Lalchand Rajput was the coach of the Indian team when they won the inaugural World Twenty20 Championship in 2007. Sunil Gavaskar’s former opening partner is now coach of India A team. In an exclusive interview with CricketCountry’s Sudatta Mukherjee and Aayush Puthran, Rajput talks about the India A team, Mumbai cricket, his role as a coach and life as a cricketer and cricket administrator.
CricketCountry (CC): You went as coach of the India A team to the West Indies. How was the experience with the future of Indian cricket?
Lalchand Rajput (LR): Most of the guys had played for the Indian team, but players who were in and out of the national side. It was a good opportunity for them to make a mark and grab the opportunity with both hands. But a tour of West Indies is always tough. The wickets were different, the conditions were different. I’m sure the players learnt a lot from this tour and got valuable exposure in testing conditions.
CC: In the series against Sri Lanka, Rohit Sharma struggled with the bat. His form was below par even in the West Indies. In fact even other established players like Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan failed miserably. How do you look at this situation?
LR: West Indies tour has always been a tough tour - even for the senior team. But it was a good learning process for most of the youngsters. I think the expectations are very high from these youngsters. But one cannot judge the players on the basis of one tour. Rohit Sharma had done extremely well on the last tour of West Indies, even in the series against Bangladesh and he had an excellent IPL. He did not do justice to his potential on the recent tour, but every cricketer goes through ups and downs. I’m sure he is too good a player to be out of form for so long.
CC: Lesser known players like Shami Ahmed, Akshay Darekar, and Jalaj Saxena were impressive on the tour to West Indies. Your views on that.
LR: No one knew Jalaj Saxena and Shami Ahmed, but they made full use of the opportunities they got. Even Akshay Darekar did extremely well as a spinner. He was the second highest wicket-taker in domestic cricket. Shami Ahmed and Jalaj Saxena also did very well in domestic cricket. Moving from domestic cricket to international level cricket is the biggest test of any player where the temperament is tested and judged. It’s in these matches where one gets to know if a player is ready for big league. The BCCI must be lauded for arranging such tours.
CC: What advice you give young players who are on the verge of breaking into the national team?
LR: Two critical things: Consistency and handling pressure. If a player has these two qualities, he is ready for the big league.
CC: Any specific player that you think has that potential?
LR: Cheteshwar Pujara handled pressure exceedingly well and showed the requisite temperament in tackling difficult situations. Then there is Ashok Dinda, who bowled extremely well. He was pick of the bowlers in West Indies. If we can get three-four players from these tours, we add to the bench strength of the national team.
CC: Do you think players like Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara should get a regular place in the Test side?
LR: Yes, they should. But then it all depends upon the vacancy at that point of time. Pujara lost out because of an injury but he has made a strong comeback.
CC: You have taken up the role of a coach at various levels and you have been very successful as well. After India’s victory in the 2007 World Twenty20, were you disappointed at not getting the job of the national coach, ahead of Gary Kirsten?
LR: Before Gary Kirsten I was the coach of Indian team for eight months and we had done very well. Yes, I would like to be the coach of Indian team. The dream of every cricketer is to be a Test cricketer. Similarly, as a coach you would like to coach the Indian team. But there are phases when everything doesn’t go your way.
CC: You have been the coach of Mumbai Indians in the first season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). How come you are not coaching any IPL team now?
LR: I am the batting coach of the BCCI academy and it’s a full-time job. I have to be with the BCCI.
CC: Do you think our country’s cricketing infrastructure is up to the mark when compared to some countries like Australia, to ensure a smooth transition for talented youngsters from under-19 team to the international level?
LR: Yes, because the BCCI has taken junior cricket very seriously. Our infrastructure has really improved from what it was 10 years before. Most associations today have their own grounds. Ground facilities are very good and lush green as a result players at the junior level dive and slide fearlessly. The wickets are good as well. Overall, our infrastructure has improved really well in the last five to six years.
CC: How much has the cricketing culture changed in the maidans of Mumbai from the times you played in the late 70s and 80s? Does ‘khadoos’ cricket still hold the same respect in Mumbai?
LR: Earlier players never used to go to other associations, so they used to be here and try to retain their place in spite of not getting into the team. So they used to be more determined to get in to the team. But now they have options to play for other associations. That’s why that khadoos nature is a thing of the past.
CC: Anil Kumble had a troublesome time as a cricket administrator with KCSA. Do you think, from experience as a cricket administrator, it is tough for cricketers to handle the political tensions of cricket administration in India?
LR: If you are a good cricketer doesn’t mean that you will a good administrator as well. I don’t know how it works in KCSA, but if you are a cricketer and good at administrative work, you should be able to balance both things.
CC: Talking about your career as a cricketer, you were considered to be amongst the best openers in the country at one point of time. But opportunities at the international level were few. Do you think you had much more left to prove and achieve in your career as a cricketer?
LR: No cricketer will be satisfied unless he has got tons of runs playing for the country. I could not convert my potential into performance. I played just two Test matches and could have played more. Playing for the country was my dream, but I could not do that for long. But then I have done well coaching the national team. I am enjoying my coaching and am serving the game after my cricket retirement as well.
(Sudatta Mukherjee claims to be a Jill of all trades and mistress of none. She is affable, crazy and a wannabe writer. Her Twitter ID is @blackrosegal. Oh yes! You do know her!)
(While enjoying the small joys of life, rarely has anything mesmerised Aayush Puthran more than cricket. A student of Journalism in Mumbai, he is trying to figure out two things: ways to make Test cricket a commercial hot property and the best way to beat Mumbai traffic. He has a certain sense of obsession with novelty. He might seem confused, but he is just battling a thousand demons within his mind. Nonetheless, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of coffee! )