An all-rounder is like gold in any format, and an impactful one is no less than a boon to a side. One does not need to speak about the depth and stability an all-rounder brings to the line-up. Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Ravichandran Ashwin, Hardik Pandya, Shakib Al Hasan and others inspire confidence on the field. And one could say Zimbabwe’s Sikandar Raza has the potential and ingredient to develop into a reliable all-rounder.
Raza never thought about becoming a professional cricketer in his early life. His journey to the cricket field is not a usual one. His aim as a kid was to become a fighter pilot and did well to clear one of the toughest exams. But, was extremely unfortunate to have not cleared the eye test in his third year. His dreams of becoming a fighter pilot had ended and took up cricket at the Glasgow Caledonian University. Who knew Raza would one day become of the most vital cogs in the Zimbabwe side, where he later moved.
In the ongoing final Test against West Indies at Bulawayo, Raza weaved magic with the bat as well as with the ball. He not only scored a fighting 80 in the first innings to help Zimbabwe post a competitive total but also scalped five wickets with his handy off-spin. This was also Raza’s maiden five-wicket haul and came when his team needed the most. Not many expected Raza to stand out with the ball and lead Zimbabwe’s fightback, but he did.
In the series opener, Sean Williams played a vital role with the ball and combined well with Graeme Cremer. He picked six wickets in the match and did well with his part-time off-spin. But unfortunately for Zimbabwe, Williams was unavailable for this decisive encounter due to sickness. Not just Williams, Zimbabwe’s frontline seamer Kyle Jarvis was also unavailable for similar reasons. Although they had enough backup, but it was pivotal for the others to pull up. Raza showed nerves of steel and did a wonderful job under pressure and in their absence.
Raza was quoted in a report from ESPNCricinfo saying, “It’s quite a humbling and proud feeling, especially seeing your team do well as you take five. It’s one of the roles you have as an all-rounder. We always knew that missing Jarvis and Sean would be tough. The way that Cremer bowled it could have been him as well”
West Indies did well in chipping early wickets and Zimbabwe were placed in a precarious situation at 14 for 3, when Hamilton Masakadza and Peter Moor rescued the innings, At 156 for 4, Zimbabwe were in a delicate situation and needed someone to accompany Masakadza. A wicket or two here would have put Zimbabwe in all sorts of trouble whereas a good partnership would have steered them to a comfortable position.
Raza and Masakadza played brilliantly on Day 2 to garner some useful runs. Raza continued his determination and looked set for a century, but was undone by a peach of a delivery from Shannon Gabriel. Zimbabwe bowlers had enough runs on the board to battle for, but needed wickets on a regular basis to put West Indies on the bak foot.
West Indies were off to a steady start and were well placed at 131 for 1, when Raza provided the much-needed breakthrough by getting rid of Devendra Bishoo. He ripped through the West Indies’ middle-order single-handedly with his off-spin. It was his day and did well in ensuring he made the most of it.
West Indies skipper Jason Holder went on to score a scintillating ton but was lucky to survive a leg before appeal while batting on 11. Raza trapped him leg before but was ruled not out by the on-field umpire. Zimbabwe didn’t have any review left in their bank as the replays suggested it would have been out. Although Raza finished with 5 for 82 on Day 2, but Holder’s wicket would have certainly given Zimbabwe the much-needed edge and Raza his sixth scalp.
West Indies did well in gaining a lead in the first innings. Zimbabwe batsmen have a challenge in hand and Raza has looked in good touch. His performance along with others will be very crucial as Zimbabwe need a win at any cost to square the series.
Raza spoke about him being more of a batsman, who could bowl and not an all-rounder. The workload and expectation of an all-rounder is relatively larger. He spoke about giving importance to bowling in the recent times and was quoted saying, “I still think that I’m a batter who can bowl, but being an all-rounder it becomes a responsibility that you need to step up whenever you are given an opportunity. We are spending a lot more time as a spinning unit working on out bowling compared to six months ago, so to see the rewards like this is certainly humbling.”
Raza has a knack for stepping up in crunch situations; he played a key role in the series decider against Sri Lanka in July. He scalped three wickets with the ball along with being economical after which, carried the team over the line with an unbeaten 27 while chasing 204. He is well capable of soaking the pressure and deliver under the pump.
Zimbabwe are scheduled to play quite a number of Test matches in the coming future, which will help Raza shape up. He got a good start and needs to carry the momentum in every game. His evolution into an impactful all-rounder will only strengthen the Zimbabwean side. It would be interesting to see if Raza could develop into an asset or continue as a batsman who could bowl. His run so far suggests that he could well evolve into a reliable all-rounder.