Zimbabwe's coach Lalchand Rajput is oozing optimism ahead of the first ODI in Kimberley on Sunday. It's one trait by which his short tenure - he took over the position full-time in August after filling in on an interim basis in July - has been characterised.

"South Africa has to be aware that this is not the Zimbabwe team of the past," Rajput said. "This is a team that is going to give them a good run for their money. We have come to show the world that we are a competitive team and every game is important. We are here to show we can play aggressive cricket and we are here to win."

That's fighting talk, and Rajput has inspired teams before. Part of the Indian team's think-tank for a couple of years, including when they won the inaugural World T20 in 2007, Rajput was also in charge of Mumbai Indians in the 2008 IPL and oversaw many of Afghanistan's recent achievements during his tenure as their coach. On his watch, Afghanistan won six out of 10 limited-overs series, secured Full Membership, and even toppled West Indies in an ODI in Gros Islet - their first win in the format over a Full Member other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh.

Rajput is no doubt looking to replicate that success with Zimbabwe, and is hoping the challenge of taking on South Africa for the first time in three years will spur his team on. "South Africa is always a big challenge, but a challenge always gets the best out of me and the players," he said.

Rajput's optimism, however, is yet to translate to success on the field. While Zimbabwe stayed just about afloat in their T20I tri-series against Australia and Pakistan, they floundered in the ODIs to lose 5-0 as Pakistan set numerous records.

"The series we played when I took over was not good for us, but it was never going to be easy to face Australia and Pakistan in the T20I triangular series and then Pakistan in the ODI series when we were missing seven to eight players," Rajput explained.

"But now that the players are back, it looks a balanced team - a team that wants to do well. Apart from Graeme Cremer and Sikandar Raza, most of our senior players are back and, when experience and youth combine, we can get the best out of the team."

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town