Zimbabwe cricketer Sikandar Raza had a very good start to 2020 in the international arena.
He took 11 Test wickets in three innings against Sri Lanka at home, including a seven-wicket haul. He hit successive fifties in the three-match ODI series in Bangladesh, which his team lost.
Then in March, he got the call that many like him across the world are always prepared for — last minute call-up to a franchise tournament.
Raza joined Pakistan Super League side Peshawar Zalmi for the semi-finals following the departure of as many as five overseas players as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
Then on the day of the knockout match, March 17, PSL — the last standing major cricket tournament at the time – called the remaining matches off after English batsman Alex Hales developed fever-like symptoms upon his arrival back home.
And just like that, an opportunity to feature in a top-level tournament and gain valuable exposure went up in smoke.
Cricket, and sports in general, is waking up to the harsh realities imposed by the hardships brought on by the pandemic. Many established sporting set-ups have been forced into a corner, staring at an uncertain financial future.
However, Raza remains hopeful. The all-rounder believes T20 cricket, and franchise leagues, will come back with renewed vigour the moment restrictions are lifted.
“Life always find a way. God forbid, if these leagues somehow stop, there will be something that works out for cricketers around the world,” Raza told The National.
“In my opinion, I don’t think T20 leagues will stop. It is a very exciting brand, sponsors are excited to be a part of it. I pray that it continues to carry on because it plays a huge part in the growth of a cricketer.”
Raza is looking at the enforced break as an opportunity to get in better physical shape for when cricket is up and running.
“Once this is over, Inshallah it will be very soon, life is going to go from zero to 100 in a space of few minutes.
We want to make sure we are not caught on the backfoot, and we are ready for any cricket.
“I am sure the whole world will play a lot of catch up cricket. We can use this break to our advantage and come back in better physical and mental shape.
“I try to control things that I can. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. It’s not like this is happening just to me.”
The Indian Premier League is still looking at a way to squeeze in the 2020 season and avoid financial catastrophe.
England and Australian cricket boards are already bracing for the worst. The T20 Blast and the inaugural season of The Hundred are hanging by the thread. You can imagine the situation in tournaments with fewer dollars to play with.
Raza has featured mainly in tournaments such as the PSL and the Bangladesh Premier League. As for now, he is focusing on what he managed to learn in the two days he was in Lahore.
“I had a training session with Peshawar Zalmi. Before we were planning to leave for the ground, we had our technical meeting. We were told that the tournament will be postponed,” Raza recalled.
“It was the correct decision from the PCB, as much as it was disappointing not to be part of the semi-final. At the end of the day, human life means a lot more than cricket matches.”
Raza said talking to modern greats like Shoaib Malik and South Africa’s Hashim Amla proved invaluable.
“What I have managed to do [in franchise leagues] is I have rubbed shoulders with some of the current great cricketers,” said the 33-year-old.
“Alhamdulillah, I managed to learn a lot of technical things from them, how to pace your innings, how you play batting first, batting second, chasing a total.
“I managed to talk to Shoaib Malik. I enjoyed speaking with Shoaib bhai, he plays at the same number as I do. His job is pretty much similar to what I do for Zimbabwe, our batting style, our bowling roles. Because he is a lot more experienced, successful and senior to me, there is always something that I can use.
“Also, I was lucky that Hashim Amla was our batting consultant. I have met him before. Those two days with him were key for me. And again, with Hashim bhai, it was nice to switch off from cricket and talk about life in general.”
— The National