AS far as first-up challenges go, Zimbabwe’s new coach Lalchand Rajput couldn’t have been given a much more difficult task.
A former India opening batsman and more recently the coach of Afghanistan, Rajput has been named Zimbabwe’s interim head coach after a period of massive upheaval that led to the departure of their former coach and chief selector.
After Zimbabwe were knocked out of the World Cup Qualifier tournament earlier this year, denying them a spot in next year’s 50-over showpiece tournament in England, the Zimbabwe Cricket Board sacked the entire coaching staff as allegations of racism swirled around coach Heath Streak. Convener of selectors Tatenda Taibu was also dismissed.
Rajput is keen to put that behind him, and his first task will be preparing for a T20 tri-series against Australia and Pakistan in July, the world’s top two ranked teams in the format.
“My job is to get the best results, for the team to do well, perform better,” Rajput, who played two Tests and four ODIs for India between 1985 and 1987, told Wisden.
“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.
“For now, the deal is for three months. After that, if both parties agree, it will be extended.
“It is, definitely (the biggest challenge of my career). 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.”
Rajput, from Mumbai, was at the helm of the Afghanistan during their rise to prominence in 2016-17, including ODI series victories against Zimbabwe in the African nation.
During his tenure with the Afghan team they secured full membership of the ICC and won six of 10 limited-overs series.
Zimbabwe will face an Australian team in a state of flux for the tri-series, with a new T20 captain in Aaron Finch and Justin Langer recently appointed as head coach.
The Aussies will be without Chris Lynn, who was not deemed fit enough for international cricket, while David Warner and Steve Smith are serving their international suspensions.
After the T20 tri-series, Zimbabwe face a five-match ODI series against Pakistan, who last year won the Champions Trophy tournament in England.
Qantas T20I tri-series Tour of Zimbabwe
T20 squad: Aaron Finch (c), Alex Carey (vc), Ashton Agar, Travis Head, Nic Maddinson, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, D’Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Andrew Tye, Jack Wildermuth
Sunday, July 1: Zimbabwe vs Pakistan
Monday, July 2: Pakistan vs Australia
Tuesday, July 3: Australia vs Zimbabwe
Wednesday, July 4: Zimbabwe vs Pakistan
Thursday, July 5: Pakistan vs Australia
Friday, July 6: Australia vs Zimbabwe
Sunday, July 8: Final