Sikandar Raza has always been a superstar in Zimbabwe Cricket. Since his debut nine years ago, the all-rounder has been a vital cog in their setup through the highs and the lows. He was the player of the series in the 2018 ODI World Cup Qualifiers for the marquee event in 2019 despite Zimbabwe not making the cut. Four years on, the all-rounder was once again at the centre of it all as Zimbabwe booked their berth to the T20 World Cup in Australia.
At 36, Raza is going through a purple patch of sorts. In 2022, he has smashed 988 runs in 24 innings across formats so far at an average of 49.40 (67.42 in ODIs with 2 100s and 2 50s and a strike rate of 152.21 in T20Is). One could say that he is having the best year of his cricketing career. But 12 months ago, things did not look good for him as it is today.
In April 2021, Raza had suffered an infection in his bone marrow, something that could have been cancerous. There were concerns that if it actually was so, chemotherapy might not be enough and the arm might have to be amputated. Luckily for him, it wasn’t cancerous. But, he had to undergo surgery and was out of action for three months.
"It was hard, but I was hopeful," recalled Raza in a chat with this daily on Saturday facilitated by Sony Sports Network.
"My faith, my family got me out of those dark places, when I was losing hope that I may not play cricket again, or what if it is actually cancerous and there is no cure or healing or whatever, Alhamdulillah the faith the family got my out of that."
He returned to cricket in July 2021, but even after that, it wasn’t easy. He had a couple of good scores in ODIs, but wasn’t able to perform at his best. As time went by, things slowly and steadily got better for the allrounder. In the last few months, not only has he performed consistently, but more importantly, those contributions have started to impact the results for Zimbabwe.
“People think it's a click of fingers and things change instantly and now I am reaping the rewards but the struggles started after the surgery when I was doing my rehab. When I became fit enough to play cricket, the changes were made back then, physically, mentally, diet, training methods, like that. Sometimes you change things, people expect results to come instantly, but it doesn’t happen in cricket. It takes time. You stay at it, and Alhamdulillah, I stayed at it and now to see the rewards is very satisfying.”
When asked how he feels, having been performing the way he has been now from where he was a year ago, Raza gets a bit emotional. “I think the biggest blessing is the gift of life. Like I said, the surgeon was of the opinion that if something is wrong with the bone marrow, if it was tumorous or cancerous we can't rely on chemotherapy alone, we may have to amputate the arm. Just so that it doesn’t spread.”
“What more can I say, I think I am more, I think the blessing is that I have the gift of life and around family, the people who love me and I love them back. And cricket became secondary after that to be honest.”
He looks at this second coming as a gift of life. Anyone who goes through something like what Raza has, more often than not would come back with a different perspective towards life. That said, the 36-year-old is not sure if the changed perspective has helped him perform better. The one thing he is sure of is the fact that he doesn't want anyone else to go through what he did to find out if it helps.
“I don’t know. But I certainly believe it doesn’t help anybody else. Because I don’t want anybody else to go through that phase to find out if it helps or not. So, I really hope that is not the case,” Raza said.
“But I think yes, you start appreciating a few more things. I think cricket is such a time consuming sport as you know that we are always thinking, playing, drinking, and eating cricket, And sometimes, it's nice to know that there are other important things in life. Maybe that perspective helped me, but I hope injury or what I was diagnosed with, that is not the case and I certainly don’t wish it on anyone.”
While Zimbabwe are preparing for the three-match ODI series against India that starts on August 18, Raza hopes that both the teams would provide an interesting contest. As for what he personally wants to achieve, the 36-year-old said, “let my personal goals remain with me, for now.”
Watch the LIVE coverage of India tour of Zimbabwe 2022 on SONY SIX (English), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) & SONY TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels at 12:45 pm from August 18, 2022.