Sikandar Raza hungry for more
A maiden international fifty against the world champions would give most cricketers cause to celebrate. But for Sikandar Raza, reaching the 80s and not going on to a hundred left him bitterly disappointed.
"A friend of mine just asked me something," he said after Zimbabwe's six-wicket defeat to India. "He asked me: 'How did it feel when Virat got his hundred?' I tell you, that question stung me properly. I'm going to remember that for the rest of my life. I'm not going to find these opportunities a lot, so when I do I'm going to have to make sure that I convert them."
Raza is no stranger to disappointment, and perhaps it is a residual memory of the failed eye test that quashed his childhood dream of becoming a fighter pilot in Pakistan that motivates him so fiercely. Or maybe it is the sheer amount of hard work he has had to put in to get this far as a cricketer. Either way, at 27 years old and now only beginning his international career, he knows he has got to take every chance he can.
"I'll definitely be in the nets after this press conference," he said. "I've got a few areas to brush up on, so that if I find myself with the same opportunity, I'm not putting myself under pressure and neither am I putting my team under pressure."
After losing the toss on a lively pitch first thing in the morning, Zimbabwe were indeed under pressure from the very start. "History tells us that at [Harare] Sports Club batting first is always very tricky," Raza said. "It was nipping around. From one side it was skidding and from the other side it was not coming on to the bat. That was happening, along with the movement and seam, so it was quite tricky to bat. So what we decided was that we're going to keep wickets in hand, because that would give our team a better chance to post a competitive total."
Sticking to such a defensive gameplan couldn't have been easy for a batsman who built his domestic reputation upon innings of daring adventure. He sums up his batting technique as "see ball, hit ball, and try to survive mate", and once shared a partnership of 98 with Brian Lara - a batsman known to play a few shots himself - in Zimbabwe's domestic Twenty20 competition to which Lara contributed just 11. Today, he played more blocks than slogs but still finished with a strike rate of 73.21 and eight boundaries.
"The flair will stay there, and I hope it stays there for the rest of my career," Raza said. "But the fact is when you're playing international cricket at such a high level you're not going to get bad balls and if I'm trying to make something out of nothing I'm going to throw my wicket away.
"I would love to play my cricket with a lot of flair but unfortunately that doesn't always happen after just four [ODI] games. Hopefully as I keep on playing, I can start playing more shots. But at the moment, the plan we set, we have to stick to that so that it gives me and my team the best opportunity."
With his brother and several cousins - all wearing 'Team Raza' t-shirts - cheering him on, Raza was in sight of his ton when he swiped across the line at a delivery from Mishra that skidded on to rattle his stumps. Raza trudged off, his head hung in disappointment, and conceded that with the big-hitting Elton Chigumbura at the other end, he probably should have been looking for a single.
"I just wanted to give Elty [Chigumbura] the strike. Elty was hitting it so well that when I was standing at the other end I was slightly scared [what would happen] if he hits one straight back. Maybe I was trying to be too smart. I saw a gap and I wanted to pick two or three there. Maybe I should have just kept it simple and let Elty do the power hitting."
Raza will get another chance to prove himself on Friday, but insisted that success in this series is more important to the team and cricket in Zimbabwe than it might be to him personally. Zimbabwe have struggled to attract elite opposition - and the TV rights cash that comes with them - and they understand what a big opportunity a visit by India presents.
"This is a massive tour, for Zimbabwe to start with and then individually for me as well, because it could be make or break for us," he concluded. "So if we do really well here, hopefully we'll have more cricket coming to us, which could only help us improve."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town