'Afghanistan players' enthusiasm is admirable'

Back in the familiar environs of coaching, Lalchand Rajput shares with Sportstar aspects of his new challenge of shaping Afghanistan's national team.

Rajput..."I am looking forward to some good time with them."   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

Lalchand Rajput is back to his 'comfort’ zone – the cricket field.

Surrounded by a bunch of Afghan cricketers, he looked at ease despite the scorching heat here on Saturday. As head coach of the Afghanistan team, the former India opener and coach has a task at hand – to teach his trainees the significance of four-day cricket.

“Within the short period that I have spent with the team, I can say the players look very talented. I had heard a lot and now seen them from close quarters. Their enthusiasm to learn is admirable. I am looking forward to some good time with them,” Rajput told Sportstar at the Shahid Vijay Singh Pathik Sports Complex here.

The Afghans are holding a preparatory camp at the stadium here ahead of the tour to Bangladesh where they play three One-Day Internationals from September 25. The Afghanistan team is slated to tour Zimbabwe in December and play against Ireland here in March with a schedule that includes five ODIs, a Twenty20 and a four-day match.

“I want them to play more and more four days' matches. They don’t have much four-day exposure and are not known to play long innings. It is this aspect that I am going to work on. They must learn to leave the ball and show patience in the middle. They are always keen to play shots. I am trying to teach them to respect good balls. You can’t just hit every ball,” said Rajput, who played two Tests and four ODIs.

Rajput acknowledged it was a “challenge” to change the mindset of any player. “You are committed to play T20 and it becomes tough to switch and give your best in the longer version. But I like it because I’ve always enjoyed coaching. I will be happy if I can make them understand the concept of shot selection. It makes your job at the crease easier if you learn to play your shots judiciously. I am here to work with the team and take its game to the next level.”

Long-term goal

The long-term goal for the Afghan team is to qualify for the 2019 World Cup. “It will be a big boost to the game if we can do that. The Afghan Board is working to start a four-day league and also give the players more and more four-day matches to improve their overall game. As of now, the affiliated units of the International Cricket Council (ICC) are the main oppositions to the Afghan team,” said Rajput.

Rajput had applied for India’s chief coach post but lost out to Anil Kumble. His past experience as India coach included the inaugural World Twenty20 apart from assignments in Australia and at home. India’s loss is Afghanistan’s gain as Rajput looks to share his coaching wisdom with a bunch of tough men.