India’s Sachin Tendulkar (L) talks with assistant coach Lalchand Rajput before a training session in Sydney in February 2008 ahead of their one-day cricket match against Australia. (Source: Reuters)
Exactly 14 years ago today, Team India won its first and only world cup in the T20 format, in the inaugural edition of the tournament. The heroes of that famous win went on to become household names. However, there is one man who has been forgotten for his contribution behind the curtains. Lalchand Rajput may not have been among the greatest players India produced but he is certainly one of the best coaches in the world. The head coach of the Zimbabwe cricket team spoke exclusively to Moneycontrol from London on the anniversary of that 2007 triumph. Edited excerpts;
It must seem like yesterday. Time simply flies. How do you remember that special day in your life?
It does seem like yesterday! To be part of a world cup squad is itself a big achievement and to be part of a title-winning side is extraordinary. I feel privileged that as a coach I was on my first assignment with the national team and it became the champion.
And, what about the overwhelming reception everyone received in Mumbai when you came back with the team?
In the tradition of Mumbai cricket, a player always gets adulation and love from fans, and yet no one expected such a historic reception from the public. It was raining heavily on that day yet people were waiting for us to cheer us. From the airport to Wankhede stadium, it took us nearly eight hours and we didn’t have water or food but the fans kept providing us juice, fruits and biscuits from their buildings!
I distinctly remember doing a TV interview with you where you didn’t say much but once the camera was off you said that the team had the potential of winning. Where did that confidence stem from?
It was a perfect blend of some very hungry youngsters who wanted to prove themselves on the world stage and some of the senior members who were desperate to cement their place in the Indian team. The likes of young Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa were very enthusiastic while the likes of Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan wanted to make a statement. I deliberately didn’t make tall claims in that interview or else people would have mocked us since we didn’t have any preparatory camp, any practice matches and literally no experience of playing T20 internationals.
Do you feel that you didn’t get the kind of recognition you deserved as a coach after such a memorable win?
I do as I am also a human being. However, I always knew that in Indian cricket a perception always exists that unless you have played 50 Test matches for India, you can’t be a good coach. But coaching is a different ballgame altogether. I may not have got the recognition but have no regrets whatsoever since I am always thankful to God, who has been kind to bless me with so many wonderful things in life. I am the only Indian coach who has been appointed as head coach of not one but two foreign teams. I helped Afghanistan attain Test status and now am trying my best to bring back the glory of Zimbabwean cricket. I must be doing something good that people who matter do appreciate my work and hence it doesn’t bother me too much that people don’t acknowledge my contribution to Indian cricket.
Do you also feel that Gautam Gambhir didn’t get enough praise for his mighty contribution with the bat in that tournament?
He was very hungry for success and scored over 300 runs. He delivered when the team needed him most both in 2007 and in the 2011 World Cup final.
The same also holds true for India’s best bowler in that tournament, RP Singh, who got 12 wickets in 7 matches with a remarkable average and economy rate…
RP had this exceptional knack of providing breakthroughs in every match. His swing bowling was a great asset in that tournament.
Do you sometimes feel that the bowling attack was the best ever in the T20 format in terms of versatility?
If we are not hesitant to call the current attack in Test cricket the best ever in Indian history, we can say the same about the 2007 T20 attack, as it was the best ever in the shortest format of the game. You had some fine exponents of swing bowling in RP and Irfan Pathan, and then the express pace of S Sreesanth, and a crafty spinner in Harbhajan Singh.
If you are forced to single out one special memory of that win then what would it be?
That’s a tough and very awkward question! Yet, if you are forcing me to single out one special moment then it has to be the bowl-out win against Pakistan in the very first match of the tournament. No one thought we could win from there but very few know that we had prepared ourselves for such an eventuality. MS Dhoni had specifically asked us to think and plan since there was a chance of rain and matches could get closer. Robin was the best bowler during practice games and he delivered for the team perfectly.
On Dhoni’s leadership, did you ever imagine that he would turn out to be one of the best captains of all time?
He has that vision and his brain is exceptional as far as cricketing knowledge goes. Of course, no one could imagine he would be so successful. I always enjoyed every conversation with him and even as a young and less-experienced captain, he could teach the support staff a thing or two.
The next T20 world cup is not too far away. Do you think an encore is possible this time around?
No doubt. We have a very solid team for the upcoming world cup. Since Mahi is back in the team as a mentor, I would say that Mahi hai toh sub mumkin hai!Internet Explorer Channel Network