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Lalchand Rajput, UAE Head coach, during a practice session at the at ICC Academy in Dubai on Tuesday. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Cricket in Mumbai is different. The batters are not known for their flamboyant style, but for a gritty and stoic display, putting a big price on the wicket.

They develop a fighting quality to overcome difficult situations. They call it ‘khadoos’ in Mumbai cricketing slang. In modern day cricket, some of the best examples are legendary Indian opener Sunil Gavaskar and the trend continued with players like Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar all the way to Sachin Tendulkar. However, the current crop might be a bit more bolder, but still the character remains the same.

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When Yashasvi Jaiswal played a rash shot, skipper Rohit Sharma’s reaction said it all, since both Mumbai batters knew the importance of that wicket. New UAE Head Coach Lalchand Rajput aims to inculcate that culture from the other shores of the Arabian Sea into the UAE batters, who have mastered the art of whiteball cricket.

Three key areas

Skill, temperament and fitness are the three important areas the former Mumbai opener Rajput, who once was considered as the perfect replacement for Gavaskar in Tests for India, aims to focus on as he begins his three-year stint with the ICC CWC League 2 tri-series involving Scotland and Canada, which begins at the Dubai International Stadium on Wednesday. 

“The UAE players are steep and deep into whiteball cricket, but in One-Day cricket one needs to bat longer, which will test their mental strength. There are a bunch of good players in the UAE team, which has a mix of youth and experience. So it’s time to push to iron out some skills and like a Mumbai guy I will try to get the ‘khadoos’ attitude in their head,” Rajput told Gulf News as the team got into their final preparations for their tri-series opener against Canada at the ICC Academy Grounds on Tuesday on the day when Emirates Cricket Board and ITW Global have announced that MagicWin Sports would be the title sponsor of the tri-series.

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Vriitya Aravind playing a front foot defence on the eve of the tri-series clash against Scotland. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

However, the immediate focus for the 62-year-old head coach is to book a place in the 2027 50-over World Cup to be held in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. And the UAE’s record, in recent times, is better in Twenty20 cricket than the 50-over format. Rajput attributes it to lack of exposure to longer formats, which is one of his primary suggestions to improve the skills of the players. In that regard, he has suggested playing two or three day matches and taking teams on tours to India or Sri Lanka to ensure that they spend a lot of time in the middle and not 10 or 20 overs.

Big test to temperament

“Every country will have its own challenge. Here we don’t play much of two-day game or three-day games. So that is one area where we have to play because that is where you test the temperament as you have to bat longer, that is where you test your mental skills when a batter is batting for a longer period and a bowler bowling for 20 overs, so that they try to execute their skills and learn new tricks on difficult pitches. Match temperament is the best thing and I’m sure over a period of time we will get it,” he added.

The eight-team League 2 also consists of Nepal, Namibia, the Netherlands, Oman and USA. The UAE, who ended a long drought in the World Cup when they defeated Namibia in the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia, narrowly missed qualification for the next edition after losing to Nepal in the penultimate round. A win would have taken them into the final and given them a place in the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in the West Indies and USA in June this year.

The top four teams in the Qualifier, a highly competitive event that saw two-time world champions West Indies knocked out last time, will join 10 direct qualifiers in the World Cup. Co-hosts South Africa and Zimbabwe and the other top eight ranked teams will complete the 14-team World Cup line-up.

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UAE left-arm spinner Rahul Bhatia sends down a delivery during the practice session at the ICC Academy Grounds. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

In the last few years, the UAE national team have unearthed some fine home-grown young talents like Alishan Sharafu, Aayan Afzal Khan and Tanish Suri, Omid Rahman, who have all managed to serve the UAE in the Under-19 level as well. Rajput aims to increase the bench strength and as a start aims to bring in a UAE A team to bridge the gap between the Under-19 and Senior team so that the progress will be gradual.

Youth pushing the seniors hard 

“The youth are really pushing the seniors and I wanted to have a good bench strength and a lot of young guys are pushing the seniors, which will improve the standards of the UAE cricket. If your bench strength is good, then your national team is good,” said the coach who was the Indian team coach when they won the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup under Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2007. Rajput has also been the head coach of Afghanistan and Zimbabwe national teams.

Last but not the least Rajput has sent out a clear warning to the UAE players, saying they will find a place in the team only if they are fit.

“The main thing I’m looking at is the fielding, which is very important in the shorter format. And if you have to be a good fielder means you have to be fit. So fitness and fielding go hand in hand. At the international level, this is the area where the players or the team will be judged. If you’re an athletic team, then it’s a good feeling and if you’re a good feeling side then you will be really challenging the opposition. So that’s how I look at it,” he concluded.