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Sikandar Raza of Dubai Capitals celebrates a wicket during the Season 2 of DP World ILT20. The Zimbabwean all-rounder will be key for the Capitals in the Eliminator. Image Credit: Source: CREIMAS/ILT20

Dubai: Zimbabwe all-rounder Sikandar Raza is known to raise his standards at the crucial stage. The 37-year-old played an important knock for Dubai Capitals against Desert Vipers to take them closer to the play-off spot. Now, Raza will have an even bigger role to play against Abu Dhabi Knight Riders in the Eliminator of the DP World ILT20 league at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, utilising the murky conditions to give the Dubai team another chance to be in the final.

However, weather holds the key in the Eliminator on Tuesday, and the toss could prove vital as the team winning it will have no hesitation to bowl first on a wicket that has been under wraps due to the heavy rains in the UAE over the last couple of days.

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Raza has been the star of 2022 World Cup in Australia. The all-rounder was instrumental in Zimbabwe knocking out West Indies and Scotland to top Group A in the first round and also starred in the narrow one-run win over finalists Pakistan in the second round. Raza scored 219 runs and bagged 10 wickets during the tournament and won several player of the match awards apart from winning bets against the then captain Craig Ervine.

Raza, now being the captain of Zimbabwe, might not get to bet with Irvine anymore, but he is sure Capitals skipper Sam Billings will be banking on him to deliver an impactful performance against Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, especially after his unbeaten 60 brought the Capitals back into contention on Friday. In the absence of stars like David Warner, Jason Holder, Rovman Powell and Jake Frazer-McGurk, Raza will be Billings’ go to man.

Playing to the situation

Raza’s strength is his smart approach to the situation. “As a bowler, I try and look at the situation or the demands of the situation. If the opposition is 75 for 1 in powerplay, then I try to control the game. My first job is to try and slow down the run rate and, hopefully, that will bring some wickets as well. And if the opposition is on the ropes at 40 for three, then my job is to try and get one or two more wickets to open the door for the other guys to sneak in. My role changes depending on the condition and depending on the situation of the game,” Raza told Gulf News.

While batting, Raza uses his wisdom to come out of the tough situations. “I said to myself, I don’t think he will go short as I had hit one earlier out of the ground. I will hold my shape and try and hit it in the air and hit it as well as I can,” the Zimbabwean all-rounder said after hitting the winning six off the last ball of UAE all-rounder Ali Naseer over the long-on fence.

While Capitals and Knight Riders will face in the Eliminator, table-toppers MI Emirates will take on defending champions Gulf Giants in Qualifier 1 in Dubai on Wednesday. While the winners proceed to the final, the losers will get another chance in Qualifier 2, where they will meet the winners of Eliminator on Thursday.

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Sikandar Raza celebrates after hitting the winning six against Desert Vipers that strengthened Capitals' chances for a play-off spot. Image Credit: Source: CREIMAS/ILT20

The intensity of the upcoming clashes can be gauged by the fact that except for MI Emirates, who notched up 12 points from six wins from 10 matches, all the other teams had hit the rock bottom of the table and then fought back to qualify for the play-offs. Defending champions Gulf Giants finished second on the points table with 12 points while Abu Dhabi Knight Riders and Dubai Capitals placed third and fourth respectively with 10 points each.

Confident Knight Riders captain

Abu Dhabi will be no pushovers and will be entering the Eliminator on a positive note after winning their previous encounter in Abu Dhabi on February 3. Knight Riders skipper Sunil Narine had said: “We tick a lot of boxes. Start with picking up wickets in the powerplay, and that sets the tone.”

It is the powerplay stage that causes Billings the worry when Capitals are batting. After his team’s last match, he’d said: “If you look at this tournament, it is about trends. The key area where we have struggled is the powerplay. As regards our bowling, everyone wants the ball and that is always a positive.”

It might be the end for either the Knight Riders or Capitals, but this season has seen the ILT20 grow from last year and the large turnout for all the matches of this edition reflected the increasing following for this tournament.