situations, how we get out of those situations. We have started the game time. It will come, and it will happen eventually.”
After taking charge of the Zimbabwe side since 2018, Rajput’s contract was renewed last October for another three years, and he believes he can turn around the fortunes of the team if players are involved in more matches outside the international arena.
“Simple solution, you have to play more ‘A’ games,” said Rajput. “You know, you need to have a lot of players from the ‘A’ side. The more game time, the better players become. Maturity comes faster. I’m sure that’s happening now because when you look at it, we played the ‘A’ team of South Africa and our ‘A’ team played against Nepal. So you see, it’s happening, it’s coming. And we are now competing most of the time, the Logan Cup, the Pro50, the T20, and now you have the NPL (National Premier League). So there are lots of matches going on. I think it’s a good start. It is more about maturity, the more you play the better you become. Simple. They are getting the game time now, and hopefully they will become better.”