Lalchand Rajput targets World Cup as he urges UAE to 'take up challenge’

Former Afghanistan and Zimbabwe coach set for first assignment against a Scotland side he once played for

Former Zimbabwe coach Lalchand Rajput is now in charge of the UAE. AFP
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Lalchand Rajput might have been forgiven for seeing the fixture list for his first assignment as UAE coach and thinking he was set for an easy introduction.

In the past, he coached the Mumbai Indians in the heady early days of the Indian Premier League. He was part of the set up when India won the first T20 World Cup.

And before that, in his playing days, he had played Tests for India and been regarded as an understudy to the great Sunil Gavaskar.

For someone used to such starry company, the intricacies of the sphere of cricket beyond the international game’s mainstream might have passed him by.

A one-day international tri-series against Scotland and Canada, followed by a T20 bilateral one against the Scots, might seem like a gentle starter for the uninformed.

Fortunately for his new employers, Rajput is anything but uninformed. When it comes to Scotland in particular, he has been there, done that, and got the kilt.

During his days as a club pro in the UK, Rajput once played for Scotland against a touring Pakistan side. He proudly wore tartan to commemorate the occasion.

Four decades on, the Scots have become the leading side outside of the Test-playing elite. In ODI cricket, they are ranked No 11 in the world, above two Test nations – Zimbabwe and Ireland.

They are also the defending champions in Cricket World Cup League 2, which for the UAE recommences with a fixture against Canada in Dubai on Wednesday.

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“You always have to face the best, only then will you come to know how good you are,” Rajput, 62, said of the task facing his new charges.

“If you throw somebody into the deep water, then you will come to know if they can swim or not. It is the same thing.

“Play the best team, and from then onwards the other teams will become easier. It is a challenge. Take up the challenge.”

Rajput speaks frequently about facing up to challenges. “This is a new challenge, and I like challenges,” he said.

“I want to work and make a difference. I want people to think, ‘He was the one who really changed things’. It is a big task here, but I will get there.”

He is correct that the task facing him is a big one. The side he has inherited are currently down at No 19 in the ODI rankings, and No 17 in the T20 version.

Last year, they missed out on qualifying for three World Cups – in ODIs, T20s, and at Under-19 level. And yet despite all that, it still feels as though there are winds of optimism blowing through UAE cricket.

In the past two years, they have beaten six Test nations at either senior or U19 level. The age-group side reached the final of the Asia Cup at the end of last year, beating Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the process.

Three players from that side are in the squad for the tri-series – Aayan Khan, Tanish Suri and Omid Rahman.

There are other exciting newcomers besides, in the form of Zuhaib Zubair and Rahul Chopra, each of whom caught the eye in the DP World International League T20.

“The talent is there,” Rajput said. “It is my job to fine tune it, and the main thing will be the mental strength. That is what is lacking, and if we can target that, this team will do wonders.

“At every practice session, you have to improve one aspect of your skill level, so over a period of time, you have improved all of it.

“Our goal is definitely to qualify for the next World Cup. Second, we have to qualify for the T20 World Cup as well. And to do that, we need good bench strength.”

And Rajput wants his players to believe they can do it. “I always believe that if your work ethic is good you can achieve anything,” he said.

“The players always have to feel optimistic. They have to be positive in their approach.

“Sometimes you will win, sometimes you will lose, but the attitude has to be that I am going to go out there and win for my country.”

Updated: February 28, 2024, 2:43 AM