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Raza on his IPL experience: 'If there is no cricket from tomorrow, I'd say I have ticked all the boxes'

Who's the Punjab Kings team-mate that has impressed him the most? "Jitesh Sharma. Imagine a wicketkeeper who can bat like him down the order"

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
That's the game - Sikandar Raza gets the celebrations started after hitting Matheesha Pathirana for the winning runs off the last ball, Chennai Super Kings vs Punjab Kings, IPL 2023, Chennai, April 30, 2023

That's the game - Raza gets the celebrations started after hitting Pathirana for the winning runs off the last ball in Chennai  •  AFP/Getty Images

It took him a little while to get to the greatest show in cricket, but the IPL gig with Punjab Kings has capped off an incredible 12 months for Sikandar Raza. Here, he opens up to ESPNcricinfo about the experience in India, chasing totals and speaking Punjabi, and what about the IPL caught him by surprise.
How would rate your IPL performance so far?
I can't rate my own performance (laughs), but I have given my everything every time I have gone out to the field. I have no regrets in terms of my effort. I have got a Player of the Match [award], two MVPs, and one Dream 11 [award, for most fantasy points in a match], so at least I have four trophies to take home. That's something to be humbled about, I guess.
Mentally, I am at peace, and I am happy. There are home and away matches, so it is physically taxing. There's a lot of traveling, packing and unpacking. Some cities you just go for one night, play the following day, and have to travel again. But it is the same for everybody. Coming to the end of the IPL, I always believe that any team who can stay mentally relaxed and sharp, not be fatigued, will have a better chance of going to the next round.
Your best performance with the bat was the fifty against Lucknow Super Giants, and it came on a tricky pitch.
I'd say that Lucknow is a quality side with a good seam and spin attack. On that wicket, it was harder to score. It was a tough chase [of 160], so to come out on top of that game… the only reason we still have a chance to qualify is that we did well in away matches. It has been a real strength for us.
It was difficult to hit from ball one. You had to give yourself a bit of time to assess the pace of the wicket. You also had to see what was happening off the wicket. It wasn't a usual Mohali wicket, majority of which have been really good. You can tee off straight away. But I don't think Lucknow was like that.
There was also that successful chase of 201 in Chennai? You went out to bat in the 19th over and scored 13 in seven balls. What stood out for you in that performance?
I give credit to their supporters. It wasn't the biggest stadium I have played at, but certainly the noisiest stadium. The CSK fans were cheering their team from the first to the last ball. They were really noisy, but in a good way. It was a great vibe. I know they were supporting the home team, but I enjoyed that atmosphere. It was something different, something that I have never experienced before.
Most importantly, we became the first team to successfully chase 200-plus in Chennai. It hasn't been done before. It was nice to have our name written in the history books. That's why you play this beautiful game, so that you can put on a performance that can be remembered for a long time.
You came up against Matheesha Pathirana in that last over, and took three off the last ball to win. What are your thoughts about him as a bowler, and that last over?
Pathirana is a quality talent. I remember that [Lasith] Malinga was hard enough to face but Pathirana is just a bit trickier. His arm comes lower. Malinga was side on, I remember. On that wicket, with those cutters and his 145kph pace, you just didn't know what's coming. Alhamdulillah, to be able to score those runs! I was just trying to find a boundary so I was lucky to get those three runs. I hit it into a gap. I guess when it's your day, luck favours you in weird ways.
"I think as an overseas [player], you have to try to perform every game. There will be failures along the way, but the standard of this league is so high, if overseas [players] fail to perform, then the local guys always manage to cover [for them]"
You have played for many franchise teams in many leagues. Does playing the IPL tick all your T20 boxes now?
I haven't played the Big Bash and the Hundred, but there are so many T20 leagues now, because of the overlapping, it will be difficult for me to play in all the leagues. If you said that there will be no more cricket from tomorrow, I'd say yes, I have ticked all the boxes.
What about the IPL has been a true eye-opener?
One of the things I had heard about was the stadium capacity, and every game is house full. It was hard to believe because the capacity sometimes is 60,000 or 90,000. I have not played a game where a single seat has been available, whether in a small or a big city. It has left me in awe, how much the people of India love their cricket and support their cricketers.
Culturally, how easy or difficult was it to be in a set-up where so many players speak Punjabi? Did your roots help you to blend in?
I come from a Punjabi background and I can speak Urdu. A lot of the conversations in Zimbabwe are in English and Shona, which is the local language. I don't think I have spoken so much Punjabi in my life as I have done in the last six weeks. At least my Punjabi got polished a little bit.
What is the expectation of a foreign player in the IPL? Is it different from other leagues?
I think as an overseas [player], you have to try to perform every game. There will be failures along the way, but the standard of this league is so high, if overseas [players] fail to perform, then the local guys always manage to cover [for them]. You will see that even if we fail, we will end up getting 200 runs.
Among your team-mates, who has impressed you the most?
The guy that has impressed me the most is Jitesh Sharma. It would be great if he ends up playing for India. India being so top-heavy, imagine having a wicketkeeper who can bat like him down the order. That's a real plus. I think he has been the player to look out for.
How was Sam Curran as a captain?
It is so professional in the IPL, believe me, there's very little that's said here. Everybody knows their roles. Everybody is clear about their roles, so when Sam captained, we had very little chat. He'd give me the field that I want, then leave it to me. This has been really great about the IPL that everyone is very clear about their individual roles. Rest of the things look after themselves.
You also met the Zimbabwe Under-19s, who were touring India, and got them tickets for an IPL game.
Initially, I didn't know where they were. I knew they were coming to India. Their coach [Prosper Utseya] told me that they were in Mumbai. I was in Mumbai, too, an hour away. We worked out the schedule, and I wanted to make sure to give them an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch an IPL game. I organised the tickets for them.
I know how tough life is for our cricketers back home, more so for age-group and women's cricket. Even though things are on the up, I still think things are tough. I asked Puma if it would be possible to buy shoes for these kids. Credit to them, they said they would take care of it. I have been with Puma for seven years. Just like that, the deal got done. They sent all the players a pair of spikes.
Now, I am sure you will want to come back to India in four months [for the ODI World Cup, if Zimbabwe qualify]?
(Laughs) I have been saying that to everyone. I said, "Guys, I am leaving with one request: please pray that Zimbabwe qualify". I genuinely do believe that the way they looked after me, my team-mates deserve the hospitality too. Quality of cricket, the stadiums, the crowd, the brands, the sponsorship. It is just unreal. I really, sincerely hope my fellow countrymen can be exposed to this. It can only happen if we qualify. Insha Allah, in two months' time [at the qualifiers, which will be played in Zimbabwe], we will book our tickets for India.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84