Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
LALCHAND RAJPUT — the man who correctly predicted, a dozen years ago, that Virat Kohli would become the best batsman in the world good enough to even dominate in tough English conditions — is set to be named substantive coach of the Zimbabwe cricket team.
The 56-year-old Indian will sign a two-year deal with Zimbabwe Cricket to be head coach of the Chevrons with the mandate to revive a team that has terribly lost its way since a heartbreaking last-hurdle failure to qualify for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales.
Rajput was initially hired on an interim basis in May this year, after ZC leaders fell out with former coach Heath Streak in the wake of that World Cup failure, with a number of other coaches also being swept aside in the clean-up that followed that doomed mission.
But The Herald can reveal that the Indian coach, who also had a stint in Afghanistan where he is credited with laying the strong foundation on which the Asian country have built a very competitive team, has now been handed the substantive job to try and revive the Chevrons.
‘’The issue of the coach of the national cricket team has been sorted and an agreement has been reached for Rajput to take over as the substantive coach for two years,’’ sources said.
‘’Everything has been prepared and what is left is only the signing of the deal, which is not anything to talk about given that both parties are singing from the same page, and it’s a two-year contract.
‘’Rajput has impressed his new employers with the way he has gone about his work and, even though the results against Pakistan were disappointing, he has presented a master-plan which he believes, if correctly followed with support being given to the team, he could help turn around the fortunes of the Chevrons.
‘’He has also won many friends with his commitment to work, especially the way he believes in the young players and the need to blend them with some of the seniors, and even when the results have not been good, he has always been looking at the brighter side saying all this can change quickly.
‘’That area has now been sorted out and by the time the team leaves for its tour of South Africa, Rajput would have been unveiled as the new head coach of the national team.’’
Zimbabwe have two tough tours against South Africa and Bangladesh next month and in October. Rajput might be in Harare right now but he must have been watching with pride as one of the players he coached as a teenager, the magical Kohli, casts his spell on the thrilling five-Test series between England and India which the hosts currently lead 2-1 after three Tests.
Kohli, the Indian skipper, was part of his country’s Under-19 cricket team, under the guidance of Rajput, which had a successful tour of England where they triumphed against their English counterparts.
He scored a century during that tour.
And Rajput predicted that Kohli was one of the players, from his team of teenage cricketers, he believed were destined for something special. “The batsmen to impress the most were Delhi’s Virat Kohli, captain Tanmay Srivastava of Uttar Pradesh, opener Parvez Aziz of Assam and Bodapati Sumanth of Andhra,’’ Rajput told the Press Trust of India. “Kohli showed strong technical skills against both pace and spin.
‘’In bowling, the medium-pace trio of Vijaykumar Yo Mahesh (TN), Abu Nacheem (Assam) and Ishant Sharma (Delhi), along with left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem caught the eye.” Twelve years later, Rajput’s prediction has come true.
Kohli, who took over as Indian capital four years ago, has been the dominant batsman during this gruelling battle against England, and has scored 440 runs in the six innings he has featured in the current tour, scoring two half-centuries and two centuries, at an average of 73.33 runs. English batsman, Johnny Bairstow, is second, in terms of run-scoring in this duel, with 206 runs while his countryman Jos Butler has 170 runs. India’s win at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, saw Kholi become the second most successful captain of his country in Test cricket with 22 wins in 38 matches. Only MS Dhoni, with 27 wins in 60 matches, has a better win record.
James Anderson, the English pace spearhead, is the leading wicket-taker with 17 wickets, in the series, with one five-for, while Sharma has 11 wickets with one five-wicket haul and Stuart Broad has 10 wickets with one four-wicket haul during the series.
Rajput played two Tests for four ODIs for India in the ‘80s but has been crafting his reputation as a good coach.
He coached the Mumbai Indians in the 2008 Indian Premier League but his big breakthrough came in June 2016 when he was named the coach of Afghanistan, replacing Pakistan’s Inzamam ul Haq.
His team defeat the West Indies in a One Day International series and he helped the Afghans to be promoted to Full Membership of the International Cricket Council.
”When I joined Afghanistan nobody knew that Afghanistan would go to that level,’’ he told the Press Trust of India.
‘’And we (Afghanistan) got the Test status. We never lost a series. And now people are talking about Afghanistan that they are doing well.
‘’The same thing, I would like Zimbabwe to do. “I am really happy that Zimbabwe approached me and they wanted my services. It is great feeling that an international team is recognising my talent.
‘’At the same time, it is a big challenge because Zimbabwe has not qualified for the (2019) World Cup, so people are talking about it. But I look at it in a positive way, it is a challenge for me and I like challenges.
‘’I know most of the players. Zimbabwe is a Test playing nation and it has been there for a number of years, so talent is there and they have got fantastic players.’’