September 2013, Harare.
Sikandar Raza makes his Test debut against Pakistan. It is a perfect debut. In the first innings, he scores a fluent 60 against a bowling attack that consists of Junaid Khan, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman. In the second innings he falls for 24 but his stay of 75 minutes reflects his composure and batting prowess.
Although Zimbabwe lose the Test by a whopping a 221 runs, Raza makes a mark and announces his arrival. However, in the next Test, he is omitted from the team to accommodate Brenden Taylor.
The move is vindicated as in the second Test, Zimbabwe defeat Pakistan and register their most memorable Test win of this century. Raza watches his team pull off a historic win from the dressing room.
Raza’s chance to embed his name in history is missed.
November 2014, Chittagong.
Responding to Bangladesh’s mammoth total of 503, Sikandar Raza provides Zimbabwe with a solid platform. He takes on the Bangladesh bowlers and produces an aggressive half-century bringing back the momentum. His 82 off 111 balls is followed by another entertaining knock in the second innings. He slams 65 runs from 75 balls in the fourth innings on a sub continent wicket where the ball is turning square.
However, both these gutsy and impressive innings are overshadowed by Zimbabwe’s three straight defeats by the hosts in as many matches.
Raza in this Test does all he could but still fails to become a hero.
May 2015, Lahore.
Building on the platform provided by the top order, Raza thrashes Pakistani bowlers in the death overs to score a scintillating 100 from just 84 balls. But it is Azhar Ali’s match winning hundred that steals the headlights that day.
Another effort by Raza fails to make him a hero.
August 2015, Harare.
Raza’s 100 runs from 95 balls revive Zimbabwe’s innings and allow them to last 50 overs. But what makes the match memorable is the 23- run unbeaten opening partnership between Guptill and Latham that destroys Zimbabwe mercilessly.
Another Raza special. Another disappointment.
June 2017, Galle.
Raza keeps his nerves in control and steers Zimbabwe home in a tricky chase of 316 with 67 runs from 56 balls. But it is Solomon Mire’s 112 runs that stay in the limelight.
Raza still doesn’t get the attention he deserves.
July 2017, Colombo.
Sri Lanka’s spirited batting prevents Zimbabwe from earning a huge first innings lead and then the visitors are pushed back to four down with only 23 runs of the board. The lead is worth 33 runs with the pitch looking like a minefield and Herath breathing fire.
At this crucial moment, Raza walks to the crease and sweeps the first ball he faces. The shot yields only one run but it reflects his intent. One ball later he comes down the track, three balls later he exposes his all his stumps and smashes the ball down the ground.
None of these shots earn him a boundary but they speak volume about Raza’s approach. He plays his first defensive shot on the ninth ball he faces. His first boundary finally arrives on 17th ball.
From the other end, Sean Williams’ aggressive batting comes to end as Herath produces his trademark magic and looks set for more. The pitch continues to deteriorate and the visitors lose half of their side before the lead reaches triple figures.
However, nothing affects Raza who continues to paddle sweep, reverse sweep and step down the track against the spinners. It doesn’t make sense, attacking the spinners on a fourth-day sub-continent pitch.
But 62 balls later when Raza raises his bat to acknowledge the crowd who appreciate him for reaching his fifty, it becomes evident that this man is up to something.
But the fifty too makes no impact on Raza’a batting approach. He continues to play his unorthodox game which has surprisingly allowed him to overpower the Sri Lankan spinners.
The punches, cuts and all other innovative shots continue to flow from the 31-year-old batsman. He looks detached from the proceedings and the wickets that keep on falling from the other end. He is aloof and batting on some other pitch where the surface is made of cement and the bowlers are stripped off of all their weapons and tricks.
The hundred comes on the 160th ball with Zimbabwe’s lead swelling to 266 runs and the visitors firmly in the driver’s seat. By this time, Raza has become the focal point of the game and when he scores the hundredth run and roars loudly, he has everybody’s unprecedented attention. Something he demanded every now and then but was mercilessly denied.
This hundred makes him a hero. It embeds his name in the history. Four years after he made his Test debut, Raza gets what he deserves, his own place in the history books.
Raza becomes the first Zimbabwe batsmen to score a hundred in Sri Lanka in the third innings of the match. An effort worthy of praise. An effort that makes him a hero.
Also read: Zimbabwean cricket can believe againPublished 18 Jul 2017, 10:36 IST