Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
BAN v SL (1)
PSL 2024 (2)
Ranji Trophy (2)
Sheffield Shield (3)
WCL 2 (1)
Nepal Tri-Nation (1)
Sikandar Raza chastised himself all the way on the long walk back to the dugout. His face was a picture of devastation, a trauma you couldn't quite feel the full ferocity of even as he made no attempt to hide it. Once sat down, he buried his head in his hands, inconsolable. When he looked up, the glazed eyes gave the impression of a thousand-yard stare. Haunting images seemed to fill his mind's eye, even as his team-mates knocked off the remaining runs with little drama.
Raza's dismissal had done little to dampen the spirits of a febrile group of Zimbabwe supporters who have turned out for every game, turning this little corner of Hobart into the closest thing in Tasmania to Castle Corner at the Harare Sports Club. The asking rate was down to under a run a ball, and Craig Ervine was still around to shepherd his side home.
If you wondered why Raza was so cut up about getting dismissed after he'd all but got Zimbabwe home in their chase of 133 against Scotland, you don't think about a cricket match played four-and-a-half years ago on the other side of the world as often as he does.
In March 2018, rain and the DLS method left Zimbabwe negotiating a tricky chase against UAE, but they seemed to be on course to achieve it, and with it seal a berth at the 2019 ODI World Cup; the win was as vital for the cricket board's financial security as its cricketing prestige. Raza was the man taking them home, putting on a rapid half-century stand with Sean Williams. But an airborne pull brought about his dismissal when Zimbabwe needed 45 off 34 balls, and they stumbled thereafter, losing in the end by a heartbreaking three-run margin. Their World Cup dreams went up in smoke, and just over a year later, the ICC slapped a suspension on them that effectively excluded them from the following T20 World Cup.
Zimbabwe cricket is now in a rosier place, but Raza and his teammates can never forget those desperate times. On Friday in Hobart, just as in Harare that day, Zimbabwe, playing an opponent they were favoured to beat, began their chase poorly. There was rain in the offing in Hobart, much as there had been in Harare. And the consequences for missing out would have been severe, just as they were then.
The dismissal of Raza was a key turning point on that fateful day in Harare in March 2018•IDI via Getty Images
Since the appointment of Dave Houghton as head coach, however, this side has made the effort to look forward rather than believe Zimbabwe cricket exists in an endless, self-fulfilling loop of disaster and heartache. Houghton has drilled into this Zimbabwe side that there will be no adverse consequences for getting out playing aggressively. But it's one thing to say it, and quite another to stick to it in a virtual knockout game two days after an overly pugnacious approach was arguably responsible for a heavy defeat against West Indies.
But not least because of that UAE game, Raza understands pressure, and the consequences of falling short. With the required rate inching towards eight and belief coursing through Scottish veins, the sound of bagpipes had begun to take over from the melody of gentle Zimbabwean songs as Hobart's soundtrack for the game when Raza took his first risk. Safyaan Sharif was lobbed over mid-off, a shot Raza really didn't catch out of the middle. It only just evaded George Munsey and dribbled away for four. Houghton might have told him there were no adverse consequences, but Raza needs no coach to tell him that getting out then wouldn't have been consequence-free for Zimbabwe.
"We've been part of too many tournaments where it's pretty cut-throat, so credit to Scotland," Raza said post-match, his voice quivering. "Once we bowled well, I felt one of us would get the job done. Alhamdullilah [thank Allah], It was my turn, but Craig [Ervine] played really well and the two youngsters finished it off. It's quite satisfying and humbling. It's quite emotional as well, and pretty pleasing.
"I said to Craig your job is to bat through now. Give me eight to ten balls and I'll try and get it as quickly as possible. But you're the one who's going to win us this game and you're the one who's going to take the team through. Some of the risks I took came off and we ended up having a pretty good partnership as well and that was instrumental in winning the game today."
Craig Ervine and Sikandar Raza 64 runs for the fourth wicket•AFP/Getty Images
Raza and Houghton seem to understand perfectly the fatal flaw behind the idea that not taking risks is a safe way to play. The rising asking rate will inevitably compel the team to write cheques they might not have the ability to cash at the back end, and therefore, even when his next slog flew precariously close to backward point, Raza refused to be deterred. A couple of sixes - one an exquisite drive over cover - suggested that tiny window of opportunity for Scotland had been sealed shut.
Defeat here would have added another bitter chapter to the litany of near-misses that have left visible scars on Zimbabwe cricket, but while the power to change things lay in his hands, Raza had no interest dwelling on the iniquities of the past. Eighteen months ago, he had been diagnosed with a bone-marrow infection that he feared might be cancerous, putting into perspective any pressure he may have felt to find the middle of a bat rather than the edge. It wasn't until he top-edged a loose ball to the keeper that some of the darker thoughts returned, but by then there was little to worry about. Zimbabwe were almost out of danger, and his intrepid decision-making had got them there.
"I don't believe you can grow as I cricketer if you're in fear of your own shadow and in fear of playing a bad shot or bowling a bad ball or something," Houghton would say at the press conference later. "You just can't grow."
That message will resonate deeply with Raza, who will likely be the only sober person in the Zimbabwe camp tonight. But as he looks upon his teammates enjoying a drink they owe in large part to him, he can perhaps reflect on all the growing that he's done with Zimbabwe, and that Zimbabwe have done with him.