Who’s Sikandar Raza? He’s a Zimbabwe hero: the 36-year-old allrounder who masterminded the upset victory over Pakistan. The Player of the Match in Perth, Thursday’s award was Raza’s third in the T20 World Cup 2022. The first two came in the Round One games with performances that helped steer Zimbabwe into the Super 12. The latest award was Raza’s most precious.
More so because it came against his country of birth. A country which is one of the favourites to win the World Cup. More importantly, his three-wicket burst swung the match in Zimbabwe’s favour when Pakistan took control of the chase through Shan Masood and Shadab Khan.
“I think I’m lost for words. My throat’s dry, probably because of all the emotions,” Raza told Star Sports after the match and paid tributes to his teammates’ stunning performance.
When Zimbabwe batted, Raza’s aggression was neutralised by Pakistan’s fiery pace. Initially, he struggled to put the bat to the ball, and as he was finding his range, Raza was caught on the boundary. Pakistan had shrugged off the early alarms and got the chase of Zimbabwe’s 159 underway when Raza struck. And struck decisively.
First, he despatched Shadab with a catch in the deep as the Pakistani batter threatened to ramp up the scoring. With the next ball, Raza pinned new batter Haider Ali in front, and the momentum swung inexorably towards Zimbabwe. An over later, he dismissed Pakistan anchor Masood with a brilliant stumping from Regis Chakabva.
The three Raza wickets sent Pakistan into a tailspin. They never really recovered. The win must be doubly sweet for Raza as it came against Pakistan, where he learnt his cricket.
From Sialkot to Zimbabwe
Sialkot-born Raza had ambitions of becoming a fighter pilot, but that never really took off after he failed the eye test. He went on to study engineering in Scotland, where he also became a semi-professional cricketer. After he moved to be with his parents in Zimbabwe, Raza soon made his first-class debut. His performances earned a call-up to the national side, and Raza produced some rousing displays for Zimbabwe.
International cricket came to Raza rather late. But it didn’t stop him from trying to improve his skills. From a batman, he became an allrounder after honing his offbreaks. As he built a good repertoire of deliveries, Raza also remodelled his action, which now looks more like Sunil Narine’s. In fact, Raza acknowledges his debt of gratitude to the West Indian.
Raza was forced to revamp his action after two surgeries to his shoulder following a bone marrow infection. “After those two surgeries, I lost a lot of strength in my shoulder. I couldn’t really get my hand up, and when I did, I felt like there was not a lot of zip on the ball. The ball wasn’t coming out at the pace I wanted. Sunil has played a huge role. I was at CPL [Caribbean Premier League], and I was watching him very closely and bugging him, asking him a lot of questions,” Raza told ESPNcricinfo.
Narine also helped Raza develop variations that turned the Zimbabwean into a mystery spinner in the Narine mould. It has also brought him abundant success. Look at these figures. In his first seven years ofT20I cricket, Raza claimed only 13 wickets, while he has taken 23 wickets this year alone. That speaks volumes about his improvement as a bowler.
Ricky Ponting is in awe of Raza. The former Australian captain was effusive in his praise of the Zimbabwean allrounder after witnessing his performances in Round One of the T20 World Cup.
“Those players [like Raza] want the big moment, the big stage. And when they get there, they are not going to let it slip. They want to make the most of it and make sure the job is done. That’s what Sikandar has done so beautifully,” Ponting said in a video posted on the International Cricket Council website.
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Ponting was referring to Raza’s matchwinning displays against Scotland and Ireland that catapulted Zimbabwe into the Super 12 phase. Raza had played a pivotal role in Zimbabwe’s qualification for the World Cup, with sterling displays in the Global Qualifier B tournament. Displays that helped Zimbabwe catch the flight to Australia.
“His level of maturity is gone through the roof. He’s standing up in pressure moments. When you talk about World Cups, players’ reputations and names are forged on the performance in big games,” Ponting gushed.
At the post-match presentation, while collecting his third Player of the Match award, Raza remembered to thank Ponting. “There was a small clip sent to me this morning of Ricky Ponting having a small word. I was excited; I was nervous. I was thrilled about today. The motivation was always there, but if I needed a little push, I thought that clip did a wonder, so thanks very much to Ricky as well,” he told Star Sports.
Raza’s is flying high in the World Cup. We will certainly hear more of him. Stay tuned.