A key member of the history making Zimbabwe squad that defeated hosts Sri Lanka in the recently concluded ODI series, Sikandar Raza has continued to impress with his all-round skills since his debut in May 2013. The 31-year-old Pakistan born player has taken 46 international wickets and scored over 2500 runs in 102 international appearances for Zimbabwe.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Sikandar Raza spoke about his delight at the historic ODI series victory against Sri Lanka, pleaded for more international games for his side, advice and good wishes from Pakistan players and identified some new emerging talent to look out for from Zimbabwe.
By Abdullah Ansari (14th July, 2017)
PakPassion.net: What does Zimbabwe's series win against Sri Lanka mean for the team and yourself?
Sikandar Raza: We are absolutely delighted with the way things have gone. If you ask different people, they will tell you different reasons for playing cricket but cricket for us, it is all about creating history, and to do so in Sri Lanka in the way we did is beyond what words can describe. It hasn't fully sunk in yet and it's hard to believe. After winning the game, we had team gatherings and celebrations and the guys were just enjoying the moment and not thinking too hard about the implications. However, what this win has shown the world of cricket is that we can be competitive and that we can win against the bigger nations. We're a nation that has suffered from a shortage of international games annually; in every calendar year, we're looking to play around twenty games but we cannot even play that number of games. It's difficult to judge a team or the ability of the players when we're playing such a minimal number of matches. I'm hopeful that this series victory can bring us a lot more games which will in turn help us as we try to be more consistent in future and win more series. Zimbabwe needs more international matches.
PakPassion.net: Beating Sri Lanka despite their recent problems is still a big achievement. How can Zimbabwe build upon this win going forward?
Sikandar Raza: The most important thing we need to build on is our self-belief. We should have belief, especially now that we've won this series - no one can take this piece of history away from us. As long as we're playing games, it doesn't matter who we're playing against and I genuinely believe that the more we play and the busier we are, it will only lead to more improvement in future. We will continue to create more history in the near future if we are given the opportunities to play cricket.
PakPassion.net: Zimbabwe have struggled to beat top teams in the recent past but what was different this time around?
Sikandar Raza: There are a few factors which I feel contributed to this series victory. We've got a new committee of selectors, a new head coach in Heath Streak and a convener of selectors, Tatenda Taibu as well as a new managing director. I think, most importantly, we've been playing cricket consistently such as the way we played the five ODIs in June against Scotland and The Netherlands, prior to the Sri Lanka series. Far from being appreciated for that, we actually received some criticism for that with people questioning why we were training and playing series in Europe in preparation for facing Sri Lanka. I totally disagree with such criticism, I believe there is no substitute for actual game time, spending time in the middle is essential. It doesn't matter where you're playing games as long as you're active and a lot of that has led to this result against Sri Lanka.
PakPassion.net: Did you feel that you were doing things any differently during this series, was there any change in attitude?
Sikandar Raza: As a team, we always say that there may be a lot of things out of our control once we're out there in the middle, but one thing we can control is our attitude. I like to play with my heart on my sleeve when I put the red jersey on, but having said that, I try to keep my emotions in check. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me while batting, bowling or fielding. The only thing that was really different ahead of the series was that we've played a fair few games recently and our combinations were a lot better. We were a better unit and we were gelling together well, we trusted each others' ability and we knew one of us would win the game.
PakPassion.net: Who in your view were the standout performers for Zimbabwe in this series?
Sikandar Raza: Whilst it was a team effort, we were lucky to have some excellent performances which helped us create history. I would like to mention Solomon Mire and Hamilton Masakadza who had brilliant series as openers, while the likes of Craig Ervine, Malcolm Waller, Graeme Cremer and PJ Moor all contributed to the victories. All these performances added up to the final result. Apart from the skills of these players, I also think that this is because we're in a much better mental space than before and we trust each other. The bond between the team is as strong as it's ever been.
PakPassion.net: Was the belief in the Zimbabwe team building up as the series went on? When did you start believing you could win the series?
Sikandar Raza: To be honest, we took one game at a time and without worrying about the result and all we wanted to do was to change the general feeling that people have regarding Zimbabwe. We were looking to do well and prove a point that we aren't just a team which is there to make up the numbers. We can actually play cricket, given proper chances and opportunities. This result should prove that. Some teams have never beaten Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka but we've done it. It's something different for the Zimbabwean team and I'm sure they will enjoy this feeling and remember it for a long time.
PakPassion.net: Who are some of the younger players who you think can do well for Zimbabwe in the near future?
Sikandar Raza: If you look at the team make-up, you will see that most of us are around the same age group, the likes of myself, Graeme Cremer, Craig Ervine, Malcolm Waller, Chamu Chibhabha are pretty much the same age. We all know about the capabilities of this group of players and they are continuing to improve and should provide Zimbabwe with more successes in the coming series. But amongst the youngsters, I think PJ Moor, Tarisai Musakanda and Ryan Burl are three guys who have a huge role to play to take Zimbabwe cricket forward in future.
PakPassion.net: Is the number of international games that Zimbabwe play the main challenge for this side at the moment?
Sikandar Raza: We have seen that with the current squad that we have, all we need is to be given more opportunities and then we can take on the bigger and better teams and spring a few surprises. All we need is consistency and that will come with more international games. So, this is definitely the main challenge. Other shortcomings we've had in the past have been taken care of in my view. The result against Sri Lanka has shown that quite clearly.
PakPassion.net: With your affinity with Pakistani cricket, are you still in touch with any of the Pakistani players?
Sikandar Raza: I am in touch with some of them and they sent me wishes recently which is nice. I played in the 2016–17 National T20 Cup last year; while I missed the Rawalpindi leg, I was part of the Lahore Whites team for the Multan leg of the tournament. I was blessed to have some good youngsters in the team alongside notable names from Pakistan cricket such as Umar Akmal, Kamran Akmal, Salman Butt, Ehsan Adil and Imran Khan.
PakPassion.net: Have you received any advice from the Pakistan players in recent times?
Sikandar Raza: It's not really advice but they do share their experiences with me as they did recently as it was the first time that I was in Sri Lanka. They shared what worked for them and what didn’t. Obviously, the same things would not necessarily work for me, but it helps if you try a few different things and it helps at the end of the day. A lot of prayers and wishes also come our way which was a great help of course.
PakPassion.net: Is there anything you'd like the world to hear now that people are sitting up and taking notice of Zimbabwe cricket?
Sikandar Raza: No words can ever describe what I'm feeling right now and what it means for us. Now that people are watching us and have taken notice of what we can do on a tough away tour as Sri Lanka and against a quality opponent, hopefully we can keep up these performances consistently and go on towards building a better future for Zimbabwe cricket.
PakPassion.net: Would you be interested in playing another series in Pakistan?
Sikandar Raza: It was a great experience playing that series in 2015 against Pakistan and I would love to play another series in Pakistan in the future. We get love and affection from cricket lovers wherever we play in the world and Pakistan is no different in that regard.
PakPassion.net: Ireland and Afghanistan are now ICC Full Members so does Zimbabwe see them as potential adversaries or do you think Zimbabwe is on a higher level?
Sikandar Raza: First of all congratulations to both countries for making the grade to becoming full members. Let me say that we consider both teams as worthy opponents. We would welcome any opportunities to face either of these countries in all formats. If the ICC or these countries were to propose a series then I'm pretty sure we're more than happy to welcome that as another opportunity to showcase our skills and consistency.