Sikandar Raza named player of the series in T20I as well as ODI series against Bangladesh.
The excitement of the Zimbabwe players and their fans at the Harare Sports Club during the recently concluded One Day International (ODI) and T20I series against Bangladesh was apparent; they clinched their first ODI series victory over the Indian sub-continent side in nine long years, with two back-to-back tough chases in the space of just three days.
Even though a number of players made significant contributions in both the series wins, it was Sikandar Raza, who with his splendid knocks lifted the team’s morale and confidence. His sublime form has inspired Zimbabwe to transform winning into a habit.
“It was tricky to miss out on the last 50-over World Cup”: Sikandar Raza
The year 2019 was a terrifying year for cricket in Zimbabwe. They missed out a chance of being part of the ICC World Cup in England after a narrow loss in the qualifiers at home.
It was also followed by a meeting of the International Cricket Council (ICC) board to decide that the full member side had failed to fulfill the obligation to provide a process of free and democratic elections and to ensure that there is no government interference in its administration of cricket.
This was also the reason for them not being part of ICC World T20 2021 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“It was tricky to miss out on the last 50-over World Cup; it was disheartening and painful not to be playing the last T20 World Cup as well,” Raza expressed to ESPNcricinfo how those moments gave birth of doubts in the minds of the senior players about their future.
When the recent qualifiers were held in Bulawayo for October’s T20 World Cup in Australia, Raza was the man who shouldered Zimbabwe over the line in most of the games either with bat or ball. In the final against Netherlands, he returned figures of 4/8 to get the better of the Dutch side.
“We would have never settled for only qualification,” Raza, the second-highest run-scorer in the qualifying tournament with 228 runs, spoke how relieved they are to earn the ticket to Australia. “Our first target was to qualify and we targeted winning five games; it was very important for us to become champions.”
The change of mentality of Zimbabwe players
The beginning of this year saw Zimbabwe tasting defeats at the hands of Afghanistan and Namibia. From that point to be a side that blew away Bangladesh in both T20Is and ODIs, a side which has been three times runners up in the last four editions of the Asia Cup, tells about the change of Zimbabwe players’ mindset and Sikandar Raza has been the main reason behind this transformation.
The T20I series was a prime example of it. During the first game, Zimbabwe propelled to 205/3 thanks to two impressive innings of 46-ball 67 by Wesley Madhevere and an unbeaten 26-ball 65 from Raza. Even though, the home side suffered a defeat in the very next game, Raza again turned up with 62 to continue his purple patch.
In the deciding T20I game of the series, when Raza didn’t open his account, Ryan Burl came forward with his 28-ball 54 along with a 20-ball 35 from Luke Jongwe that handed the home side the T20I series victory by a 2-1 margin.
“I hope this isn’t a temporary thing; I hope we can keep winning matches,” Raza who notched up 169 runs in the three T20Is to win the player of the series award, said.
Raza’s splendid knock with inspiring Kaia century in the first ODI
Zimbabwe managed a highest score of 228 when they were whitewashed by Afghanistan two months ago. In the first ODI game against Bangladesh who were coming in this series on the back of whitewashing the West Indies, the hosts were asked to chase a massive score of 304.
“We spoke over lunch about how we needed somebody to bat long and get a hundred,” Zimbabwe captain Regis Chakabva had said. The beginning of Zimbabwe’s reply wasn’t up to the mark as they were reduced to 62/3 in the 14th over when Sikandar Raza joined inexperienced Innocent Kaia in the middle.
Both stitched up a 192-run partnership for the fourth wicket between themselves as Kaia celebrated his maiden ODI century. Raza too joined him depositing his fourth ODI ton in just 81 deliveries. Even though Kaia got out soon, Raza stayed on the crease till he took his side over the line.
The loud cheer from Raza, unbeaten on 135 with eight fours and six over boundaries, right after pulling a match-winning six over deep mid-wicket painted out the emotion that inspires the whole nation.
Second ODI: Twin centuries from rockstar Raza and captain Chakabva hands Zimbabwe series victory
Just under 48 hours in the second ODI game, the home side was again asked to hunt for a high score of 291 in reply to which Zimbabwe again found themselves limping at 49/4 as the first match centurion, Innocent Kaia returned to the hut for just seven.
This time Sikandar Raza was joined by captain Regis Chakabva in the middle and shared a 201-run partnership for the fifth wicket as the Zimbabwean captain marked his maiden ODI century. Raza too joined in the party to reach back-to-back centuries to take Zimbabwe to a series victory.
Bangladesh came back to win the third ODI game and the best thing they did was sending back Raza for a first ball duck. But by that time, Raza had already grabbed 252 runs in three innings at an average of 252, which is the highest average in an ODI series with at least one duck. Raza, with his sixth player of the series for Zimbabwe in international cricket went past Heath Streak.
What’s the future for both Raza and Zimbabwe
With India due to play a three-match ODI series against Zimbabwe, the latter will hope to replicate the same sort of performances against the visitors. For that Raza will require help from his partners. His notable performances have lit up the whole nation and they will hope to carry the same morale and confidence against the top-ranked sides.
Last year, the 36-year-old Raza had a bone marrow infection in his right shoulder that was suspected to be cancerous. He came back after three months and the show he displayed with all of his runs and wickets shines more because of the struggles Zimbabwe were going through in the last 15 years.
With more golden performances what Zimbabwe will hope is to play and tour top countries regularly. They don’t play a lot of high-profile cricket; last time they toured England was way back in 2003 while Australia will be hosting them at the end of August after 18 long years.
All of Raza’s personal success has been built on his self-belief and with a little number of years left in his legs, he will hope to carry on the bright times to lift Zimbabwe to the highest level.
Zimbabwe hosting India in a three-match ODI series started from August 18 at the Harare Sports Club in Harare.