Zimbabwe Under-19 cricketers had the chance to meet Rohit Sharma at BKC © Cricbuzz
There is a special flavor of cricket in the grounds of Mumbai. The heat, dust, grass, humidity and noise around them create a distinct brew that can make a cricketer tough, or khadoos as they say here. A bunch of Zimbabweans descended on the city to sample this mix and get tough. The ultimate goal is something else but they seem to have fallen in love with this unique potion.
“They love it. It was a very rewarding experience for the boys,” says Lalchand Rajput, the former Indian coach and batsman, who grew up as a cricketer in these dusty and noisy Maidans. As Technical Director of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), he is the mastermind behind the visit. “They’ve played about six one-day games and three T20 games and it’s been a good educational journey, we wanted them to be exposed to those conditions… how to hit, how to bowl and how to stay at the wicket.”
Beyond the heat and dust, ZC leaders wanted the young boys to feel like they were away from home and get used to the taste of the subcontinent. “Its food, its humidity, its weather and its cricketing intensity,” says Prosper Utseya, a former Zimbabwe international, who is in charge of the young group. “We want them to be tested – a full apprenticeship – that’s the idea. We want them to know how to hit and bowl for long periods of time.”
The agenda is actually to prepare for the Under-19 World Cup, which will be held in Sri Lanka in 2024, and Rajput felt that the similarity of conditions in Mumbai and Sri Lanka would be very helpful for the youngsters. “We wanted to start building the team early, not just before three months. Look, the seniors started preparing for the T20 World Cup (in Australia) four years in advance and did well (they beat teams like West Indies and Pakistan). We want to identify boys who are mentally strong, who tackle spins and handle pressure,” says Rajput, whose particular goal has been to expose them to spins which, according to he and Utseya, will be a key element in Sri Lanka.
Utseya adds: “At the moment our focus is on using their future for Zimbabwe. If we can have a good base and ultimately produce a very competitive national team, the task will be successful. It is my responsibility. responsibility to produce players who can fit into the national team, franchise teams and perform at a higher level. I’m more focused on the path to the national team.”
The group of 21 is a combination of five fast bowlers, four spinners, a few all-rounders and three wicket-keepers. “There are a few players who can graduate from the national team and play for Zimbabwe for a long time,” says the 37-year-old former spinner, who played four Tests, 164 ODIs and 35 T20Is for Zimbabwe. “The way the players are, the idea is to come up with different strategies.”
Amid the grueling month-long journey, the Zimbabweans had their fan boy moments when Rohit Sharma walked into their dressing room at the BKC ground after a game on Thursday (December 15). Utseya can’t stop talking about it.
“I asked him if he could chat with the boys in the locker room. He agreed and was very happy to do so. It was very good of Rohit to take time out of his busy and precious schedule. and to share his experience and knowledge.. He is an inspiration to the boys. The younger generation, they grow up watching him. He was very big on preparation, discipline and most importantly acting under pressure. My guys are very happy and motivated and inspired. Very grateful.
Other members of the Zimbabwean contingent include Chris Mpofu (bowling coach) and Eric Chauluka (batting coach).
The Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) is happy to help ZC players. “They wanted some matches with the Mumbai teams and we agreed. We are here to do whatever can build the image of Mumbai cricket,” said Ajinkya Naik, secretary of MCA.
The Zimbabwean boys have been in Mumbai since November 21 and will return home within days even as their Women’s Under-19 team have also arrived in the city to prepare for next month’s World Cup in South Africa.
Zimbabweans seem to have fallen in love with the heat, dust, noise and cricket flavor of Mumbai.
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