At 36, Raza is in the form of his life and a role model for budding cricketers
by Bilal Ahsan Dar
In a world dominated by the Virat Kohlis, the Babar Azams and the Joe Roots of the game, there will always be some exceptionally talented players around who get overshadowed. More so if they represent sides that aren’t so strong. Zimbabwean all-rounder Sikander Raza is a case in point. Raza scored three centuries in his last six ODI innings, two of them unbeaten.The 95-ball 115 against India in the last ODI was the best of the lot despite coming in a losing cause. He was clapped off the field and saluted by Indian fielders after he was dismissed.
Raza battled a deadly bone marrow infection last year. But just like he shows resilience on the field, he was resilient off the field as well in defeating the disease and return as a champion that he is.
The Pakistan-born Sikandar Raza Butt represents Zimbabwe in all the three formats of the game. Pursuing an ambition to become a fighter pilot, he got admission in an air force college, only to be dropped later after he failed an eye test. He moved to Glasgow Caledonian University to pursue his Bachelors degree and it was here that he realized his potential as a cricketer.
Raza moved to Zimbabwe where his parents were reside since 2002 owing to their family business. He was persuaded by his father to try his luck and see how far he could go in cricket. He joined Zimbabwean domestic circuit and made a good first impression scoring 625 runs at an average of 41 in his first season.
In 2013, Raza debuted for Zimbabwe across formats. The Following year he was a part of the highest opening stand of 224 runs for Zimbabwe in ODIs with Hamilton Maskadza . His place was cemented in the side and since then he has been consistently performing for his team.
Raza has represented Zimbabwe in seventeen Tests so far and scored 1187 runs, which includes a century and eight half centuries. His forte, though, is the white ball cricket. In 120 ODIs, Raza has scored 3626 runs at 37.38 with six centuries and twenty fifties to his name. He has also scalped 69 wickets in the format with a remarkable economy rate of 4.87. In his 58 T20Is, Raza has scored 1040 runs and claimed 28 wickets as well.
Apart from these stats, he also has some significant records to his name. He ranks as the fourth best in the most consecutive innings (98) without a duck.
The first highlight of his career was his role in Zimbabwe tour of Sri Lanka in 2017. He guided his team to victory in the final ODI match to seal the series 3-2, which was Zimbabwe’s first series win in a five match series away from home. It was also their first series win over Sri Lanka. He was adjudged man of the match in the final ODI for his all-round performance. In the same tour, Raza scored his maiden Test hundred.
During West Indies tour of Zimbabwe 2017-2018, Raza took his first five-wicket haul in the second innings of the second Test. Apart from the fifer, he also scored two fifties and became only the second Test cricketer after Jacques Kallis to score 80-plus in both the innings and take a five-wicket haul. Zimbabwe were able to draw the match and Raza was declared the man of the match. It gave Zimbabweans their first draw in 12 years and it was for the first time that they avoided a loss since 2013 in ten Test matches.
In February 2018, the ICC named Raza as one of the ten players to watch ahead of the 2018 world cup qualifier tournament. He earned player of the tournament award, though his team failed to qualify for the mega event. He described the team’s failure as “horrible” and was shaken after missing out on the qualification.
In January 2020, Raza returned with second best bowling figures in an innings by a Zimbabwean bowler in Tests with 7/113 against Sri Lanka. In the same year he played his 100th ODI match.
2021 didn’t start well for Raza. In April, he suffered a bone marrow infection that could have led to the amputation of the arm. Luckily for him, it wasn’t cancerous. But he had to undergo surgery and was out of action for three months.
“It was hard, but I was hopeful”. Raza said in an interview on Sony Sports Network. He looks at this second coming as a gift of life.
Raza returned to cricket in July 2021, but it wasn’t easy. He had a couple of good scores but wasn’t able to perform to his best. But his never-say-die approach kept him afloat.
This year, Raza has hit a purple patch. In the ODI format, he has smashed 615 runs so far averaging 61.50 at a strike rate of 93.18 that includes three hundreds and two fifties. All the centuries have come in chases with two of them winning the game for his team and one missing the win by a whisker. With the ball in hand, he has taken seven wickets with an economy rate under 5.
The first two centuries came against Bangladesh in the recently concluded home series, helping his team to win the series against a higher ranked team. The third hundred was scored against India which pushed his case as one of the best in-form batsmen of the year in the white ball format.
He now stands at 3rd place in most centuries for Zimbabwe in the ODIs, after Brendan Taylor (11) and Alistair Chambel (7). Along with Babar Azam and Shai Hope, he has scored the highest number of ODI hundreds so far in 2022.
Notwithstanding his team’s poor ICC rankings across formats, at 36, Raza is in the form of his life and a role model for budding cricketers, especially those who come from nations where cricket is coming up as a sport.
Bilal Ahsan Dar is a blogger and cricket buff.