“This excellent performance from Raza and the entire Zimbabwean team has certainly made a case for the ICC to allocate more Tests to Zimbabwe in the near future”
It has been an interesting few months for Sikandar Raza. From not being offered a contract in September to play a pivotal role in helping Zimbabwe win their first Test in 5 years and also their first away win in 17 years, Raza has taken things in his stride and delivered for his nation. He may not have contributed a great deal with the bat, but his off-spinners and his sharp fielding lifted Zimbabwe and they now have a win to show as a result. Raza made his debut in the series that Zimbabwe won their last Test and since has played 10 more Tests and has been an integral part of the team’s set-up in all the three formats. Zimbabwe were definitely boosted with the international returns of Brendan Taylor and Kyle Jarvis, but Raza has been ever-present during these tumultuous times.
Initially not considered for the tour for playing club cricket in England and Global T20 tournament in Canada without the consent of the board, both ZC and the all-rounder acted swiftly to sort their issues so that Raza can be available for international selection. Having Raza was indeed a boost for Zimbabwe in the match. With Wellington Masakadza and young Tendai Mavuta making their Test debuts, Raza’s role in the side – more of a batsman – would have also been to play a supporting role for these spinners.
It is a role that he has done well in the past, but with Zimbabwe playing their first Test of the year, the stakes were a bit high. Bangladesh over the years have been playing a lot of Tests, across the world, in all conditions. They were expected to play some good cricket and given that it is at their own backyard, they certainly had the advantage.
Zimbabwe played well in their first innings and got a good score on the board. Their bowlers did the job and secured a big lead. Chasing 321 in the fourth innings is never going to be easy in any part of the world. Bangladesh’s highest successful chase in Tests was when they chased down 215 against West Indies in 2009. So, it is needless to say that chasing 320 was a herculean task. But with two days to go, this match could have gone either way. But with the pitch offering a bit more purchase for spinners and decent assistant for the pacers, Zimbabwe were well in with a shout to take the lead in the series.
Also read: The Sikandar that refuses to be conquered
Raza, who has been entrusted with the role of batting at either No, 4 or even 5, has played many memorable innings for Zimbabwe. The most recent being the 127 in the only Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo, setting up a massive 388-run target for the hosts to chase Sri Lanka just about scraped through. Before that in the series decider in the 5-match ODI series, Raza first played a pivotal role with the ball – 3 for 21 – And then strode out to bat, scoring an unbeaten run-a-ball 27 to take Zimbabwe home in a low-scoring affair.
Versatility is one of the best features of Raza’s batting. Not only does he have all the shots in the book, but he can also play at any position in the batting line-up. He can open, bat at 4, 5, 6 or even 7, depending on what his team requires. His three ODI hundreds so far have come when he has opened, batted at 5 and 7. He can take the team off to a blazing start or he can add depth to it by smashing it to all parts down the order. He is a responsible cricketer, putting a price on his wicket and at the same time, gives it all with the ball in hand.
Even in his Test career, he has often been juggled from opening to No. 7 and he has adapted to every position with a minimum of fuss. He has played just 11 Tests so far, but he has been tried in all positions between 1 to 7. In fact, the Sylhet was the first Test in which he batted at 5 for Zimbabwe in Tests. He has played most of his Test innings at no. 6, but given the current squad, it is most likely that he will bat at No. 5, with the likes of Peter Moor and wicketkeeper Regis Chakabva to follow after him.
When it comes to his bowling, he is more of a wicket to wicket bowler, not depending much on spin. But yes, a bit of spin certainly makes his bowling look even deadlier. He got a few wickets due to the turn on the pitch in the Test against Bangladesh, at a time when the two regular spinners and also the Bangladeshi spinners were finding it hard. Raza is definitely a big asset to the Zimbabwean team and must be part of every match that his country plays.
Cricket was never Raza’s first choice. He wanted to become a fighter pilot right from the age of 11. he was shattered when he failed an eye test in his third year in the Air Force college and it was revealed that he will have to give up his dreams. He turned to cricket once he was admitted to a university in Scotland and from there, began his journey of becoming an international cricketer. It was not a smooth ride for him, but once he finished his studies he was able to concentrate only on his cricket, making his First-Class debut in 2007. Recognising his talent, ZC did all they can to make him eligible to play for Zimbabwe and finally, in 2013, Raza made his international bow for his country in an ODI against Bangladesh. A Test debut followed 4 months later.
This excellent performance from Raza and the entire Zimbabwean team has certainly made a case for the ICC to allocate more Tests to Zimbabwe in the near future. The ZC has faced a lot of financial issues recently, but with ICC’s assistance, they are now being able to pay the players, which is definitely a positive for them. With the financial issues slowly stabilising, it is now time for Zimbabwe to focus on their cricket.