Sikandar Raza has become a hot topic of discussion in the cricketing world due to his on-field heroics for Zimbabwe and franchises in the T20 cricket ecosystem.
After emerging as a talisman for Zimbabwe and lighting up the recently concluded T20 World Cup, Raza, in a freewheeling interview with Revsportz, discussed a range of things starting from a scintillating World Cup campaign, defeating Pakistan, PAK Bean banter, his struggle with bone marrow infection and cancer threat, remodeling his bowling action, IPL dream and much more.
Subhayan Chakraborty: You are now one of the hottest names in world cricket but tell us about your journey to the top? From Sialkot to Zimbabwe, it must have been a challenge..
Sikandar Raza: The first challenge was to qualify to play for Zimbabwe which takes 10 years in the country. If you ask me about cricketing challenges then it was to perform. Zimbabwe cricket has always been supportive, trying to make sure that my papers are ready as soon as I am eligible. Most of the challenges were basically language. Being from Pakistan, English wasn’t that great. I didn’t play a lot of cricket in Pakistan it was just a hobby. The biggest challenge was perhaps to do the 10 years in the country apart from that no challenges.
SC: Do you feel major teams should start playing smaller cricketing nations more often? Perhaps the return of tri-series or quadrangulars?
Sikandar Raza: All I would say is that the two finalists of the last T20 World Cup were beaten by Zimbabwe and Ireland that shows you the strength of some of the so-called smaller nations. If cricket is shared between top and lower nations then cricket as a sport will get better. One of the reasons why I think franchise cricket is more competitive is because of all the players getting together and competing.If the standard of international cricket is to get higher then the top ranked teams have to play a lower ranked nation. The vacuum between the two will be lesser. The viewers will also enjoy it and get to see the teams playing.
SC: Tell us about your bone marrow infection a couple of years back and potential cancer threat. That must have been a scary phase in your life…
Sikandar Raza: That’s probably the toughest challenge I have faced so far. It was tough for me and a lot tougher for my family. Being the first born, it was tough for them to take that there was a cancer and tumour threat in the marrow. I remember the two weeks when the biopsy report was to come, it was quite tough. Then the report came, then another surgery then rehab as the first two weeks. From the diagnosis to MRI to CT scan to treatment, to the operation and the time we had to go through till full recovery, it was the toughest time for my family.
SC: Coming to the T20 World Cup, you absolutely smashed it with your performances. How proud are you to display such performances in the World Cup?
Sikandar Raza: As a player I didn’t feel any of the emotions. Of course my family was proud, Zimbabwe fans were proud, relatives and fans were proud. For me, I don’t want to say I was proud because had we all done a bit better, Zimbabwe could have won a few more games. We have a great team culture and no one really bothers about personal achievements. But yeah, it was nice to contribute to the success of the team. That’s what I am proud of, not so much about the numbers. Allah has been really kind and it’s good to put up such numbers. But when the team achieves something good then it is even better.
SC: And your skipper Craig Ervine must have lost a lot of money by gifting you a watch each for Player of the Match outings. Tell us about that.
Sikandar Raza: That is all true. We sit together most of the time and we plan about how to go about things in matches. So we had little competition among ourselves. We wanted the team to win, to push ourselves. If one of us succeeds then another friend would gift him. I think my skipper is still in a bit of noodles about the money he lost (laughs).
SC: And that over against Pakistan. Two wickets that turned the momentum in favour of Zimbabwe. What was going through your mind?
Sikandar Raza: I bowled the first two overs. He came up to me and I said we can squeeze an over or two then I can come in. Skipper and I had a very good chat even on our way to Australia. As much the plan was around the seamers, Blessing Muzarabani and Richard Ngarava, Brad Evans were exceptional. In that Pakistan game, the door was opened up by the seamers. And on that day, it was me who took the wickets and helped us push for the win.
SC: What about ICC’s proposal to include six top-ranked teams in the Olympics? Do you agree with that?
Sikandar Raza: So there’s two ways to look at it. One one way to look at is no it is exceptionally wrong only to include six top nations to play or represent cricket and their respective countries and alongside the other way to look at is maybe let’s start with six and hopefully there is a genuine effort to grow the game in the Olympics. After that we would have 10 and then 14 and so on.
You says we’re going to take the top six teams through whatever process and we get there and we improve our number of teams in Olympics for the next Olympics to 10 or to eight to 12 but there has to be growth. I understand. I understand the top six nations but I will not accept and understand that it will just be only 6 in Olympics. That’s not the way to go.
SC: Tell us about the change in your bowling action. Suddenly, you have become Sunil Narine 2.0…
Sikandar Raza: Sometimes humans are hesistant to change. We like to just do things that we know and sometimes we are happy with where we are. So I was at CPL and Sunny bhai (Sunil Narine), he was there and I watched him very closely and I made a very good bond with him and I always asked him questions to this day, every time I message Sunny bhai, he replies to my message and I am forever grateful for that. He doesn’t have to. There was no need to from his side. I haven’t been to CPL in the last couple of years. So you know, he could have easily just you know, ‘I’ve been busy’ and I would have understood that but every time I’ve sent him a message, he has messaged me back every time. I’ve seen in different franchise tournaments, he has taken time out, just to see me and then when he’s doing his drill, I’ll be standing and ask him questions. So Sunny bhai has played a really, really important role in evolution or the changes in my bowling and things like that. Plus,when I had my multiple surgeries on my shoulder, I lost a lot of my strength when it comes to bowling, so if I hadn’t changed my action to his I don’t think I would have been successful.
