Sikandar Raza

Sikandar Raza: Winning Zimbabwean Hearts as a Pakistani-born Cricketer

Sikandar Raza, a 37-year-old cricketer born in Pakistan, has been on an extraordinary run since 2022. His remarkable performances have earned him consecutive nominations for the ICC Twenty20 International Player of the Year award. Moreover, Sikandar Raza became the first player to score five consecutive half-centuries in T20 International matches, a feat that showcases his incredible consistency.

Zimbabwe’s Love for Cricket

Since January 2022, Sikandar Raza has amassed nearly 2,500 runs, including four centuries in One Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20Is, with an impressive average of over 40. He has also claimed 71 wickets during the same period. Sikandar Raza’s outstanding achievements have single-handedly reignited Zimbabwe’s passion for cricket, making him the country’s most admired sportsperson, even in a nation where football reigns supreme.

The Chant of a Beloved Hero

Sikandar Raza’s impact extends beyond mere statistics. The adoration of the crowds at sold-out international cricket matches in Zimbabwe over the past two years is a testament to his popularity. A chant originally composed for a revered former captain of Zimbabwe’s biggest football club, Dynamos FC, has now become an anthem for Sikandar Raza when he takes the field. The nickname “Monya,” once reserved for Murape Murape, now resonates with “Raza” as the special rendition echoes through the stadiums in Harare and Bulawayo.

From Pakistan to Zimbabwe: Sikandar Raza Journey

Born in Sialkot, Pakistan’s sports goods manufacturing hub, Sikandar Raza has fond memories of his childhood in the country. “My early life in Pakistan was all about studies, studies, and studies,” Sikandar Raza shared with Al Jazeera. “Street cricket was a big part of my childhood. We used to enjoy our street cricket with a taped tennis ball, and that’s how cricket started for me.”

Sikandar Raza moved from Pakistan to Zimbabwe in 2003 with his parents. He pursued a bachelor’s degree in software engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland before stumbling upon his true calling – cricket.

Seizing the Opportunity

Initially, Sikandar Raza did not envision a career in cricket. He recalled, “I didn’t really think cricket would be my true calling because I had only one year, in 2009, to make up my mind. If cricket hadn’t worked out that year, I would have gone back to Scotland to do my master’s degree in software engineering. I took a gap year and tried cricket. I was lucky, I guess, and cricket worked out, so I didn’t have to go back to do my master’s.”

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

Many who watched Sikandar Raza play cricket during his early days did not see the makings of a professional cricketer. Former Zimbabwe coach Stephen Mangongo acknowledged, “Sikandar Raza was just an ordinary player when he started club cricket. But what impressed me was his energy, his insatiable appetite for training, and his willingness to learn.”

Sikandar Raza himself admits, “I also didn’t think I would be an international cricketer. For me, cricket was just about enjoying life. You need an activity, a healthy hobby. Instead of lying in bed and doing nothing. Cricket has always been a passion for me, a source of happiness.”

The Determination to Excel

However, Sikandar Raza soon realized his potential and became determined to be the best in the country. Sports writer Blessing Maulgue, a former Zimbabwe Cricket official, witnessed the early stages of Sikandar Raza’s career. “I saw him bat for the first time in a league match at Alexandra Sports Club,” Maulgue recalled. “He didn’t score many runs, but he was very aggressive and broke a few boundaries. We talked after the match, and Sikandar Raza said he played just for fun.”

After becoming a Zimbabwean citizen, Sikandar Raza made his international debut in 2013. From an aspiring fighter pilot and underestimated club cricketer, he transformed himself into one of the best white-ball cricketers in the world.

A Globetrotter’s Life

To fund his philanthropic activities, Sikandar Raza relies on earnings from T20 leagues around the world. He has played over 220 domestic T20 matches and nearly 250 List-A games, representing over 25 teams and franchises. While franchise cricket provides ample opportunities to play the game he loves, the constant travel can be physically demanding.

“We travel a lot in franchise cricket. We are jumping from one plane to another, especially if you also play international cricket,” Sikandar Raza acknowledged. “Sometimes it’s hard on the body. People think it’s a pampered lifestyle. It’s pampered. We are blessed. The hotels are good, the food is good, and the quality of the cricket is good. The benefits of playing franchise cricket are great. It looks like a glamorous life, but believe me, it’s not as glamorous as it looks from the outside.”

Captaining Zimbabwe’s T20 Side

Despite failing to qualify for the 2023 T20 World Cup as the captain of Zimbabwe’s T20 side, Sikandar Raza is expected to retain the captaincy. With Zimbabwe’s team in transition, the country’s cricket board hopes that he will continue to inspire the next generation, potentially leading the team until the 2027 ODI World Cup.

A Glowing Tribute

Two-time World Cup-winning Australia captain Ricky Ponting praised Sikandar Raza during his standout year in 2022, saying, “He plays with a youthful exuberance – looks like he’s 26 again. He is one of those players who want the big stage, and when they get there, they won’t let it slip away. He’s leading from the front.”

Even when not playing for Zimbabwe, Sikandar Raza’s fervent fans follow his journey as he flies the Chevron flag on the international stage. He has become the country’s top cricket export in recent years and perhaps also the five-pointed red star on the Zimbabwean flag, symbolizing the nation’s pride and admiration for this remarkable cricketer.

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