Harare – Sikandar Raza was born in Sialkot and had trained for three-and-a-half years in the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). But neither Pakistan nor its cross-border relations with India would be on his mind when Zimbabwe face the KL Rahul-led India side for a three-ODI series in Harare starting on Thursday.
In the past, too, Raza said he had never thought of playing cricket for Pakistan, as his goal was to become a fighter pilot. At present, being Zimbabwe’s most prolific run-scorer in white-ball cricket, all that matters for the 36-year-old fighter is giving his all on the field for the country that has shown faith in him and given him the opportunity to excel at the international level.
“It’s never about who I’m playing against. It’s always about who I’m representing, and that’s Zimbabwe. And I always treat each and every nation, regardless of whichever that is, with the utmost respect and as an equal as well,” Raza, who has played 17 Tests, 117 ODIs and 58 T20Is so far in his nine-year international career, told The Telegraph.
“So for me, I am representing Zimbabwe, and that’s where it starts and that’s where it ends,” he categorically mentioned. For sure Raza, who can also bowl off-spin, will have to play a significant role to play if the Regis Chakabva-led team has to put India under pressure in this ODI series. However, what augurs well for the middle-order batsman is his current form, especially as he has hit back-to-back centuries (135 not out and 117 not out) in the recent one-dayers versus Bangladesh.
“We’re optimistic going into every tour. Because, if you aren’t optimistic, you’re basically then going out there for a battering. And that’s not how you play international cricket,” he stated. “Yes, it does help that we have had a few good series lately. “So that makes us quite confident going into the India series. It’s going to be a quality, entertaining series. Let’s see how we take it from there.”
The Zimbabweans have already begun chalking out plans and strategies to counter the Indians. “We’re going to watch the footage (of India’s players) and analyse. “Different individuals will be having different plans against certain individuals while batting or bowling. So it’s not like we’re looking to cash in on any bowler or something like that. “It’s a quality Indian attack. So all we have to do is try to execute our skills on the game day. Hopefully, our skills will outshine those of the opposition. That’s all that matters,” Raza explained.
Air force gains
Raza’s dreams of becoming a fighter pilot couldn’t be fulfilled because of an eye problem but his gains from the time he had spent at the PAF remain “priceless”. “I believe the time at the air force helped me to be mentally and physically stronger. Those three-and-a-half years were a very important part of my life. “Now looking back, I think I grew as a human being and as a person.
“That time there gave me the purpose and motivation to get through the difficult times and I’ll always be grateful for that time at the air force,” Raza, who also holds a degree in BSc Computing from Glasgow Caledonian University, emphasised. Quality-wise, India are obviously ahead of Zimbabwe. But they are certainly up against a fighter who could be a thorn in their flesh.