Raza: I may not be a fighter pilot, but I am a fighter within myself

Zimbabwe
Sikandar Raza spent his formative years preparing to become a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). An eye condition prevented him from becoming one, but the time he spent in his childhood dreaming to be a fighter pilot, and the training he went through in the PAF college, have shaped his outlook in life and cricket to become a fighter, he says.
Raza went on to become a software engineer, and then a cricketer after starting quite late in the sport. After nine years in the international circuit, Raza is in red-hot form. In the last few weeks, he has been the Player of the Tournament in the T20 World Cup Qualifiers, the Player of the Series against Bangladesh in the T20I series, and the Player of the Match for his unbeaten 135 against Bangladesh in the first ODI on Friday.

Chasing 304, Zimbabwe were 62 for 3 in the 14th over. They hadn’t beaten Bangladesh in 19 ODIs across nine years. The way Raza rescued Zimbabwe from there with his knock of 135 off 109 and took them across the line, it showed he wasn’t too fazed by the pressure.

“There’s pressure to do well and win the game, there’s pressure. I won’t lie,” Raza told ESPNcricinfo on Friday. “Of course, it helps that I am from an Air Force background. We don’t give up. I get hit, I get hurt, broken fingers, toes, etc. I don’t care. I personally feel it helps spending the three-and-a-half years in PAF college. I will always be a fighter within myself. I couldn’t become a fighter pilot. But I think as a person, I will always be a fighter. The training mentally and physically is paying dividends now.”

Zimbabwe were chasing with the knowledge that the hard-hitting Ryan Burl, who suffered a side strain while bowling, may not bat. Raza was batting with the newcomer Innocent Kaia, and against a Bangladesh bowling attack hungry for wickets. He was also fighting pain after an inside edge slammed into his inner thigh earlier.

“I usually go out with a blank mind,” Raza said. “I want to watch the ball. It is an ODI so I want to leave well if I can. Just play a couple of shots that will give me my boundary options. Otherwise, I make sure my shape is good. Make sure I am picking the length early enough.

“The innings was starting to flow. Innocent was playing magnificently, so the pressure was off me. We hit a few boundaries and then it was just momentum. The plan was to win the game but we broke it down to small parts. We wanted to achieve those small targets, and take it from there.”

Raza was going well until the 25th over when the Zimbabwe pair seemed to have hit a wall. They batted quietly for about five overs but when Raza blasted Mustafizur Rahman down the ground for a six to bring up his half-century, Zimbabwe had turned a crucial corner.

“I think the secret to my six-hitting is my cricket bats,” he explained. “I don’t do anything different than what the other guys do. I just have good enough bats.

“I look for one or two balls that gives me the boundary. I make sure I time the ball well. Once I start timing the ball well, Allah has blessed me with the fact that if I hit it well, I can clear the big boundaries. Once you have the confidence, and you get the ball that you wanted, it is what it is after that. There’s no real secret, basically.”

Raza was also full of praise for Kaia, who struck his maiden hundred in only his fourth ODI. “He played a proper quality and class knock. It was a special innings. We play franchise cricket together. We spend a lot of time with him. I always told him that when the opportunity comes, I know that he will shine. His century was very satisfying to watch from the other end.”

This was a big win for Zimbabwe, particularly in a format they have struggled in lately. “It was great to break that shackle. We didn’t beat Bangladesh in nine years,” Raza said. “They were 19-0 up on us. The wins are coming at the right time. India is coming. We are going to Australia. We have the World Cup to look forward to. It is a good time for Zimbabwe.”

Raza, however, remained wary about Bangladesh’s quality as an ODI side with two games still left in the series. “We can’t take away the fact that Bangladesh is a big cricket country. They are sitting No. 1 or 2 in the [World Cup Super League] table. They won 2-1 [3-0] in West Indies. I refuse to disrespect Bangladesh. They are a powerhouse. Zimbabwe would love to win the series on Sunday. We want to turn up with the right attitude.”

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