By the time Sikandar Raza dragged his weary body to collect the man of the match award, he was both emotionally and physically drained. Beads of sweat were dripping from his brow, eyes were moist with tears of joy and words stuttered and stumbled from his mouth. He would pause between sentences so that he could catch his breath, his gaze would scatter, and he would lose the drift of a sentence midway through it. A riot of emotions had seized him. “I think I’m lost for words. My throat’s dry, probably because of all the emotions,” he would say.
The match was straight out of his sweetest dream. The 38-year-old hoarded nine runs, a useful contribution in a match Zimbabwe snuck home by a run, picked up the wickets of top-scorer Shan Masood, Haider Ali and Shadab Khan with his “mystery spin” and effected the last-ball run-out. “Unbelievable game, unbelievable game,” he kept mumbling, as though he was in the spell of that sweetest dream.
When he came out of the trance, he reminded his captain Craig Ervine of the latter’s offer. “He had told me that if you become Man of the Match, pick any watch from the catalogue and I’ll buy you. But if I win Man of the Match, then you’re gonna buy me one. So I’m just reminding him that you now owe me three watches actually,” he said chuckling. He then thanked Ricky Ponting, who had sent him a small video. “The motivation was always there but if I needed a little push, I thought that clip did a wonder, so thanks very much to Ricky as well,” he said.
If not with the bat, he will get you with the ball 💥
— T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) October 27, 2022
He then thanked luck and destiny. He has always projected himself as destiny’s child. “I think cricket chose me rather than me choosing cricket. God always had a plan for me,” he had once told this newspaper. Growing up in Sialkot, he wanted to be a fighter pilot, because he was “thrilled by the speed and the jets.”
He spent three years at the Pakistan Air Force boarding school in Lower Topa and cleared all the tests, but as fate had it, his dream never materialised. He had signed his papers to fly simulator jets but the paper never came, as he suffered from an eye condition called bilentrical opacity, wherein you cannot see something that is coming at you when flying in high altitude. He was devastated. The officers consoled him saying that he could be an aeronautical engineer. “I came here to be a fighter pilot. If I can’t be a fighter pilot I am out of here,” he would tell them.
He then decided to be a software engineer and enrolled at a college in Scotland, just around the time his parents had migrated to Zimbabwe at the stroke of this century. “For some reason, I started playing cricket in the college and club, though I never dreamt of being a professional cricketer. Then I went back to Zimbabwe, I started playing the game there as well,” he narrated. He completed the degree, but his destiny lay in cricket.
Then came the big turning point in his life. He was having a throwdown session with his club-mates when the chairman of Southern Rocks, a local club franchise in the Zimbabwe T20 league, told him to come to their nets form practice. “The next morning I offered my fajr prayers, then drove for three hours and made it to practice,” he recollected.
A few weeks later, he was opening the innings with Brian Lara. He polished off 93 runs in 40 balls. But destiny continued its strange play on him. He started out as an opening batsman, then evolved into the middle-order pillar of his franchise and Zimbabwe, scored a glorious Test hundred against Pakistan, and finally embraced off-spin bowling. Like his life story, he never wanted to be one, but ended up being one.
Modelled on Sunil Narine
He began to take his bowling seriously just at the time Sunil Narine was a rage in franchise cricket. And so he modelled his action on the Trinidadian. Right down to holding the ball behind him as he jogs up. Perhaps just the action, though. He has none of the cryptic variations that Narine possesses.
“I just like to keep tight lines and lengths, stifle the batsmen and force a mistake out of them,” he said recently. When he removed a malignant tumour after a bone marrow infection couple of years ago (at one stage he had feared it was cancerous), he had to make a hard decision: to quit bowling or change his action. He sought help from Narine at the CPL and re-modelled his action.
Shan Masood was undone by a quicker ball down the leg-side to be stumped, Shadab Khan was snuffed out with a full, flat floater on middle stump and Haider Ali with a quicker ball on middle and off.
At first, some of his teammates and coaches would banter about his off-spin. But nothing stopped him. “I was never discouraged by their comments,” he said. And it was the skill-set that shone the brightest on his sweetest night in international cricket.