A week after Zimbabwe suffered a humiliating home series defeat against Afghanistan in June, the country’s cricket board reshuffled its coaching staff and named Dave Houghton as the head coach, replacing Lalchand Rajput.
Former India player Rajput was given a new role as the technical director. But Houghton had the independent charge to work with the senior players.
It was one of those challenging times for Zimbabwe. The team lost a home T20I series against associate nation Namibia in May, and even before players could regroup, Afghanistan hammered the team in T20Is and ODIs, winning both the series 3-0.
With their confidence shattered, the players did not know how to bounce back. Frustrations were growing and when Houghton took over, his first challenge was to instill self belief among the players. He promised the team that he would not reprimand anybody or scream at anybody if they played a poor shot. He took them out for dinner and boosted their morale. And the result started showing. Zimbabwe qualified for the T20 World Cup in July and followed it up with a T20I home series against Bangladesh.
And earlier this month, when the team travelled to Australia for the ICC event, not many thought that it would reach the Super-12 stage, but proving everyone wrong, the side defeated Ireland and Scotland to make it to the last-twelve stage. And certainly, its biggest moment of glory came a couple of days ago when Zimbabwe stunned Pakistan by a run to spice up the tournament.
The team still has a long way to go before making it to the semifinals, but the captain Craig Ervine credits Houghton for helping them turnaround.
“Earlier, guys were just a little bit mentally tired. That was just the way different coaches do things differently. The biggest change was actually Dave coming in and cutting all those things down,” Ervine told Sportstar on Saturday, on the eve of Zimbabwe’s key match against Bangladesh.
“He made the guys turn up with a lot of energy and more excitement to play the game of cricket, rather than turning up a little bit physically and mentally tired. He gave that support to the players,” the captain said.
When the team was struggling, obviously there were tensions in the camp. And a lot of that pressure also led to mental fatigue of the players, who went into a cocoon. “You turn up for a game and even if you haven’t had your training the day before but you are mentally tired, you automatically feel that your body isn’t responding. Because, your body is also tired. That was a major difference from the earlier coaching set up to now,” Ervine said.
“When Dave took over, he basically changed the way we did our training. He instilled a lot of belief back among each and every player. Every time he speaks, you can look around the room and you can tell that everybody is paying attention to him and everybody respects him…”
The players believe that being a former captain himself, Houghton has been able to change the mentality of every single player in the squad. “His calmness and the way he constructs things in and around practice has been amazing. He has allowed the guys to have that extra bit of energy…”
The training sessions are shorter these days, with Houghton making sure that nobody is overworked. “Sometimes, he actually chases people away from the nets, which is very good. Everybody has the talent, and it’s not always about hitting thousands and thousands of balls. Everybody really respects him, so when he stands up and says something, people listen to him,” Ervine later said in the pre-match interaction.
From being one of the dominating teams in the world until 2002-2003, Zimbabwe lost the plot. Due to political instability, the country saw several of its star cricketers moving to England or Australia. Ever since, the team has had a long, long transition. But with Houghton taking over, Zimbabwe has started dreaming big again. The players trust him, the country believes in him and moving away from the ‘my way or the highway’ approach taken by the earlier coaches, Zimbabwe has finally found the Houghton way of success.