When thinking of world cricket’s premier all-rounders, the name Sikandar Raza likely won’t immediately spring to mind. Why this is the case often baffles me as his performances, particularly of late, have been nothing short of sensational. In fact, they have etched the Pakistan-born Zimbabwe all-rounder’s name into the history books as being the first Zimbabwean male international cricketer to make the ICC ODI and T20 teams of the year – a feat he achieved this past year (2022).
So, who is Sikandar Raza and how has he risen to the peak of white ball cricket?
Well, for starters he was born in Sialkot, Punjab on April 24th 1986. He originally wanted to become a Pakistan Air Force fighter pilot but saw his dream shattered when he failed a mandatory vision test. He then enrolled at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland for a Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering and this is where his cricketing journey truly began, playing for the university cricket team and realising his ability in the sport.
He then moved to Zimbabwe, where his parents were already living (having emigrated in 2002) and this is where he began to play first class cricket. As the saying goes ‘one good performance led to another’ and Sikandar soon found himself in strong contention to play for the national team. This dream was realised in May 2013 when he was selected for an ODI against Bangladesh in Bulawayo. By the end of that year, he had made his debut for Zimbabwe in all three formats, most notably in Test cricket against home country, Pakistan, in Harare.
Through the years that followed, Raza established himself in the Zimbabwe first team as an aggressive top order batter and more than part time off-spin bowler. Notably, he notched the 4th longest duckless run by a batsman in history when he busied the scorers in 98 consecutive international innings. Additionally, he joined the exclusive club of players (which includes greats such as Sachin Tendulkar, Chris Gayle, Shakib Al Hassan and Jacques Kallis) to have scored 1000 runs, taken 50 wickets, and pouched 50 catches in ODI cricket.
It was not all smooth sailing for Raza, however, as in March 2021 during a series against Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi, he began feeling severe pain in his bowling arm. The pain was so severe that it kept him up at night (even sleeping pills didn’t work). On his return home, there were suspicions that he may have cancer, which would almost certainly have ended his cricketing career. Fortunately, though, it turned out to be a foreign substance on his bone marrow. He underwent surgery to remove the tumour and had to walk down the long road to recovery with much uncertainty over his cricketing future.
This road to recovery certainly wasn’t a simple one. Raza lost much strength in his bowling arm and needing to tweak his action or give up bowling entirely. However, fortunately for him, he successfully made these changes with the help of legendary West Indian spinner Sunil Narine. Indeed, he even added new dimensions to his game: he can now bowl several variations of off-spin including the stock delivery, the cross seam delivery, the carrom ball, and the back-of-the-hand delivery – each one has its own way of deceiving even the best batters. Consequently, Raza has made a name for himself as a fully-fledged all-rounder and mystery spinner.
Why Sikandar Raza is one of the most underrated cricketers on the planet:
So, why is Sikandar Raza one of the most underrated cricketers in the world? Well, on close inspection, his statistics across all formats suggest some serious ability with both bat and ball.
In Test cricket, his batting average of 35.96 in 17 tests is very solid, especially when compared to prominent all-rounders such as Ben Stokes (who averages 36.14 in 89 tests), Ravindra Jadeja (who averages 36.56 in 60 tests) and Shakib Al Hassan (38.64 in 65 tests). It’s a similar story in ODIs with Raza boasting an average of 36.50 in 126 ODI’s compared to Stokes’ 38.98 in 105 ODIs, Jadeja’s 32.62 in 171 ODIs and Shakib’s 37.55 in 224 ODIs. Moving on to the shortest format, Raza averages 20.98 in 66 T20Is compared to Stokes’ 21.66 in 43 games, Jadeja’s 24.05 in 64 games, and Shakib’s 23.12 in 109 outings.
When it comes to his bowling statistics, Raza has taken 34 wickets in 17 Tests at an average of 42.38. This, compared to Stokes’ 193 wickets in 89 Tests at an average of 31.99, Jadeja’s 242 wickets in just 60 Tests at an average of just 24.71, and Shakib’s 231 wickets in 65 Tests at an average of 31.18, is probably the area where he needs to improve most. In ODI’s, Raza averages 45.32 with 71 wickets to his name in 126 matches. Stokes’ averages 42.39 with 74 wickets in 105 matches, Jadeja averages 37.36 with 189 wickets in 171 matches and Shakib averages just 29.06 with 294 wickets in 224 matches. However, Raza’s bowling has been significantly more effective in T20s, where he averages just 26.65 with 38 wickets in 66 T20Is. Stokes averages 32.92 with 26 wickets in 43 matches, Jadeja averages 28.49 with 51 wickets, and Shakib averages an excellent 21.21 with 128 wickets in 109 matches.
Whilst these stats don’t quite paint Sikandar Raza as the equal of the world’s most celebrated all-rounders (at least from a bowling perspective), it must be remembered that in the year 2022, Raza averaged an exemplary 27.12 across all formats taking 33 wickets in 39 matches. This shows that he’s a very different force since tweaking his bowling action. In other words, we are now seeing a ‘new’ Sikandar Raza.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that Raza has spectacular records against the top cricketing nations. He has previously scored international centuries against all of India, Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh whilst also chipping in with useful wickets. His performances, particularly of late, have also led to his star shining ever brighter on the international stage. This is demonstrated with him being named in the team of the tournament at the recently ended 2022 ICC T20 World Cup, along with earning a lucrative first-time IPL contract with the Punjab Kings for the 2023 season. In the process, he has become just the 4th Zimbabwean player ever to be signed by an IPL franchise.
I hereby argue, as a result, that Sikandar Raza is quite possibly most underrated cricketer in the world. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below.