Sikandar Raza continued his purple patch with yet another match-winning knock in Zimbabwe's T20 World Cup 2022 opener against Ireland in Hobart. Coming in to bat in the powerplay with his side in a spot of bother at 37 for 3, Raza played a counter-attacking knock, scoring 82 off 48 with five fours and as many sixes punctuating his innings.
Zimbabwe have been on the rise since Dave Houghton took over as head coach of the side ahead of their Qualifiers in June. Raza has credited Houghton for giving the players freedom to express themselves.
"I think Dave has made a massive difference since he took over. Dave has understood the players and given us the freedom and brought a long list. The fact that there's a lot of respect from the coaches and players, all those things he's allowed us to bloom and basically play with responsibility and freedom. So I think for that matter I think the credit goes to Dave and not me," Raza said at the post-match press conference.
Raza further added that Houghton's ability to understand every player has brought the group together.
"I think we have a very good squad. We've got a very diverse squad that's actually gelling really well. I would say again the credit really goes to David, how he looked after individual needs, what needs to be done individually. And then he understands each and every individual player and brings us together. And I think that has been our strength and that's why we're gelling really well," Raza, who was the player of the tournament in the Qualifier B in June, added.
With ball in hand, it seemed like Raza had picked up a trick or two from West Indies spinner Sunil Narine. Raza looked to cleverly shield the ball in his run-up till the point he had to release the ball, much like Narine has done all his career. The Zimbabwe all-rounder acknowledges he spoke to Narine extensively during the Caribbean Premier League (CPL).
"I don't think I have any other option. After those two surgeries, I lost a lot of strength in my shoulder so I couldn't really get my hand up. When I did, I felt like there was not a lot of zip on the ball. As we call it," Raza said.
"The ball wasn't coming out at a pace I wanted. And to be fair, Sunil Narine has had played a huge role. I was at CPL, I remember that I was watching him very closely, just bugging him a lot of those questions. So after those surgeries, I felt like I just didn't want to be a batter on the team. I wanted to carry over the all-rounder role.
That's the first thing that came to mind. Took me a year and a half and, yeah, hopefully we give this some time soon. It's still a work in progress," he further explained.
In pursuit of 175, Ireland lost four wickets in the powerplay and never recovered. Skipper Andrew Balbirnie felt it was a phase that sealed his side's fate.
"We were comfortable with chasing 170-odd. We were happy at the halfway stage and just got blown away in that power play," Balbirnie said in the post-match press conference.
"And, you know, if I'm going to be upset about winning tosses and losing games, it's going to be a long stint. I can't get too worked up about that. It's something I spoke about with some of the members of the squad and some of the management as well that's something I think we've done pretty well over the last number of months. Like I said, losing four wickets in that power play is -- you're rarely going to win games in that position."
Joshua Little was one of the positives for Ireland in the match, finishing with figures of 4 for 24. The left-arm seamer has had a terrific year in which he has picked up 31 wickets. Balbirnie reckons playing in the franchise leagues has helped him.
"He played a really good role for the Manchester Originals in The Hundred. He's getting exposure at that level. He's gone to the South Africa T20 competition. He's really clear with what he wants to do and he's got a clear game plan," Balbirnie, who managed to just three runs in the match, said.
"He backs his ability. And he's only 22. Feels like he's been around for a long time. But I think he's only going to get better. I think we're very lucky with a really good bowling coach at the moment who is helping him out as well. I hope he's going to go from strength to strength."
Both Zimbabwe and Ireland are in action next on Wednesday (October 19) in Hobart, where they will take on West Indies and Scotland respectively.