New Zimbabwe cricket coach eyeing return to top

He will be in charge for the start of next month's T20 World Cup qualifiers and succeeds Lalchand Rajput, who will assume a newly-created role as technical director.

Zimbabwe’s first Test captain Dave Houghton says he expects to make “an immediate impact” after being appointed new head coach for the men’s cricket teams in all formats.

He will be in charge for the start of next month’s T20 World Cup qualifiers and succeeds Lalchand Rajput, who will assume a newly-created role as technical director.

Houghton, 64, was a player-coach of the side in the late 1990s and says it was an easy decision to return to the set-up.

“I have always been one to help Zimbabwe in any way I can,” he told BBC Sport Africa.

“It’s the country of my birth, it’s where I played all my cricket, and I would like nothing better than to see them get back to where they were some years ago.”

Houghton has a wealth of experience at international level and an extensive coaching pedigree, including a spell as Derbyshire’s head of cricket.

He firmly believes he can steadily improve the national side’s fortunes.

“I was back home for the last cricket season and was involved with one of the franchise sides [Mountaineers],” added Houghton.

“The cricket that was played was outstanding. The results of the national side haven’t reflected the fact that the cricket is actually better now than what it was in my time, certainly provincial and local cricket.”

Zimbabwe ‘short on belief’

Houghton was in charge of Zimbabwe during their memorable run to the Super Six stage of the 1999 World Cup in England, following impressive group-stage wins over India and South Africa.

So what is the recipe for success this time around?

“We need to get [the players] positive again – give them their confidence back,” he said.

“They have taken a few beatings in recent times. We need to get them playing good, positive cricket again and to start getting some results.”

Houghton captained Zimbabwe in their inaugural Test against India in 1992 and scored a century on debut.

It was the first of four hundreds that he made in 22 Test matches, with his 266 against Sri Lanka in Bulawayo in 1994 still Zimbabwe’s highest individual Test score.

Zimbabwe's Luke Jongwe lies on the pitch after being run out against Afghanistan
Zimbabwe changed their coaching set-up after suffering home ODI and T20I series whitewashes against Afghanistan

Zimbabwe were recently beaten 3-0 at home by Afghanistan in both their One-Day International and Twenty20 series, but host the eight-team T20 World Cup qualifier on home soil.

The two finalists from the event will qualify for the T20 World Cup in Australia, to be held in October and November.

Preparations may have been troubled, but Houghton remains in a positive mood as Zimbabwe look to reach the tournament for the first time since 2016.

“Some of the younger players are very good and it’s encouraging,” he said.

“It’s just getting them to play with that confidence. They’re still short on belief when they step up to the next level. If we can instil that, then I’m sure we will get the results that we are after.”

Coaching ‘non-stop’ since the mid-1990s

Houghton will be assisted by former South Africa international Lance Klusener, who has already re-joined Zimbabwe’s support staff as batting coach after a stint as Afghanistan’s head coach.

“There is good experience, good local experience too,” he added.

“Stuey Matsikenyeri (assistant coach) helps out quite a bit, (Njabulo) Papa Ncube helps out quite a bit with the bowling and we have other coaches all offering input.

“There’s good local coaching and it’s good to have Lance and his help around. Between the two of us we can impart a little bit more from the experience side of things.”

Having also enjoyed a lengthy coaching career in England, Houghton says he feels well prepared for this new challenge.

“I’ve been coaching county cricket, almost non-stop, since the mid-90s,” he said.

“I started at Worcestershire, then enjoyed a stint with Zimbabwe before Derbyshire, Northants, Somerset, Middlesex and then back to Derbyshire. I’ve had a good crack at it and it’s been absolutely fantastic.”

Alongside Andy Flower, Houghton is widely regarded as the best batter Zimbabwe has produced and he now hopes to help create some more international household names.

“The last time they had qualifiers, for the 50-over World Cup, Zimbabwe just missed out by losing in their last game to the UAE on Duckworth-Lewis,” he said.

“The crowds were outstanding. The stadium was full and there were people in the streets wanting to get in. There’s no shortage of support and backing. All they want to see is their team doing well.” -BBC

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