Raza: I may not be a fighter pilot, but I am a fighter within myself

Sikandar Raza spent his formative years preparing to become a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). An eye condition prevented him from becoming one, but the time he spent in his childhood dreaming of becoming a fighter pilot, and the training he received at PAF college, shaped his outlook on life and cricket to become a become a fighter, he says. .
Raza became a software engineer and then a cricketer after starting the sport quite late. After nine years on the international circuit, Raza is in glowing shape. In recent weeks he was the Player of the Tournament in the T20 World Cup Qualifiers, the Player of the Series against Bangladesh in the T20I series and the Player of the Match for his unbeaten 135 against Bangladesh in the first ODI on Friday.

Chasing 304, Zimbabwe was left 62 for 3 in the 14th. They had not beaten Bangladesh in 19 ODIs in nine years. The way Raza saved Zimbabwe from there with his shot of 135 out of 109 and brought them across the line showed he wasn’t too shocked by the pressure.

“There is pressure to do well and win the game, there is pressure. I will not lie,” Raza told ESPNcricinfo on Friday. “Of course it helps that I get out of the Air Force. We’re not giving up. I get hit, I get hurt, broken fingers, toes, etc. I don’t care. Personally, I think it helps to keep the three-and-one -half a year at PAF college. I will always be a fighter in myself. I could not become a fighter pilot. But I think as a person I will always be a fighter. The training mentally and physically is now paying dividends.”

Zimbabwe went hunting with the knowledge that tough-as-nails Ryan Burl, who sustained a side injury while bowling, must not bat. Raza batted with newcomer Innocent Kaia, and against a bowling attack in Bangladesh hungry for wickets. He also battled pain after an inner rim was previously slammed against his inner thigh.

“I usually go out with a blank mind,” Raza said. “I want to watch the ball. It’s an ODI, so I want to leave well if I can. Just play a few shots that will give me my limit options. Otherwise I’ll make sure my form is right. Make sure I’m the pick length early enough.

“The innings started flowing. Innocent played great, so the pressure was off me. We hit a few boundaries and then it was just momentum. The plan was to win the game, but we broke it up into little bits. We wanted to achieve those small goals and move on from there.”

Raza went well until the 25th when the Zimbabwe pair appeared to have hit a wall. They quietly made about five overs, but when Raza Mustafizur Rahman shot a six to the ground to bring out his half-century, Zimbabwe had turned a crucial corner.

“I think the secret to my six-hitting is my cricket bats,” he explained. “I don’t do anything other than what the other guys do. I just have good enough bats.

“I look for one or two balls that give me the limit. I make sure I time the ball well. Once I start timing the ball right, Allah has blessed me with the fact that if I hit it right, I can hit the big Once you’ve got the confidence and you get the ball you wanted, it’s what it is. There’s really no real secret.”

Raza also praised Kaia, who hit his first 100 only in his fourth ODI. “He played good quality and class knock. It was a special turn. We play franchise cricket together. We spend a lot of time with him. I’ve always told him that when the opportunity comes, I know he will shine. His century was very satisfying to look at from the other side.”

This was a big win for Zimbabwe, especially in a format that they have struggled with lately. “It was great to break that chain. We haven’t beaten Bangladesh in nine years,” said Raza. “They were 19-0 ahead of us. The wins are coming at the right time. India is coming. We’re going to Australia. We have the World Cup to look forward to. It’s a good time for Zimbabwe.”

However, Raza remained wary of Bangladesh’s quality as an ODI side with two games left in the series. “We cannot take away from the fact that Bangladesh is a great cricket country. They are number 1 or 2 in the [World Cup Super League] table. They won 2-1 in the West Indies. I refuse to despise Bangladesh. They are a powerhouse. Zimbabwe would love to win the series on Sunday. We want to come up with the right attitude.”