"The tour to South Africa is a tough one. Everyone knows that Australia or South Africa is a tough tour. The 'A' tour is an opportunity for players who are in and out of the team (to impress the selectors) because if you perform well in it then you get selected for the India team," said the former Test opener here.
Rajput, who was felicitated by the Dadar Parsi Zoroastrian Cricket Club, pointed out how Cheteshwar Pujara, who will be leading the team, did well in the West Indies last year as captain of the 'A' team and immediately found a berth in the national senior squad. "Cheteshwar Pujara went last year to the West Indies where he did well and immediately came into the Indian team.
When we went to New Zealand, Bhuvneshwar Kumar did well, Mohammed Shami and (Ambati) Rayudu also did well on that tour and now they are in the Indian team. "This tour is important. Players also realise that if they do well in the 'A' tour then the next step is the Indian team, so it is an important tour," he added.
Rajput said the players, who are not touring Zimbabwe currently, will have a short camp in Bangalore from tomorrow before reaching South Africa on August 4 ahead of the team's opening game of the tri-series on August 8 against Australia A.
"Ten players are already playing in Zimbabwe, so they must be match fit and would be coming directly from there to South Africa. I am going to meet the other six players in Bangalore tomorrow. We will have a 2 to 3-day camp and then leave on August 3 and meet the other players on August 4."
Rajput stressed that the team would take one series at a time, by concentrating on the tri-series first and then turning its focus on the two four-day games against the hosts.
"Triangular series is important because of two big teams Australia and South Africa. That will be a big challenge. After that we have two 'Tests'. So we will focus on one series at a time. The players are coming from Zimbabwe, so that should also help us," Rajput said. The former Mumbai cricketer said the tour would also enable Pujara to grow as captain.
"I have seen Cheteshwar captaining the India A team in the West Indies. He is a fantastic player. As a captain, he is learning by experience. I think this tour will help him to mature as a captain." Rajput, who was the coach when India won the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup in South Africa, said captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has matured since that triumph.
"Dhoni is captain cool. I am seeing him since 2007 and he has matured. He keeps doing something new and is a good thinker. He takes decision based on his gut feeling. He takes the decision according to the situation and that is why he is a successful captain. He never shows any emotion and that is the main attribute of being a captain."
On comparisons made between Sourav Ganguly and Dhoni, he said, "Sourav Ganguly was an aggressive captain, while Dhoni is a cool captain. But we always look at the results. Sourav Ganguly definitely gets the credit for changing the mentality and bringing in the aggressiveness."
He defended Virat Kohli, leading the Indian team in Dhoni's absence, for refusing to walk despite being given out by the third umpire in the ongoing ODI series in Zimbabwe. "When you are young the rush of the blood is always there. I have seen him since under-19 and he is a stubborn cricketer, who doesn't want to give away his wicket easily.
There are very few players who hate losing their wicket. He may have felt it was not out and it was in the heat of the moment. "As a captain, yes, when the third umpire had given his decision then he shouldn't have (waited) but he must have also realised it later that what he did was not right. I think we should leave this topic there itself and not drag it further," he said.
Rajput hailed the selectors' decision to go with a young squad for the Zimbabwe tour and said the bowlers have done well in the ongoing series, which India has already won. "Selectors have done a good job by sending young players and when you get the opportunity to play at the international level, you must grab it with both hands.
"(Spinner) Amit Mishra, who wasn't part the team last year, has done very well and selectors would now have to think (a lot) about leaving him out of the team. (Jaydev) Unadkat and Shami (both pacers) have also done well similarly. "The selectors are looking at consistency and that can be achieved only by playing these matches. This is a good exposure for them and by doing this Indian team will get good players," he said.
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