Zimbabwean cricketer in focus: Sikandar Raza - New kid on the block
All Sikandar Raza Butt ever wanted to do was fly planes. He had nurtured this dream since the age of 11, having announced his ambitions of becoming a fighter pilot during his family’s stay at Sialkot, in the north-east of Pakistan. Having cleared the requisite exam, he was admitted to the Air Force College as one of the lucky sixty students.
Then came the heartbreak – a failed eye test in his third year brought his high-flying dreams down to earth with a resounding crash. Seven out of ten people in the world have that problem, he was told.
A dream lay shattered. A boy suffered his first taste of the harsh reality of life.
But he was Sikandar – named after the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great. He was tough.
He wasn’t distraught or disillusioned by the bad break. He changed colleges, getting admission to Glasgow Caledonian University, where he picked up a bat for the first time since his childhood.
And he discovered he was extremely good at cricket. He became a semi-professional during his stay at the Scottish University, and moved to Zimbabwe, where his parents had immigrated in 2002.
Raza made his first-class debut for the African nation in 2007, playing for Northerners till 2009. After the entire domestic structure was revamped, he continued to ply his trade there, turning out for the Mashonaland Eagles, and recording a top score of 145.
Playing primarily as a batsman, the young cricketer also became a useful part-time bowler, combining gentle medium-pace with tidy off-breaks. However, during his initial playing days, he could score only one fifty in nine innings.
Having completed his studies in 2010-11, he made his T20 debut for the Southern Rocks and quickly established himself as a T20 specialist. His sublime knock of 44 in the 2010 MetBank Pro40 Championship final against the Mid West Rhinos caught the eye of the selectors, who drafted him into the preliminary squad for the 2011 World Cup. He failed to get selected, and returned to List A cricket.
Raza’s next huge performance came against the Matabeleland Tuskers as he shared a mammoth 161-run opening stand with former Zimbabwe international Chamu Chibhabha that laid the foundation for a massive victory.
Through this performance, he was established as a batsman who could both graft and play his shots. Citizenship issues nearly held up his selection to the training squad for the tri-series involving the Australia “A” and South Africa “A” sides, and he eventually became a Zimbabwean in September 2011.
Making his ODI debut against Bangladesh on 3 May, 2013, the right-hander batted at No. 3 and made just 3 runs. The series, however, was notable for Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor’s exploits with the bat.
Raza was promoted to the opening slot against India in the first match of the five-game series, and his solid 82-run innings formed the cornerstone of his team’s total, which they were unable to defend. Nevertheless, the African nation had found a new superstar.
He has had the distinction of opening with West Indies great Brian Lara when the latter was signed by the Southern Rocks in 2010. In another remarkable coincidence, the 27-year-old shares his birthday with Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar, and just like the Indian maestro, bowls a mixture of medium-pace and off-spin.
One hopes that Sikandar Raza Butt can go on to become a complete all-rounder and establish his mark on international cricket. For now, though, the new kid on the block is geared up for the next game of the series against India; a series that he hopes will enable Zimbabwe to return to their once-great heights.