Sikandar Raza can do no wrong. If his batting ability hasn’t weaved enough magic in recent times, it’s his stunning development as a bowler that’s added more gloss to his ever-increasing value as a Zimbabwe player. It was on show one more time in his side’s thrilling one-run win over Pakistan in the Super 12s encounter at Perth.
Raza had a forgettable outing with the bat but more than made up for it with a three-wicket haul, including successive strikes of Shadab Khan and Haider Ali to bring Zimbabwe back into the game. Raza had a secret to reveal regarding his standout bowling performance.
“I was excited today, and I watched this clip by Ricky Ponting earlier in the morning, and that motivated me to come up with this performance. I would like to thank Ricky Ponting for that,” he said in the presentation ceremony.
“Some of my friends and family members messaged and they said they had a kind of tear in the eye,” Raza later said at the press conference after the game. “For me, I had goosebumps, one of the greats of this game talking about Zimbabwe and in particular me.”
The Zimbabwe all-rounder was referring to a video clip where Ponting had showered praises on Raza’s ability to take responsibility in pressure moments, and also how he is constantly looking to improve his game.
“All the best players in the game that I’ve known, and across other sports as well, is when those big pressure moments come, that’s what they want,” the former Australian skipper said. “You know Shane Warne was a great example of that, Glenn McGrath was a great example of that. Those players, they want that big moment, they want that stage and when they get there, they’re not going to let it slip. They are gonna make the most of it and make sure they get the job done. And that’s what Sikandar has done so beautifully.
“At the age of 33 or 34, it’s not easy to get better and improve. But he’s found a way to improve whether it be 50-overs cricket or T20 cricket, probably under the most pressure that he’s ever been under in his life as far as the player is concerned,” he added.
Despite a below-par score on the board, Zimbabwe’s bowlers were on the money from the get-go as their tall quicks used the bouncy Perth surface to their advantage. Raza then chipped in with a spell of his own as the African side kept hanging in there even when things weren’t entirely going their way. In fact, Pakistan needed just 43 off 39 balls when Raza removed Shadab to start the slide.
“I am lost for words, my mouth’s dry probably because of the emotions I am going through at the moment. I can’t tell you how proud I’m of this bunch of boys. The way our seamers started at the top, was just unbelievable and the way we backed it up in the field and the way we kept believing, really lost for words.”
Zimbabwe captain Craig Ervine also lauded his side’s tenacity in conjuring a win out of nowhere. Like Raza, he was also full of praise for the fast bowlers for setting the tone early.
“So special. Especially for the work, we did get into the Super 12s. We wanted to come in and play some really good cricket against top teams and we did that exceptionally well today. I thought after our batting performance, we thought we were maybe 20-25 short, but I thought our seamers hit their straps early on. Raza again came to the party as he always does and picked up a few crucial wickets in the middle there.”
While jubilation and ecstasy were the understandable emotions in the Zimbabwe camp, it was anything but that for Pakistan who endured their second heart-breaking defeat on the trot. Skipper Babar Azam lamented the lack of partnerships as the major reason behind the loss.
“To be honest, we were not up to the mark, starting with the first six overs in the bowling, but later on we finished well,” stated Babar in the presser. “In the batting, we had a bad collapse. When I and Rizwan got out, Shan and Shadab built a partnership, but after Shadab got out, we had a collapse and we didn’t finish well.”
Two losses in as many games have put Pakistan on the brink as far as elimination is concerned. Babar admitted that it was a tough job to recharge the side’s mental batteries after two such defeats. “Very hard as a team or as a captain, but we’ll sit and discuss the mistakes, and then we’ll come back strongly.”
Zimbabwe next travels to Brisbane to face Bangladesh at The Gabba on Sunday (October 30) while Pakistan’s next encounter is also on the same day, against the Netherlands at Perth.