ICC World Cup: Ex-Afghan coach Lalchand Rajput decodes their batting prowess
Opener Ibrahim Zadran creates history with an outstanding century against five-time champions Australia
There are no prizes for guessing that Afghanistan has been the surprise package of an otherwise predictable ICC World Cup so far, even though as they take on five-time World Cup champions Australia in a must-win clash in ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 at the Wankhede Stadium today, they seem to be closing in on a sensational upset.
But a former coach and mentor feels the transformation has been in the making for some time.
The bravehearts of world cricket had posted four wins in seven matches so far, often chasing down challenging targets, and were simply outstanding in posting 291 for five after opting to bat first against a resurgent five-time champions Australia at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday. Ibrahim Zadran, their sturdy opener, made history when he became the first Afghan to score a century in the 50-overs showpiece with an unbeaten 129 (eight fours, three sixes).
‘’See, the top batters always had the strength and natural talent but did not have enough exposure on how to build an innings as they most played in the T20 format. This is what has been happening ever since they became a full Test-playing nation in 2017,’’ remarked Lalchand Rajput, who was their head coach during 2016-17 when Afghanistan became a full member alongwith Ireland.
A former Indian Test opener in the 1980s, the low-profile Rajput is a man of solid credentials as a coach. Not too many remember that he was in charge in the post-Greg Chappell era when M.S. Dhoni led India to the T20 World Cup triumph in South Africa, while he had taken up the challenging task of coaching an emerging Afghanistan for two years and is now the Technical Director of Zimbabwe.
Speaking to National Herald in a phone interview from Mumbai, Rajput was all praise for the Afghans’ fearless approach to the game. ‘’I am relieved that the Taliban regime, which came into power again in 2021, has not interfered with the cricket,’’ he said. However, there is no provision for women’s cricket yet as they remain forbidden from playing any sport.
‘’Among the top four batters who are shoring up their batting, Rahmat Shah has been an established name while captain Hasmatullah Shahidi is also a quality batter. The likes of Ibrahim Zadran and Ramanullah Gurbaz came after I left but they benefitted immensely from playing franchise cricket,’’ the veteran coach commented.
"As an ICC full member over last five years, they had been playing more ODIs and Tests against Ireland, Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe. While they always had some explosive players in the T20 format, I tried to drill into them the fact that only quick 40s or 50s will not help if you want to succeed at the next level. One batter has to be there right through while another one has to get a big hundred,’’ Rajput observed.
Rashid Khan, nothing short of a phenomenon and adjudged the ICC T20 Player of the Decade, also broke through during his time along with Mujeeb-ur Rehman while senior allrounder Mohammed Nabi was already playing. ‘’The spin attack always had great quality so I told them that if you can get 270-280 on board, even bigger teams will find it very tough to chase against you. I was also responsible in drafting in rookie paceman Naveen-ul Haq from the Under-19 team to ODI debut against Bangladesh,’’ Rajput said with a degree of pride.
Reflecting on his overall experience, the former Mumbai Indians coach said: ‘’Afghanistan was good to work with as most of them spoke Hindi, so it was easier to communicate with them. Their work ethic was tremendous, and I really enjoyed working with them. Now that they have developed the winning habit, they should go far.’’