The need for speed

03 June 2015
Our voices

For a wannabe fighter pilot, Sikandar Raza makes an excellent cricketer and one of the sport's most interesting figures

Not many professional cricketers are in their line of work as a fallback option.

But then again, not many are like Sikandar Raza – a Pakistan-born, Scotland-educated Zimbabwe international.

As recently as six years ago, when he was already well into his 20s, Raza hadn’t even thought about playing cricket at a serious level.

Instead, he had focused his energy elsewhere; specifically, toward the high-octane target of becoming a fighter pilot.

“I never even thought of becoming a cricketer, let alone playing against Pakistan,” Raza told following his side’s historic tour to the nation of his birth. “I was quite busy with my studies.

“Only after completing graduation and doing Software Engineering from Scotland in 2009 I gave cricket a go.

“I came back to Zimbabwe and was lucky to be there at the right time. Fortunately I got runs as well and that was it.

“Literally, that was it. I had no plans of playing international cricket.

“In my childhood I had always dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot. I even appeared in the entrance exam of Pakistan Air Force in Lower Topa (Murree).

“About 10,000 candidates appeared in the test and only 60 got selected.

“I was one of 60 guys who passed the test. After three-and-a-half years they deemed me unfit to fly the aircraft due to medical reasons.

“At that time I had option of becoming aeronautical engineer but I quit as my only aim was to become a fighter pilot. I then moved to Government College Lahore and later migrated to Zimbabwe with my family.

“I started playing club cricket in Scotland but only after 2009 I realised that I can become an international cricketer.”

Perhaps relishing the return to the country of his origin, Raza was a standout for Zimbabwe during the recently-completed series, making an unbeaten 100 (from 84 balls – the third-fastest ever by a Zimbabwean) and taking a career-best 3-59 in the ODIs.

Raza celebrates his century v Pakistan // Getty Images

And the right-hander hopes the quick-fire century – the second of his ODI career – will be a springboard to greater things.

“It could be a turning point of my career,” he said. “I was really frustrated at myself for not contributing much.

“I was scoring in 30s and 40s but wasn’t converting them into big innings. I had even started to think, ‘Why I am wearing this Zimbabwe shirt? I should give it to someone who is better than me’. But my coaches and management supported me a lot.

“I was lucky to have good people around me.”

Given his heritage, as well as the crises that have befallen cricket in his adopted country over the past decade, Raza is acutely aware of the significance of the strides taken by both countries in Lahore over the past fortnight.

“The tour was important for both the countries,” he continued. “We have also spent time in isolation when we hardly had eight or 10 matches in a year, therefore we understand how it feels when cricket is taken away from you.

“It is really good to see cricket returning to Pakistan. We were a bit nervous before coming here but after seeing the security arrangements we started to feel safe. With passage of time we found ourselves very comfortable and relaxed.”

Zimbabwe failed to win a match on tour – losing both series 2-0 – and while Raza acknowledged that the inability to close out matches was an issue for his team, he was genuinely optimistic about the direction they are heading, despite the results.

“We have come a long way,” he said. “The current crop of players is quite good. If we persist with current players we can easily move up to number six (in the ODI rankings) in the next few years.

“To be honest we have not won many matches lately so maybe that is why we are lacking the killer instinct.

“But we have been playing competitive cricket consistently so I hope soon we will be a better team.

“Our bowlers have been good with the new ball.

“There is no shame in saying that with the old ball our skill level is slightly low. We are trying to improve in that department. Also our bowling in last overs of the innings against Pakistan was better than before even though the pitches in Lahore were quite flat.”

And while conditions may have not necessarily been completely to Zimbabwe’s liking, Raza has a promising message to fans of Pakistan cricket hopeful that the international game will continue to be played on their home soil.

“I’ll come back again,” he added. “The way crowd has supported me and my team, I would love to visit Pakistan again.”