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The Rediff Cricket Interview / Lalchand Rajput
'I think I was as good as a coach'
December 18, 2007
Coaching the Indian team is definitely the most difficult, if not the most high-profile, job in world cricket. Thus, it was not surprising that the Board of Control for Cricket in India struggled to find a replacement for Greg Chappell [Images], who stepped down after the World Cup debacle.
While the search for Chappell's successor waged for months, the team went about its job and performed quite well in the absence of a regular coach.
Former player Lalchand Rajput, who was entrusted the task of managing the team, did a creditable job. Having coached the Under-19 and India 'A' teams successfully, it was no surprise that even the senior team too achieved success under him.
Rajput's tenure started with the Twenty20 World Cup triumph. Then followed the ODI series against Australia, which the team lost, and the ODI and Test series against Pakistan, which India won convincingly. He has now been appointed assistant coach for the upcoming tour of Australia, where new coach Gary Kirsten will be with the team only for a few days.
In an exclusive interview with Special Correspondent Harish Kotian, the 45-year-old talks about his time as manager of the Indian team and the upcoming challenge in Australia.
You were with the Indian team for some time now, managing the Twenty20 and the ODI squads. How different a challenge was it taking over the Test side for the series against Pakistan?
I think any job with the Indian team is a big challenge. Whatever assignment I was given I did it to the best of my abilities and the results show that. We won the ODI series against Pakistan at home after a gap of 24 years, and the Test series after 27 years. The boys responded extremely well and the main theme is that we are playing as one unit; that is very important. This team that we are playing right now is looking like a team.
You were with the team as cricket manager. Was your role any different from that of coach?
Everybody is happy and the players are happy. The results are there and people are aware that we never made anyone feel that we are missing a coach. I think I was as good as a coach, only the term was different and I was called the cricket manager.
You have been appointed assistant coach for the tough tour of Australia. In the absence of a regular coach you will, most certainly, take over that responsibility. How are you looking forward to the challenge?
I don't know what my designation is for the tour. Earlier I was the cricket manager; I don't know what it is for the Australian tour. I am still waiting to get an official confirmation.
As everyone knows Australia will be a tough tour. It will be a big challenge and we will have to accept that challenge and take it as it comes. There will be stages where you will need to put up against all odds, but if you manage to come out of it then it will be the most satisfying thing for the individual and the team. And that is what we are working on right now and we will definitely do well.
Do you hold any grudge against the BCCI for not appointing you full-time coach despite doing well as cricket manager and having applied for the job?
It is something the BCCI has to look into, because whatever assignments I was given I have done them to the best of my abilities. I think performance speaks for itself. My job is to do whatever assignment I have been given and that ends there.
From the Twenty20 team to taking over the one-day and Test teams as cricket manager, how different was it for you?
Well, I didn't have to make many changes. When you are with the Indian national team it's all about man-management. And having players like Sachin Tendulkar [Images] and Sourav Ganguly [Images], with whom I have played cricket, it made my job easier. And the other players, I had interacted with them at the NCA [National Cricket Academy] or India 'A' or India Under-19 teams. So I was not new to them and that helped. We united very well and there was a good atmosphere in the dressing room and no senior-junior rifts. That made the difference and that is why the team performed so well.
Nobody gave India a chance when the young team left for the Twenty20 World Cup. From underdogs to champions, how did it happen?
It was an even bigger challenge because we never had a camp. The team never met as one and went as one unit for the World Cup. The whole team actually met in the bus at the Johannesburg airport because a few players came from England [Images] [after the ODI series] while we went from Mumbai. We had a team meeting, where we all met and agreed that it was a big challenge because the World Cup doesn't come that often. That was the first World Cup happening in Twenty20 cricket and I only told them just one thing: 'Whoever climbed Mount Everest first will always be remembered and not those who climb after him. This is the time we all have to get together and if we can win the first-ever Twenty20 World people will always remember it.'
To do that we had to do certain things and the boys responded really well. That was the outcome of the team that was really hungry for success and wanted to do well. We showed it on the ground through our energy level, our intensity and the cohesion of the team.
Since there was no expectations from the team at the Twenty20 World Cup, did that help the players perform better?
I don't think there was no pressure. Whenever the Indian team plays there is always pressure. People were talking that we would not even qualify for the Super Eights stage, but we never thought about that. We just thought we would play good cricket irrespective of what the outcome is and make sure we give our hundred percent every time we play.
Though it is quite early to pass judgment, what is your take on Anil Kumble [Images] as captain?
Kumble has got a lot of experience behind him. He has played international cricket for over 18 years now and is the highest wicket-taker for India in Test cricket. I think the experience and exposure to international cricket for so long definitely brings the best out of him. As you are aware he is a very tough cricketer in any situation and his work ethic is the best. He is ready to take on any challenges that come his way and that is the hallmark of any good captain.
Though there were many centuries scored in the Pakistan series, one that stands out is Yuvraj Singh's [Images] sizzling knock in Bangalore. What is your take on Yuvraj as a Test batsman?
I think Yuvraj has been the key player for India in one-dayers. People are aware that he is in peak form now. He was in top form in the Twenty20 World Cup and then scored a lot of runs in the one-dayers against Australia and Pakistan. It was unfortunate that he could not get in the Test team for the first two matches. But in this match he proved that he is a class player. This century will certainly be held in high esteem.
Your job could be taken very lightly, and many must have felt that you were just adding up to the numbers. Can you tell us what did your job as cricketer manager involve?
Well, people always have their own notions, but I am sure that people who are cricket-oriented know that this is a tough job. You have to prepare, get the team together, motivate them, man-manage the players whether senior or junior. At the end of the day, you have to do everything to ensure that the players give their best on the ground. Out of that, you have to ensure when they come back the dressing room the atmosphere is good and that they are relaxed. Hence, it takes a lot from you to take manage all these things.