Aubrey Faulkner, Gary Sobers, Jacques Kallis, Sikandar Raza
If asked to pick the odd one among these four, no ardent cricket fan would bat an eyelid before choosing Sikandar Raza. Faulkner, Sobers and Kallis are greats of the game while Raza, a Pakistani plying his trade in Zimbabwe, had done little of note as compared to the other stalwarts.
Yet, on a fifth-day wicket at Bulawayo, against a faltering West Indian attack, Raza wrote his name into the history books with a classy all-round show. He became just the fourth batsman (after Faulkner, Sobers and Kallis) to score 75+ runs in both innings and pick up a five-wicket haul with the ball (just the second after Kallis to score 80+ and pick up a five-for).
In twelve Test innings prior to this, Raza had bowled just 172 overs in Test cricket. Yet, with Zimbabwe short of bowling option owing to injuries to Sean Williams and Kyle Jarvis, Raza put his hand up and fulfilled an all-rounder’s duty to perfection. He bowled 48 overs in one innings, a whopping 21.81% of the total number of overs he has bowled in Test cricket, and picked up a maiden five-wicket haul.
"It's one of the roles you have as an all-rounder. We always knew that missing (Kyle) Jarvis and Sean (Williams) would be tough. I still like to think that I'm a batsman who can bowl, but being an all-rounder it becomes a responsibility that you need to step up whenever you are given an opportunity,” Raza had said after his eye-catching bowling performance.
He did make a “step up” when Zimbabwe wanted him to. After the first innings, nobody gave Zimbabwe a chance, not even their own coach, Heath Streak. “It's very tough, especially with the deficit we've had to make up, and the pitch being so slow,” Streak had commented while bemoaning Zimbabwe’s inability to cash in on a decent first innings total. The 326 they compiled in the first place was largely owing to Raza's 147-ball 80.
Yet, not even his five-wicket haul could prevent West Indies from piling up a 122-run first innings lead. They needed a miracle to save the Test match from that position. Zimbabwe have won just three Tests since 2006. They have drawn zero games during this fairly large time frame. From this position, an escapade looked rather unlikely.
Unless... they could find a hero. So far in the Test match, they had just one — the valiant firefighter Sikandar Raza. He could very well carry on in the same vein and become a hero for his nation.
But, he had an albatross around his neck. Despite being a quintessential player in the Zimbabwean setup for the past few years, Raza hadn't quite been able to hog the limelight with his performances.
In November 2014, he slammed 82 and 65 against Bangladesh at Chittagong on a square turner but his dogged efforts were overshadowed by some pathetic showing by his colleagues that led to an embarrassing 3-0 defeat.
A year later, at Lahore in an ODI, he thwarted a Pakistan attack in front of their home fans and scored a magnificent hundred in 84 balls only for Azhar Ali to eclipse him with a match-winning hundred of his own.
Two months later, he walked in at No 7 against New Zealand in Harare in an ODI and smashed a hundred in 125 balls to resurrect a wobbling innings only for Tom Latham and Martin Guptill to put on an unbeaten 236-run opening partnership to guide the Kiwis to victory.
In Galle, this year, he blasted a 56-ball 67 in a chase of 316 but Solomon Mire’s 112 stole all the glory.
In the same series, during the one-off Test, Zimbabwe were reeling at 23/4 in the second innings with a lead of just 33 runs when Raza walked in at the dust bowl in Colombo against Rangana Herath to make 127 and help Zimbabwe set a daunting target of 388. However, as luck would have it, the Lankans chased the target down and Raza was forgotten yet again.
There was no reason to believe Bulawayo would be different.
West Indies had a clear upper hand in the Test and with close to 150 overs remaining in the game, anything but a West Indian victory looked unlikely. Zimbabwe were reduced to 46/4 in no time and the possibility of a draw diminished significantly.
But this time around, Raza wasn't going to give up. He had had enough of teammates and opposition stealing his thunder.
Determined to alter the course of his career, the Zimbabwean batted out 203 balls and 300 minutes to make 89 runs. But Jason Holder arrived to push a dagger into Zimbabwe's heart, cleaning Raza’s stumps up soon after he became only the second player in Test history — the other being Kallis — to score 80s in both innings and take a five-for in the same Test.
If Raza thought he had messed it up yet another time, he couldn't have been more wrong. Regis Chakabva and Graeme Cremer hung around long enough for teams to call deuce and give Zimbabwe its first draw in Test cricket since March 2005.
For once, Raza's efforts haven't been in vain. It also underlined the fact that one man doesn't make a team and it was perhaps his stuttering teammates that had denied him the glory he deserved all these years. After all, he had stepped up and fought every time Zimbabwe needed him to. It wasn't his fault that the others in the team failed to do their job.
An average of 42.05 is surely something to adore in a number six batsman from a Test nation that had won just three games in the last eleven years.
Zimbabwe may have lost the series but for a team reuniting with some of its exiled players and rediscovering some of its lost mojo, such performances are pieces of a puzzle that form a bigger picture.
“We played out of our skin to get a result out of it. Gives us the confidence,” Raza had said after collecting his Man of the Match award. That is what Zimbabwe would strive to do every time they take the field from now — to “play out of their skin”.
In Raza, Zimbabwe have a reliable fighter capable of lifting up the team and his teammates. An aspiring fighter pilot in his childhood days, Raza is finally realising his dreams as a firefighter in this Zimbabwean line-up.