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Raza learns to enjoy life and cricket again

Zimbabwe allrounder on fighting battles from within and how he beat them to return rejuvenated

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam


Sikandar Raza fell out of love with cricket because of the hurt of not qualifying for the 2019 World Cup. Zimbabwe's defeat to UAE in a must-win game of the World Cup Qualifiers was also the start of a prolonged period of uncertainty in Zimbabwe cricket. Raza, the tournament's MVP for his 319 runs and five wickets, fell out with Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) and subsequently lost his national contract a month before it was to expire.
This meant he wasn't part of their T20I squad that lost all four matches in the tri-series to Pakistan and Australia, and hasn't featured in the ODI series drubbing by Pakistan. Instead, Raza had a stint in England with a club side and featured for Montreal Tigers in the Global T20 Canada, where interacting with head coach Tom Moody helped put things into perspective.
"I stopped enjoying life, never mind cricket," Raza tells ESPNcricinfo. "Basically my mind was in shambles. People don't know what we went through when we didn't qualify and how all of us were treated. Things are still pear-shaped, but at least I have got my mental toughness back. I am enjoying cricket and being with my family.
"Most importantly, I have started to enjoy life. I am playing golf with my mates. I had stopped seeing my friends, can you believe that? I wasn't seeing anyone. It was just me. Just nothing to do: not watching TV or movies. It was just a horrible place to be at. I didn't share it with anyone at the time. I think my family understood what I was going through. Having read about it, I also suspected that something was wrong."
Raza sought Moody for guidance upon landing in Canada, a move he says helped him immensely. Now, as he prepares for a second stint in England, he will have the support and company of his family.
"I told Tom [Moody] that I want to reignite the spark of playing and enjoying cricket again," Raza remembers. "I don't want to wear the Zimbabwe red without giving my 100 per cent. It is a privilege, not a right. I want to only wear it when I am right 100 per cent mentally, emotionally and physically."
Whether he will play for Zimbabwe again depends on what happens at the end of July. Last month, ZC extended the deadline to clear unpaid salaries to players by July 25 after the players threatened to boycott the tri-series. ZC then issued their new deadline, but by then a lot had already happened that showed Zimbabwe cricket was in bad health.
Less than a week after Zimbabwe's exit from the World Cup qualifiers, ZC sacked captain Graeme Cremer and the entire coaching staff including head coach Heath Streak (who was later accused of being a racist, a charge which he vehemently opposed).
Some of the staff, like analyst Stanley Chioza, bowling coach Douglas Hondo and fielding coach Walter Chawaguta (as convenor of selectors) have returned to work for ZC, but players such as Cremer, Raza, Brendan Taylor, Craig Ervine and Sean Williams remain on the outer. Tatenda Taibu was stripped of his role as chief selector while Faisal Hasnain, the managing director, also stepped down in May.
Raza hopes to have a clear status by the end of July. "I don't know what the future holds for me. I am out of my contract anyway," he says. "It was supposed to expire on July 31. I had to terminate my contract a month before, as I was not given an NOC. I am hoping there's some form of communication come July 31, to see if I am wanted by the national team or not. It depends on the contract as well, to see how ZC values me. If they think I add value to the team.
"July 25 is the deadline by when they assured all our dues will be cleared. It is not too far away as well. Once the dues are cleared, I am hoping that myself and ZC can engage in contract negotiation. Hopefully I can commit my future with Zimbabwe. I want to commit for a long-term, but lessons have to be learned from the past and we have to do things properly now."
Raza hopes Vince van der Bijl's appointment as ZC's consultant earlier this month offer them some hope. "After the World Cup qualifiers, there was no form of communications that came from ZC to the players. There was no surety given to us," Raza explains. "We were kept in the darkness. It was like a slap on the face, thinking you didn't qualify so we don't need you anymore. It was just silence.
"When the chairman did engage us into some form of communication, whatever was promised or committed, it didn't fall into place again. So how long do we carry on like this? Where do we go now? We have Vince van der Bijl, who was hired as a consultant. He will act as a bridge between players and the organisation. I am hoping he is going to be very useful to bridge those gaps, from both sides. Hopefully, he will rectify every single mistake. But he can only start once the money is cleared."
Raza is clearly hurt by Zimbabwe's current state. Their ODI series win in Sri Lanka last year gave some hope. Taibu, Streak and Cremer were commended for not chopping and changing, the team was starting to look settled and a World Cup berth seemed possible. All that, however, unravelled in heartbreaking fashion this March.
"I haven't really been able to follow all the matches because of all the traveling. I wish them nothing but the best of luck. But considering the state of cricket, it really, really hurts," Raza says. "We made a huge stride in the right direction. I genuinely thought that if we had the same squad for a few more years, this qualification would have been out of the way, and we could have done a lot better in the next two years.
"I believed we could have walked up the ladder pretty quickly. Just because we didn't qualify, people are judging how well we did in the last two years. As far as the state of cricket is concerned, the Zimbabwe people deserve a better standard of cricket. They have been with us with thick and thin."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84