I think it would have been very close to just choosing batting and totally forget about bowling or maybe not be as successful maybe as I am today. I think the change was very important and I was brave enough to try something new. And stuck to my guns during the resisting period, but and certainly Sunny bhai was always there.
And then I remember when I first showed these changes to Imran Tahir. I told him this is what I have. What do you reckon? To credit him, the first thing he said was do not let them go. He said what you have is amazing. Work on it. But please don’t go back, please stick with this. And I thought that gave me that big heart that I needed. Especially when all I was hearing was ‘Oh no. You cannot do that. Oh no. Please don’t do that. Oh, no, no, no, stay back and stick to your old bowling action because you know what you were doing. No, no, if you do this then I’m sorry. We just gonna have to consider you as a better and maybe look at you as a last bowling option.’ Or things like that. So there’s a lot. There’s a lot of things that came my way so my only thing would be that to anybody who’s listening who wants to change. Do it wholeheartedly do it with honesty, there will be resistance but stay true to yourself straight, to your hard work, true to your commitment and hopefully and inshallah results in unsuccessful follow.
SC: You have done it all but one thing that is missing from your CV is the IPL. I feel, with the kind of performances you have put up, the contract should come. Your thoughts?
Sikandar Raza: I would not agree with that. When you say that it should come, that basically means that I deserve it and I have to be there I don’t think along those lines. If it comes now then Alhamdulillah, if it doesn’t come now I’ll keep working hard and do what I have to, to get it. It is true that I feel IPL is by far one of the most prestigious franchise leagues around the world. And who wouldn’t want that tag on their resume? So if I’m ticking all the boxes for the team management and if I’m ticking all the boxes for different owners to look at me as one of the options then happy days because don’t forget there’s a lot of talented cricketers out there who probably feel the same as you do. For me. So a lot of it is basically down to the combinations a lot of is down to what I am doing in terms of performances closer to the tournament, a lot of variables get involved. All I’m thinking about right now is to do well in the next tournament. And then take it to the next tournament that I’m part of. And if coaches and the owners who think I’m valuable enough at that particular time that I’m pretty sure they would have they would have a bid for me because you want your team to be the best combination team so that you can win that tournament.
SC: Any franchise you prefer or like?
Sikandar Raza: I don’t prefer any franchise as of sort only because getting to that tournament and getting to IPL would be a great experience and I would be able to learn from everyone who’s around. You don’t just learn from your teammates, you learn from the opposition as well. So listen, whether I’m part of Rohit Sharma’s team or be it MS bhai (MS Dhoni) or KL Rahul’s team or Rishabh Pant’s or Hardik Pandya’s team, it really doesn’t matter. So while I’m learning from it and don’t forget, we’ll be playing against different teams as well and the opportunity will always come that you can always get hold of somebody and say, ‘Listen, this is what I saw you doing. Do you mind telling me how that shot was played? or how was that?’ Playing IPL is an honor. And if that happens this year, then happy days. I don’t have a particular, what do you call the team or, or an individual. I just love the tournament and I love cricket. And that’s all I’m focusing on.
SC: But what about those people who question your age (36)?
Sikandar Raza: Again, I want to try and give my balanced opinion. Success isn’t guaranteed for young guys. So, unless you tell me that success is only guaranteed to young humans and then I understand that I’m happy to call it off being successful at a particular age. My message to that would be if somebody thinks like that, then I wish you really the best of luck in your 20s. For those who think the other way, all I want to say is, please don’t allow age to restrict you from achieving your goals. And if I happen to get to IPL at 36 then what’s stopping others. IPL in my opinion is directly related to performance, to your skills, to your fitness, to your attitude, to your commitment, your energy, to your discipline to the sacrifices so it has nothing to do with age in my opinion. It has nothing to do with age. People have different opinions, I honestly respect your opinion and that is okay. Plus, franchise contracts are not a 10 year agreement, it is just pretty much a year or two months, eight weeks contracts. So those comments, it doesn’t really say anything. It doesn’t really bother me even at the same time. People are saying yeah, Sikandar deserves to be there, thanks for the comment and love but it doesn’t guarantee anything but I still appreciate whichever way the pendulum swings I’m at peace all I would say is and hopefully it will change the perspective of the viewers who are listening. If you have something to do with age then I really wish you being successful at a young age. If you don’t, you know clearly you have a mindset of not being successful when you get slightly older. All I’m saying is please do not let age come in the way of your goals, you just do not know when you will succeed. Stay at it. Stay true to yourself straight to your hard work and have faith and you never know where you may end up so my journey has had a lot of ups and downs.
SC: Any message you want to give to your fans and well-wishers?
So during that time (India ODI series and T20 World Cup, there were a lot of messages that came and I’m sorry, I couldn’t reply to all of them and I still I think I struggled to reply to most of the messages anyway, with a busy schedule and things like that. Let me take this opportunity to thank every one of you who have been there along the journey and who are joining the journey. I really appreciate your prayers and your wishes have forever been needed and wanted and I’m forever grateful for that. Please don’t stop
Keep sending them. And my success is because of the prayers I have received from all around the world. So it’s directly your success as well. So I just want to say thank you very much for your time.