Making his third century in six innings for Zimbabwe, this time against a sharp India bowling attack, Sikandar Raza further pushed his case as international cricket's in-form white-ball player.
Clapped off and saluted by his opponents when he was dismissed for a 95-ball 115 in the penultimate over of their Super League ODI, the all-rounder came within inches of stealing victory from the game's giants, who were pushed late into the Harare afternoon on Monday.
Coming in at the end of the 18th over, Raza already had his work cut out for him, with the hosts needing more than six an over. A procession of wickets began as Regis Chakabva fell at the start of the 27th over, and all hopes seemed dead at 169/7 at the end of the 36th over, needing close to nine per over.
Raza did not shy away from the challenge, taking on the attack. Moving from 46 to 100 in just 36 balls, Raza’s last push was only denied by Shubman Gill’s diving catch.
India snuck home as 12-run winners, though the plaudits again came thick and fast for the 36-year-old all-rounder, who boasts a head-turning record with bat and ball across both white-ball international formats in 2022.
On the ODI side, Raza has compiled 615 runs at 61.50, at a strike rate of 93.18, making two fifties to complement the three centuries.
All of his runs have come against teams in the top six of the ODI Super League, and all three of his centuries have come while chasing. With the ball, Raza is reliable, taking seven wickets at an economy of under five.
Raza's exploits with the bat in the last week has seen him rise four places on the MRF Tyres ICC ODI Batting Rankings, and his career numbers have made a dramatic jump since the start of January, with his career average moving up from 34.60 to 37.38.
Making 516 runs at 39.69 and with a strike rate of 152.21 in the shorter format, the man in the middle-order has added an attacking dimension to his game in 2022, and his leap in form in the shorter format has been even more dramatic when looking at the same time split.
As of January 1, Raza's career average in the format sat at just 13.43, with a strike rate of 106.93. Over the next six months, Raza would go on to almost double his career T20I run tally, taking his career average to 20, and strike rate above 125.
Australia v Zimbabwe
Watch Highlights of Each ODI as Australia and Zimbabwe Both Secured Victories
Player of the tournament at T20 World Cup Qualifier B in July on home soil, Raza made an impact in almost every match, and the string of outstanding individual performances led to an undefeated run in the campaign.
Opening with 87 (40) at No.5 and outside the Powerplay against Singapore, Raza’s 82* (40) over USA lifted Zimbabwe to the top of their Qualifier group, with a late-innings 22 (14) against PNG helping his side to a total of 199 in the all-important semi-final.
With the ball, his wicket of Assad Vala helped secure Zimbabwe's qualification, and his bowling exploits again came to the fore in the tournament final, taking 4/8 against the Netherlands.
Raza’s exploits in the short format have not been exclusive to just tournament action though. Claiming a wicket in the first two T20Is against Bangladesh, Raza’s 65* from 26 balls stunned the visitors, with the knock followed up by 62 (53) in the second T20I.
Playing for a side refreshed under new coach Dave Houghton, who took over ahead of the Qualifier, Raza's run in form bodes well for the side's T20 World Cup campaign in October, where Zimbabwe face Ireland, West Indies and Scotland in the First Round. A solid middle-over player who can launch at the death, and bowling a reliable brand of off-spin, Raza is perched at 11th on the MRF Tyres ICC T20I All-Rounder rankings, just two rating points behind Sri Lanka star Wanindu Hasaranga.
For now though, the aim for Raza and a rejuvenated Zimbabwe side are solid performances across both formats in Australia.
Before the T20 World Cup, Zimbabwe head Down Under to take on Australia in Townsville for three ODI Super League matches, beginning on August 28.
It is Zimbabwe's first visit to the country since 2015 and for Raza it will be the first time he has played against the all-conquering Aussies away from home.
ODI stats in 2022
615 runs at 61.50, Strike Rate 93.18, 3 centuries, 2 fifties
7 wickets at 52.85, economy 4.86
T20I stats in 2022
516 runs at 39.69, strike rate 152.21
15 wickets at 19.06, economy 5.95
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