In the form of his life, Sikandar Raza falls just short but cements his place in history
@ovshake42 7 minute read
Only three men have scored more ODI hundreds than Sikandar Raza while chasing in a calendar year. Raza got three in a single month.
There was not much interest left in the third ODI as is possible in a ‘dead-rubber’ contest on a weekday between India, who left some key cricketers back home, and Zimbabwe. That dwindled even more after India, buoyed by Shubman Gill’s 97-ball 130, put up 289-8 and reduced Zimbabwe to 169-7.
Eighty-five balls, 121 runs, three wickets. What were the odds? In the 51-year-old history of the format, only once have the last three partnerships added more to successfully chase a match; but on that occasion, the asking rate was under six. Here, it was eight and a half an over.
Earlier this month, Sikandar Raza had scored 135* (109) and 117* (127) from No.5, to help Zimbabwe beat Bangladesh in consecutive matches. In both innings, he had a specialist batter – Innocent Kaia in the first match, Regis Chakabva in the second – scoring a hundred at the other end.
This was different. Brad Evans is a competent batter (he had scored 109 in his second List A match last year); Richard Ngarava did well two matches ago; but despite all that, despite Raza’s once-in-a-lifetime form, surely this was out of reach?
Raza, already 46 by this point, delayed the onslaught for a while. He celebrated his fifty a run too soon, causing some hilarity in journalists around the world who were busy providing finishing touches to their match reports that probably featured a passing mention of Raza’s innings.
He opened up against when Shardul Thakur overstepped for the second time in the 39th over. Sanju Samson’s poor judgement allowed a boundary. Raza blasted the next ball over extra cover and improvised a quasi-pull to pick up fours off each of the next two balls.
Evans looked at peace at the other end. He played out a maiden over to Axar Patel. They needed 95 in 60.
Avesh Khan overstepped twice in succession in the next over. Off the second, Raza played what was probably his hardest hit of the innings. When Avesh pitched up, Raza put his left leg out of the way and aimed for Avesh’s legs. The ball shot through Avesh’s legs to the boundary. He steered the fifth ball to pick up four more.
Axar kept it to 75 in 48 after his final over, but Raza took on Avesh again, carving a shot past point for four. Two quiet overs followed, but Raza lofted Deepak Chahar over extra cover, then pushed a ball past cover to reach his hundred. In all Men’s ODIs, only Sachin Tendulkar (seven in 1998), Virat Kohli (four in 2018), and Rohit Sharma (four in 2019) have scored more hundreds in a calendar year while chasing.
With 33 to score off 18, Evans drove Avesh to long-off to get away from the strike. Having noticed the short fine leg, Raza scooped the next ball over him for four, and lofted the one after that over extra cover for six. A single later, Evans’ edge ran to the fence.
Zimbabwe now needed 17 in 13 balls. The match was theirs to lose. And yet, Avesh, the man who had conceded 16 in the over, now managed to bowl one past Evans’ hoick, hit the pad, and – despite a review – claim the wicket.
Raza managed to raise a few eyebrows by taking a run off Thakur’s first ball. It took Ngarava two balls to return the strike. By then, the equation had come down to 15 in 9 balls. Raza would need a run off one of the last balls to keep the strike, so he had to go for the fourth ball.
Raza had eyed the long-on boundary. He had got it right, but he probably did not time it the way he wanted to. And since he could not hit it high enough to clear the fielder, his best bet lay in hitting it as far away as possible from Gill, who manned long-on.
There was little wrong with the shot, but Gill sprinted in, dived towards his left, and came up with a remarkable tumbling catch. As Raza walked back, the Indian fielders joined his teammates in the pavilion and the fans in the gallery in the applause, for they had been witness to an innings for the ages.
Four years ago, Zimbabwe had hosted the ICC World Cup Qualifiers. He had been named Player of the Tournament for his 196 runs and 12 wickets, but Zimbabwe had failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1979. It hit him hard, but he promised a comeback.
Zimbabwe Cricket underwent a financial crisis that year. The ICC suspended them, and barred them from playing in the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifiers. As late as last month, Raza told ESPNCricinfo that his “nightmare of not qualifying for the 2019 World Cup never went away.”
Three hundreds in a month might not have erased the memories, but Raza has certainly not given up.