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Zimbabwean batsman Sikandar Raza celebrates after scoring century in the One Day International against Bangladesh in Harare last Sunday. Image Credit: AP

Cricketers generally are at their peak when they reach 30, but I have rarely seen someone who at 36 is on cloud nine. I did get to have a chat with Pakistan-born Zimbabwean cricketer Sikandar Raza, who now seems to be having a big broad bat in his hand and is making runs like a walk in the park. He seems to be having a Midas touch of late.

Raza was supposed to become a fighter pilot and had passed the test, but failed in the eye test and could not achieve his first dream. His family moved to Zimbabwe and had to fight his way into cricket, which had its own political issues. Raza feels he was destined to play cricket and not be a fighter pilot.

He made his debut in 2013 in Test cricket, and, sadly, he could only play 16 Tests in a nine-year period. When I asked him why? He candidly admitted that it costs the board a lot of money to hold a Test match in the country, hence is forced to play the white-ball cricket more viz-a-viz to Tests, which he believes is the highest form of cricket. He admits that Test cricket has taught him the right away to play the gentleman’s game and could adapt to white-ball cricket with ease. “It’s much easier for a player to switch from red ball to white ball,” he feels.

Raza’s only Test hundred came against Sri Lanka, in the second innings when Zimbabwe were 50/5. He played aggressively and cherishes the hundred, which he holds very close to his heart.

He went on to add that red ball teaches you a lot, bringing out the best in you. It’s a test to your fitness and temperament. You can learn from your mistakes and weakness, it teaches you everything about cricket.

When I asked him about his recent success in the last one month where has scored 609-plus runs at an average of 100 and picked up 11 wickets to go with it, Raza says it was high time he had to show the world his capabilities. The two back to back hundreds in victory chase against Bangladesh were a testimony to his temperament.

In the first ODI, Zimbabwe successfully chased 300-plus and in the second 290 but he ensured that he got his side home with two jaw dropping hundreds, which stunned the Bangladesh team. The victories ended a long drought against Bangladesh and added that he had put in a lot in his training and the centuries are the result of the hard yards he had put in.

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Sikandar Raza is happy that he is playing to his potential and all the hard work is paying dividends. Image Credit: AP

I had to ask why teams who don’t get to play enough 50-over games fold up when chasing anything above 250? He said because they play more T20 games, it’s hard to keep up the patience. He says he has another way of chasing a big target, a score of 300, that is to work backwards. What is a good total for his team at the end of 30 overs? Once that is decided, it brings a calmness and he knows exactly how much the team has to get in the last 20, which becomes easier. The panic sets in the moment when u think of 300 or 250, but when he thinks backward, it works out for him.

Giving the bowler the respect

He also added that in the 50-over formats, when one bowler is bowling well, he gives that bowler the respect and target bowlers from other end to ensure he is there till the end.

Not qualifying for the 2019 World Cup still hurts him. The team ensured that they don’t repeat the mistakes this time around in the T20 World Cup qualifiers and Raza, the first player of the series in the qualifiers, is looking forward to the World Cup in Australia.

Raza wants to take one series at a time and now awaits India’s challenge when the tour begins in a few weeks’ time as it can only make the team better. Lastly, when I asked him since he is at the peak of his career, what advise he would give to Virat Kohli. Raza politely said: “Kohli he is a legend who has scored so many hundreds and I am too small to even think of giving him a advise. I am confident the king will bounce back soon.”